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Congresswoman Betty McCollum

Representing the 4th District of Minnesota

McCollum Requests Investigation Into Trump Administration’s Apparent Violation of Science Policies

February 23, 2018
Press Release

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ranking Member of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, today asked the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General to investigate the Trump administration’s actions that apparently undermined U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) policy to gain advanced access to research data about oil and gas deposits in Alaska.

On Wednesday, Mother Jones reported that Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt requested USGS provide the sensitive Alaskan energy data to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke several days prior to its public release in December and the USGS granted the request in contradiction to its Fundamental Science Practices. In protest, USGS Associate Director for Energy and Minerals Murray Hitzman tendered his resignation on December 17.

“Congress and the American people deserve a full explanation of how, why, and at whose direction the Trump administration disregarded the fundamental science practices that prior administrations have adhered to and that citizens count on,” Congresswoman McCollum wrote.

The Fundamental Science Practices exist to ensure the integrity of the USGS’ scientific research and protect scientists from any pressure to release data in advance of its release to the public. The Trump administration’s decision to upend this process threatens unbiased, reliable USGS data and creates the possibility of a real or perceived unfair advantage to individuals or groups who have access to the material in advance.

“I request that you review this action and determine whether there were any violations of policy by Department of Interior leadership in requesting and obtaining this information in advance of its public release. This includes a determination of any ethical violations, as well as a review of how this action may jeopardize the scientific integrity and objectivity of USGS,” Congresswoman McCollum wrote.

A PDF copy of Congresswoman McCollum’s letter is available here. The full text of Congresswoman McCollum’s letter is below:

Dear Deputy Inspector General Kendall:

The Fundamental Science Practices of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are in place to safeguard unpublished USGS data, information and associated scientific materials.  These guidelines are designed to ensure the integrity of the agency’s scientific research and protect scientists from any pressure to release data in advance of its release to the public.  This process ensures that unbiased, reliable USGS data and information are released to the whole public and avoids any unfair advantage, or perceived advantage, to the benefit of any interest or particular group, corporation, individual, or other entity.

On December 15, 2017, a request was made by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt to the USGS to disclose information from the first National Petroleum Reserve report, an energy assessment of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, containing sensitive information on oil deposits, to Secretary Ryan Zinke prior to its publication on December 22, 2017.

In contradiction of the USGS fundamental science policy, USGS granted Deputy Secretary Bernhardt’s request, and proffered the information to the Secretary of Interior several days in advance of the information’s public release.  As a result, Associate Director for Energy and Minerals Murray Hitzman tendered his resignation on December 17, 2017.

I request that you review this action and determine whether there were any violations of policy by Department of Interior leadership in requesting and obtaining this information in advance of its public release.  This includes a determination of any ethical violations, as well as a review of how this action may jeopardize the scientific integrity and objectivity of USGS.

Congress and the American people deserve a full explanation of how, why, and at whose direction the Trump administration disregarded the fundamental science practices that have been adhered to in prior administrations and that citizens count on. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,