Whatever Happened to That Scientific Integrity Plan?

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The White House has responded to the Department of Interior’s Inspector General’s charge that the administration’s report on offshore drilling was edited in a way that mischaracterized its conclusions. According to the IG, several of the independent experts who evaluated the offshore drilling report’s conclusions said they had not actually weighed in on a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling, yet the report’s summary made it appear that they had. In a statement issued Wednesday night responding to the allegations, White House spokesman Bill Burton emphasized that the IG’s review “found no intentional misrepresentation of [scientists’] views” and that the “Interior acted quickly to correct” the misrepresentation.

The White House also stood behind the moratorium, which was lifted last month. “The decision to implement a 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was correctly based on the need for adequate spill response, well containment and safety measures, and we stand behind that decision,” Burton said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, also issued a statement:

There was no intent to mislead the public. The decision to impose a temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling was made by the Secretary, following consultation with colleagues including the White House. As the report makes clear, the misunderstanding with the reviewers was resolved with the June 3rd letter and a subsequent conference call with those experts.

Even if one accepts that this was a mistake (and the IG’s report notes that the engineers who complained about the issue said they agreed it was unintentional), it’s not really an excuse for sloppy editing. If this were the Bush administration, we’d all be falling over ourselves complaining about the lack of scientific integrity here—especially considering this isn’t the first time White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner or her office have misrepresented “peer review.” Browner made similar claims about the report on where all the oil in the Gulf had gone. But that had not actually been reviewed, either, and Browner and others in the administration have been criticized for this and other issues surrounding their handling of information related to the oil spill.

It’s worth mentioning that the scientific integrity plan that President Obama called for in one of his first executive orders—an effort to distance the new administration from the last—is now 16 months over due. It strikes me as something that would be useful right about now.

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