Charter Set to Expire for Interagency Subcommittee Overseeing Federal Climate Research

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By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow

The charter of the subcommittee that oversees the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is set to expire tomorrow, October 21, 2017. This speaks volumes about the Trump Administration’s attitudes toward science generally – and toward climate change science specifically. More ominously, it raises very serious questions about the future of the USGCRP, which in early November is expected to release its Climate Science Special Report, the public review draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, and the public review draft of the State of the Carbon Cycle Report.

In response to a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from the Government Accountability Project (GAP), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on October 18 turned over the current charter of the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR). The subcommittee falls under the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainability (CENRS) of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The NSTC is chaired by President Donald Trump and is run out of OSTP.

Under the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the CENRS is required to carry out NSTC functions relating to global change research, specifically the work of the USGCRP. The SGCR was established by the CENRS to manage the USGCRP and usually meets monthly. Its current charter was signed in 2013, under the Obama Administration, by the three CENRS co-chairs. The charter stated that “[u]nless renewed by the co-chairs of CENRS prior to its expiration,” it would terminate no later than January 20, 2017. The co-chairs apparently did not renew it, and many presumed it was terminated on that date. But, eventually, on April 21, 2017, the SGCR charter was extended to October 21, 2017, by Afua Bruce, who, at the time, was the Executive Director of the NSTC.

The current members of the SGCR are listed on the USGCRP Web site. Several positions are vacant, including the principal representative from the Department of Interior (DOI). That position was previously occupied by federal whistleblower Joel Clement, a Senior Executive Service employee at DOI who was involuntarily reassigned to a new position and effectively forced to resign. See our earlier posts on Joel Clement listed below.

What Next?
There are several possible scenarios going forward. One scenario is that the SGCR charter is extended once again. This could happen before the current charter expires or sometime soon. A second scenario is that the current NSTC Executive Director could establish a new charter. A third scenario is that the SGCR charter could be allowed to expire without being replaced, and the SGCR could be disbanded; oversight of the USGCRP would then revert back to the full CENRS. This last possibility is not unprecedented under the current administration. On August 20 the Trump White House intentionally allowed the charter of the Federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment to expire, bringing an end to the committee and its work.

The CENRS originally signed by President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor, Dr. John Holdren, on September 6, 2016, and was set to terminate no later than July 31, 2017, “unless renewed by the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology.” Because, until very recently, there had not yet been a presidential science advisor appointed, the charter was not renewed. On June 26, NSTC Executive Director Afua Bruce renewed the CENRS charter with a temporary extension, which expires at the end of 2017.

GAP has repeatedly requested from OSTP the membership roster of the CENRS, and the minutes of any meetings the CENRS has had under the Trump Administration. As of today, the OSTP has not provided the roster or meeting minutes, and all other indications suggest that the CENRS may not exist beyond its charter.

In other words, if the SGCR ceases to exist, the USGCRP will be overseen by a committee that, at the moment, appears to exist in name only.

CSPW will keep a close eye on this troubling situation as it evolves, and report on any new developments. Stay tuned!

For additional information, see the following recent CSPW posts:

 


* EDITOR’S NOTE: The charter of the interagency Subcommittee on Global Change Research that was set to expire on Saturday, October 21, 2017 was extended to April 21, 2018. See our blog post dated October 25, 2017 for more details.

 

Nicky Sundt is CSPW’s Senior Fellow. She is an expert on energy and climate change with over 35 years of experience and accomplishment in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. During the four-month fellowship, Nicky will watch over and report on key US federal climate science obligations under law – especially those relating to communications to the President, Congress, and the public.

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