New York Times: Bush Appointee Obstructed Scientists at Interior Department

New evidence is mounting that President Bush’s political agenda is interfering with and altering scientific reports issued by the federal government. The New York Times reports that, according to an Interior Department investigation, a “top-ranking official overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service at the Interior Department rode roughshod over agency scientists.”

The official, Julie MacDonald, stands accused of, among other improprieties, “aggressive advocacy for industries’ views of the science that underlies agency decisions.” The Interior Department report also claims that MacDonald modified field reports about endangered species in order to minimize their protection (in favor of private landowners) and also may have violated federal rules by disclosing confidential internal information to various business-related entities.

The Times writes, “The words of more than a dozen high-ranking career employees, from Interior Department headquarters and regional offices in California and Oregon, who are quoted usually by title in the report, describe a manager determined to see that agency findings and the underlying science conform with policy goals.”

The paper reports that MacDonald forwarded internal documents to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property-rights group that often is at odds with endangered-species decisions, and also to recipients at chevrontexaco.com. At very least, MacDonald’s work may result in a heap of legal troubles for the Fish and Wildlife Service because the basis for many of her decisions may be unlikely to hold up in court.

A copy of the Interior Department report was sent to Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. His office forwarded the report to the Times. Rahall has promised a “sweeping review on whether politics is infiltrating decisions governing.” The report was instigated last year by an anonymous whistleblower at the Fish and Wildlife Service.

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