Former NOAA Scientists Urge Administrator to Stand Firm in House Subpoena Battle

NOAA resized

Nearly two dozen former scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are urging its chief, Kathryn Sullivan, to continue to resist what they call a “serious misuse of congressional oversight power” by House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

Smith has for months demanded NOAA turn over internal e-mails from scientists discussing a study that refuted a common talking point from climate change doubters that there was a “hiatus” in rising temperatures. Democrats and other top science organizations have previously warned Smith’s allegations are baseless and could stifle scientific work around the country (story for subscribers here). 

“The use of committee time and authority to investigate individual research studies and related peer-to-peer communications through a Congressional subpoena and depositions only serves to intimidate and discourage scientists,” the former NOAA scientists said in a Dec. 7 letter. “That does a disservice to all scientists as well as the American public by stifling critical scientific exploration and analysis.”

Bowing to Smith’s subpoenas would have a chilling effect on scientific work, the letter said.

“Turning over scientists’ correspondence and other information to the committee would significantly damage NOAA’s ability to conduct science by putting NOAA’s scientific independence at risk, and making it more difficult for NOAA scientists to collaborate with peers in academia and the private sector,” the former NOAA employees wrote.

Smith appeared to shift the focus of his inquiry to seek the internal communications of nonscientific employees in a Dec. 1 letter, rather than those of scientists. NOAA has declined to provide any of the records sought by the head of the House Science panel but sent staff several times to brief the committee on the climate change study in question.