Ocean scientists' work must pass PR office

Thursday - 11/18/2010, 2:15pm EST

The agency that replaced the embattled Minerals Management Service issued a directive to screen scientific findings -- a move that appears to fly in the face of a scientific openness pledge by the Department of Interior.

MMS was accused of lax oversight after the BP oil spill. Former MMS scientists alleged the "suppression or alteration of their work on environmental issues," according to a GAO report earlier this year.

In September, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a memo of scientific integrity that forbids interference with scientific findings

But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) -- the agency that replaced MMS to oversee onshore and offshore drilling -- issued a directive Nov. 2 that calls for screening of scientific work before it is made public.

According to the directive, "All outside/public presentations, be they speeches, Powerpoints, technical or other, etc., must be forwarded to HQ Office of Public Affairs for approval. They promise to clear the talks quickly."

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) called the directive a "new political filter on science," according to a statement.

"These controls are transparent efforts to chill free exchange of scientific information and debate. They serve no legitimate management purpose," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said in the statement.

BOEMRE rejects the allegation that the agency suppresses scientific findings.

In a statement, BOEMRE spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz said the agency wants to advance scientific work, "but it makes no sense for scientific information to be released in a disorganized and incoherent fashion."

PEER also claims BOEMRE Director Michael Bromwich has hunted down "leakers" in meetings with employees.

Schwartz's responded, "There is no truth to the allegation."

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