Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bush Admin: What You Don't Know Can't Hurt Us, 2007 Version

Paul Kiel, Another year has almost passed under the Bush Administration, and so it's time to review how much less we know.

Last year, we launched the insanely ambitious project of recording every significant instance of this administration stifling government information. As we said then, "they've discontinued annual reports, classified normally public data, de-funded studies, quieted underlings, and generally done whatever was necessary to keep bad information under wraps." To be sure, the list will continue to grow through January, 2008.

TPMm research hounds Adrianne Jeffries and Peter Sheehy set to updating our already extensive tally, and those items have been added below (don't miss our new section on global warming!). But TPMm readers made the list what it is, so if you see something else that should be on there, let us know, and we'll update it accordingly.

So, without further ado, the list! Some notable additions:
  • Does the intelligence community disagree with the administration's take on Iraq, Iran, or al Qaeda? Don't expect to hear about it. In October 2007, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell reversed the practice of declassifying and releasing summaries of national intelligence estimates.
  • In July 2007, Richard Carmona, President Bush’s first Surgeon General from 2002-2006, testified to Congress that when he attempted to speak publicly about stem cell research, he was “blocked at every turn, told a decision had already been made, stand down, don’t talk about it.” He also testified that political appointees vetted his speeches “in such a way that would be preferable to a political or ideologically pre-conceived notion that had nothing to do with science.” Carmona was precluded from speaking openly with reporters.
  • On June 2007, the New York Times reported that Dick Cheney's resistance to "routine oversight of his office’s handling of classified information" is so intense that he has "suggested abolishing" the National Archives unit that monitors classification in the executive branch. Because Cheney has repeatedly refused "to comply with a routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff’s classification," "the Information Security Oversight Office, a unit of the National Archives, [has] appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not yet ruled on the matter." In a related effort to prevent the release of information about his office, Cheney has also instructed the Secret Service to destroy copies of visitor logs.

Global warming:

  • The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has to date failed to produce a congressionally-mandated report on climate change that was due in 2004. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has called the failure an "obfuscation."
  • A rule change at the U.S. Geological Survey restricts agency scientists from publishing or discussing research without that information first being screened by higher-ups at the agency. Special screening will be given to "findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that proper officials are notified and that communication strategies are developed." The scientists at the USGS cover such controversial topics as global warming. Before, studies were released after an anonymous peer review of the research.
  • In 2003, the EPA bowed to White House pressure and deleted the global warming section in its annual "Report on the Environment." The move drew condemnations from Democrats and Republicans alike.
  • In October 2007, the administration deleted the Congressional testimony of the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The director’s report on the negative health implications of climate change was, according to a CDC source, “eviscerated.”
  • A January 2007 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, and the Government Accountability Project, GAP, "found that nearly half the 279 climate scientists who responded to a survey reported being pressured to delete references to ‘global warming’ or ‘climate change’ from scientific papers or reports and many said they were prevented from talking to the media or had their work edited.”
  • On February 7, 2007, Rick Piltz (who resigned his position with the Climate Change Science Program, CCSP in 2005 in protest of White House interference with climate science and now directs the Government Accountability Project (GAP's) Climate Science Watch) testified before the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that “the Administration suppressed official use of the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts and has failed to continue the National Assessment process” and “the Administration has acted in a variety of ways to impede and manipulate communication about climate change by federal scientists and career science program leaders to wider audiences, including Congress and the media.”
  • In 2003, the administration had Phillip Cooney, a petroleum lobbyist who at the time was the chief of staff for the Council on Environmental Quality, edit an Environmental Protection Agency report “to eliminate a reference that human activities were causing global temperatures to rise and weakened language on the consequences of climate change - the edits prompted EPA officials to delete the entire climate change section from report.” In March 20, 2007 Phillip Cooney testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about his extensive edits to environmental reports over the past several years. The committee report showed "hundreds of instances" of edits that tempered information of the destructive impact of global warming.

