Feb. 20, 2006 – In an internal memo last week, a key Environmental Protection Agency media-relations officer reiterated an agency policy barring employees from talking to members of the media without first clearing it with her office.
The reminder, which came in the form of an e-mail message dated February 9, was sent by the EPA Office of Research and Developmentâ€™s news director, Ann Brown, and continues a trend dating back to at least the 1990s.
In October 2003, former EPA enforcement head John Peter Suarez issued a four-page memo directing employees to keep mum about enforcement actions and citing an on-again, off-again Agency prohibition against speaking with so-called third parties, including reporters and even legislators.
A year later, Inside EPA reported on another internal directive from Region VI administrator Bharat Mathur laying out specific procedures for dealing with media inquires. According to the memo, all media and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests were to be routed through the public-affairs office.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) obtained and released the most recent EPA media memo, along with a statement charging the EPA with forcing researchers to "check whether facts comport with management policy." PEER, a progressive organization representing local, state and federal resource professionals, contends that scientists are muzzled when their findings go against official positions.
There are several well-documented cases of such manipulation, most recently at NASA, where scientists and press officers maintain that press releases dealing with climate issues have slowed to a trickle and in some cases been altered by political appointees, the New York Times reported last week.
Early last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report charging the White House with working to bury research critical of perchlorate, a toxic rocket fuel, at the behest of defense contractors, as TNS reported. Using FOIA requests and other resources, NRDC and fellow environmental advocates uncovered evidence of defense industry lobbyists and Pentagon and White House officialsâ€™ manipulating a National Academies of Science panel report on the dangers of perchlorate, despite a trove of information showing that the chemical easily seeps into ground water and can cause severe damage to the thyroid gland.
In June of the same year, a federal climate official revealed to the Times that a political appointee who previously worked as an oil lobbyist was editing official reports on global warming to downplay the impact of scientistsâ€™ findings.
In addition to PEER, several government-watchdog and whistleblower organizations have raised alarm over possible government manipulation of science for political purposes.
Last summer, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report charging that the Bush administration has grown increasingly secretive about government science since the September 11 attacks, moving to classify research information and in some cases practicing "outright censorship and prescreening of scientific articles before publication."