Senators Call for Inspector General to Investigate Political Interference in Science at the Department of the Interior
Oct 02 2018
Washington – Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) led 13 Senators in urging the Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General Mary Kendall to investigate any political interference in scientific research or communications at the Department.
“In April of this year news surfaced alleging political interference with a report by the National Park Service on sea level rise. In response to that news, a number of us wrote a letter requesting that you open an investigation into the matter,” the Senators wrote. “While the final NPS sea level rise report maintained the science originally included, we have no reason to believe that the attacks on science and pressure by political appointees to alter science to fit the administration’s narrative will cease.”
“Political interference with scientific work at the Department means the public is misinformed, policies are misguided and risks to the nation’s resources are not fully recognized. We fully support Sen. Hirono’s important request,” said Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, Director, Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists
Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) also signed the letter.
In the letter, the Senators highlighted results of a recent study published by Union of Concerned Scientists that found a significant percentage of scientists working across federal agencies – including the NPS, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) – are concerned about the influence of political appointees on their work.
They also note previous activities by DOI leadership that illustrate their animosity towards science, including the implementation of an unprecedented grant review by a political appointee late last year as well as requests for steep budget cuts to science-based programs, such as the Climate Adaptation Science Centers at USGS.
The letter followed up on reporting from Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, suggested that DOI employees have been internally editing out any mentions of anthropogenic climate change from a past-due National Park Service scientific report. The article contradicted testimony given by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in response to Senator Hirono’s questioning about censorship of science at DOI during a March hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
The letter is available below:
Ms. Mary L. Kendall
Deputy Inspector General
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Ms. Kendall:
We are writing to request that you monitor and investigate instances of potential alterations to scientific reports, documents, or communications produced by the Department of Interior (DOI) as well as instances of political pressure influencing science at DOI. In April of this year news surfaced alleging political interference with a report by the National Park Service (NPS) on sea level rise. In response to that news, a number of us wrote a letter requesting that you open an investigation into the matter. While that report was ultimately released without politically-influenced edits or alterations, we remain concerned with DOI’s ongoing treatment of scientists and scientific experts.
Earlier this month a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists titled “Science under President Trump” was released that surveyed scientists and scientific experts working for this administration.
Across the 16 federal agencies surveyed, problems reported by those at DOI were among the most severe. Nearly 80 percent of respondents working for NPS reported that political interests impacted the ability of NPS to make science-based decisions. Within the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) nearly 70 percent of respondents noted that the greatest barrier to science-based decisions was political influence. Nearly 80 percent of respondents working for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a research-focused arm of DOI, reported that their attendance at scientific conferences over the past year is not similar to their attendance at conferences during the previous administration.
Numerous other examples that illustrate the animosity held by DOI leadership towards science include the NPS’s rescinding of Director’s Order #100, which provided guidance on resource stewardship within the NPS for the 21st Century, the unprecedented grant review process at DOI that requires every grant over $50,000 to be reviewed by a political appointee who is not a subject matter expert but instead a close childhood friend of the Secretary, a new policy that prohibits scientists from communicating their results to the media without advance approval of content, the steep budget cuts proposed by this administration that reduce the federal workforce and target science-based programs, such as the Climate Adaptation Science Centers within USGS, the reassignment of career scientists to arbitrary positions, and complete disregard that climate change is occurring and caused by humans, despite the scientific consensus regarding the issue.
Actions by this administration have clearly illustrated disrespect for the important contributions that science makes to the decision-making process. While the final NPS sea level rise report maintained the science originally included, we have no reason to believe that the attacks on science and pressure by political appointees to alter science to fit the administration’s narrative will cease. As such, we request that you remain diligent on this topic and open an investigation if any of the following come to your attention:
- Instances of DOI employees, who are not subject matter experts, editing scientific reports, documents, or other scientific communications;
- Instances where DOI’s publication of scientific information is delayed or suppressed;
- Instances where a political appointee denies or delays a scientific grant or cooperative agreement to suppress a topic;
- Instances where industry inappropriately influences DOI science;
- Instances of interference with scientific reports and scientific communications released or being prepared by DOI employees, including but not limited to responses to media requests and public presentations by scientific staff at the Department; and
- Any activities at DOI that may violate DOI Manual Part 305 Chapter 3: Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities.
Thank you for your attention to this request.