It was actually a short list of disappeared items that TPM contributor Steven Benen put together over at his Carpetbagger Report that got us going on this project. Here are those entries:

And much, much more:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to close several libraries which were used by researchers and scientists. The agency called its decision a cost-cutting measure, but a 2004 report showed that the facilities actually brought the EPA a $7.5 million surplus annually.
  • On November 1st, 2001, President Bush issued an executive order limiting the public's access to presidential records. The order undermined the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which required the release of those records after 12 years. Bush's order prevented the release of "68,000 pages of confidential communications between President Ronald Reagan and his advisers," some of whom had positions in the Bush Administration. More here. Bush did the same thing with his papers from the Texas governorship.
  • A new policy at the The U.S. Forest Service means the agency no longer will generate environmental impact statements for "its long-term plans for America's national forests and grasslands." It also "no longer will allow the public to appeal on long-term plans for those forests, but instead will invite participation in planning from the outset."
  • In March 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services took down a six-year-old Web site devoted to substance abuse and treatment information for gays and lesbians, after members of the conservative Family Research Council complained.
  • In 2002, HHS removed information from its Web site pertaining to risky sexual behavior among adolescents, condom use and HIV.
  • Also in 2002, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission removed from its Web site a document showing that officials found large gaps in a portion of an aging Montana dam. A FERC official said the deletion was for "national security."
  • In 2004, the FBI attempted to retroactively classify public information regarding the case of bureau whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, including a series of letters between the Justice Department and several senators.
  • In October 2003, the Bush administration banned photographs depicting servicemembers' coffins returning from overseas.
  • In December 2002, the administration curtailed funding to the Mass-Layoffs Statistics program, which released monthly data on the number and size of layoffs by U.S. companies. His father attempted to kill the same program in 1992, but Clinton revived it when he assumed the presidency.
  • In 2004, the Internal Revenue Service stopped providing data demonstrating the level of its job performance. In 2006, a judge forced the IRS to provide the information.
  • Also in 2004, the Federal Communications Commission blocked access to a once-public database of network outages affecting telecommunications service providers. The FCC removed public copies and exempted the information from Freedom of Information Act requests, saying it would "jeopardize national security efforts." Experts ridiculed that notion.
  • In 2002, Bush officials intervened to derail the publication of an EPA report on mercury and children's health, which contradicted the administration's position on lowering regulations on certain power plants. The report was eventually leaked by a "frustrated EPA official."
  • Also in 2003, the EPA withheld for months key findings from an air pollution report that undercut the White House's "Clear Skies" initiative. Leaked copies were reported in the Washington Post.
  • For more than a year, the Interior Department refused to release a 2005 study showing a government subsidy for oil companies was not effective.
  • The White House Office of National Drug Policy paid for a 5-year, $43 million study which concluded their anti-drug ad campaigns did not work -- but it refused to release those findings to Congress.
  • In 2006, the Federal Communications Commission ordered destroyed all copies of an unreleased 2004 draft report concluding that media consolidation hurt local TV news coverage, which runs counter to the administration's pro-consolidation stance.
  • After Bush assumed power in 2001, the Department of Labor removed from its Web site "Don't Work in the Dark -- Know Your Rights," a publication informing women of their workplace rights. (via the National Council for Research on Women)
  • The Department of Labor also removed from its Web site roughly two dozen fact sheets on women's workplace issues such as women in management, earning differences between men and women, child care concerns, and minority women in the workplace. (via the National Council for Research on Women)
  • In February 2004, the appointed head of the Office of Special Counsel -- created to protect government employees' rights -- ordered removed from a government Web site information on the rights of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in the public workplace. (via the National Council for Research on Women)
  • In early 2001, the Treasury Department stopped producing reports showing how the benefits of tax cuts were distributed by income class. (via the Tax Policy Center, from Paul Krugman)
  • In 2006, as a number of groups sought records of visits by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates to the White House, the administration quietly made an agreement with the Secret Service, making sure that White House visitor records would no longer be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • On October 19, 2007, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a "final rule" that thwarts "public access to early warning information about motor vehicle safety hazards." According to Public Citizen, "today's final rule restricts public access to much of the 'early warning data' submitted by the auto and tire industry under the 2000 Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation Act (TREAD Act) to assist in the early identification of motor vehicle safety defects."
  • On November 2007, a U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the White House from destroying back-up copies of millions of e-mails deleted (the White House says accidentally) between March 2003 and October 2005.
  • On May 23, 2007, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) "sued the Department of Education for violating the Federal Records Act (FRA) by failing to preserve copies of emails of official Education business sent by agency employees through the use of non-governmental email accounts."

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