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Washington, DC — The federal government suffers from a “severe
disinformation syndrome” in which agency specialists are pressured to
alter reports by managers who are promoted for breaking the law, according to
congressional testimony delivered today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). As a consequence, scientific and technical papers, particularly
within environmental agencies, are routinely censored, altered or manipulated
for political purposes.

“The Bush administration obsession with controlling the flow of information
means that factual information that does not serve its political agenda rarely
sees the light of day,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who testified
today. “Public servants who wish to speak honestly about matters outside
officially approved agency talking points are required to cast a profile in
courage because their honesty could cost them their jobs.”

Ruch appeared today before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs of the House
Committee on Government Reform in a hearing entitled “Improving Information
Quality in the Federal Government.”
The other listed witnesses were Kim Nelson, the assistant administrator for
the information office of the Environmental Protection Agency, and William Kovacs,
an official with the Chamber of Commerce.

The PEER testimony outlines a pervasive effort to edit out vital but discordant
information across the range of environmental activities:

  • Science. PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists have
    conducted surveys among federal scientists showing a high degree of political
    intervention to amend scientific findings;
  • Land Management. Federal agencies are routinely issuing
    documents that do not withstand judicial scrutiny because the documents are
    at variance with the agency’s own internal data; and
  • Public Health. Whistleblowers lack meaningful protections
    so that professionals who raise concerns are banished or terminated as a result.

A major problem cited by PEER is that Congress extends no meaningful legal
protections for executive branch employees who communicate information to oversight
committees or individual members. As a consequence, official reports to Congress
are often inaccurate, incomplete or untimely.

“If agencies can lie with impunity to Congress, why should they be expected
to tell anyone else the truth?” Ruch asked, calling for Congress to put
teeth into laws forbidding interference with or retaliation for transmitting
information to elected representatives. “Right now, the federal civil
service is scared to death.”


PEER congressional testimony

Look at surveys of federal scientists
Political Appointees
Pollute Waters At Ocean Agency

Politics Trumps Science
At U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service