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POLITICAL APPOINTEES POLLUTE WATERS AT OCEAN AGENCY

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Washington, D.C.— Joining a growing number of scientists deeply troubled
by the Bush administration’s distortion of science for political ends,
scientists at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Fisheries
Service report that agency science is suffering under political manipulation
and inappropriate influence of special interests. According to the survey released
today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER), the agency is increasingly unable to carry out its charge
of protecting imperiled fish, seal and whale populations from extinction.

“Scientists are struggling against a strong political current at NOAA Fisheries,”
said UCS Washington Representative Lexi Shultz. “From global warming to
fish and wildlife, we’ve seen that the Bush administration has little
regard for scientific findings that don’t support its predetermined policies.
And compromised science here can only be bad for fish, bad for fishing interests,
and bad for the taxpayers who pay for and expect an honest process.”

The two organizations distributed a 34-question survey to more than 460 NOAA
Fisheries scientists in offices across the country to obtain their perceptions
about the scientific integrity of agency decision making:

  • A strong majority (58%) said they know of cases in which high-level Commerce
    Department appointees or managers “have inappropriately altered NOAA
    Fisheries determinations;” and more than half of all respondents (53%)
    are aware of cases in which “commercial interests have inappropriately
    induced the reversal or withdrawal of NOAA Fisheries scientific conclusions
    or decisions through political intervention;” and
  • Only one-quarter of the scientists say they “trust NOAA Fisheries
    decision makers to make decisions that will protect marine resources and ecosystems.”

The political pressure is also reflected in the agency’s scientific and
technical output:

  • More than one third of respondents working on such issues (37%) have “been
    directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making findings that
    are protective” of marine life; and
  • Nearly one in four (24%) of those conducting such work reported being “directed
    to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from a NOAA Fisheries
    scientific document.”

In essays submitted on the topic of how to improve the integrity of scientific
work at the agency, the predominant concern raised by the scientists was political
interference. One biologist wrote, “It seems that we are encouraged to
think too much about the consequences and how to get around them, rather than
just basing our recommendations on the best available data.” Another said,
“ . . . it is not uncommon to be directed to not communicate debates in
writing. I have also seen written documents that include internal discussions/debate
purposefully omitted from administrative records with no valid reasoning.”

“The Bush administration seems to have a ‘No Fish Left Behind’
policy,” said PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose, who recruited current
and former NOAA employees to develop the questionnaire. “These scientists
are trying to serve the public and fulfill the agency mission to protect fisheries
and marine animals, but they feel the science is being undermined at every turn,
directly through manipulation and indirectly through cuts to scientific resources.”
Not surprisingly, 42% of respondents assessed morale at NOAA Fisheries as poor
or extremely poor.

“Government scientists need protections so that they are not forced to
choose between violating their scientific ethics or losing their job,”
added Shultz.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is expected to introduce a bill that will prohibit
political tampering or censorship of government science and protect scientists
who blow the whistle on abuses. The bill will be a companion to the House “Restore
Scientific Integrity” bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-CA) and Bart Gordon (D-TN). The House bill now has 50 cosponsors.

The UCS/PEER survey was mailed out to scientists with a request that they fill
it out on their own time and more than a quarter of all the agency scientists
(27%) did so.

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Read
a summary of the survey results, look at the full survey results & read
the scientists’ essays about how to improve scientific integrity

Compare
the results to the UCS/PEER survey of Fish & Wildlife Service field scientists

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