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Profile: Office of Science and Technology Policy

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Office of Science and Technology Policy was a participant or observer in the following events:

The Office of Management and Budget, which is reviewing the EPA’s forthcoming “Draft Report on the Environment” (see June 23, 2003) advises the EPA that the report “needs balance” and asserts that “global climate change has beneficial effects as well as adverse impacts.” The office also suggests removing the discussion on global warming completely from the report’s executive summary. “[D]elete climate change or use previously agreed upon material,” writes one staffer at the White House Council of Environmental Quality. Similarly, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy suggests removing a discussion of the potential impacts climate change might have on human health and ecology. The Department of Energy also gets involved, arguing through the White House that EPA should delete any discussion of atmospheric concentrations of carbon because it is not a “good indicator of climate change.” Another official warns, “Take care here and be sure to be consistent with existing administration policy. Let us try to avoid another CAR scenario.” This is a reference to the Climate Action Report (CAR) (see May 2002) that the US submitted to the UN in May 2002. That report concluded that human activities are “causing global mean surface air temperature and subsurface ocean temperature to rise.” White House officials also suggest making edits to particular sentences. For example, the OMB asks the EPA to delete the phrases, “alter regional patterns of climate,” and, “potentially affect the balance of radiation.” It also suggests replacing the passage, “changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly the result of human activities,” with, “a causal link between the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the observed climate changes during the 20th century cannot be unequivocally established.” Several of the edits are made by CEQ chief Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist. According to a congressional investigation, Cooney removes climate change “from a discussion of environmental issues that have global consequences, delete[s] a chart depicting historical temperature reconstruction, and insert[s] the word ‘potentially’ in several places to reduce the certainty of scientific statements regarding the impacts of climate change.” Cooney also advocates the removal of references to a 2001 National Research Council report (see June 2001) concluding that human activities contribute to global warming and information from a 1999 study indicating that global temperatures rose significantly over the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. Cooney also adds a claim to the draft report that satellite data does not support global warming, and removes a phrase that says “regional patterns may be altered” by climate change. In one memo, Cooney writes, “These changes must be made.” [New York Times, 6/19/2003; CBS News, 6/19/2003; Associated Press, 6/20/2003; US Congress, 1/30/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Philip A. Cooney, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), Office of Science and Technology Policy, Council on Environmental Quality

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

NOAA public affairs officer Kent Laborde writes in an email to senior public affairs staff that “CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] and OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] have given the green light for the interview with Ram [Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, a senior climate scientist]. They had me call Juliet [Eilperin, Washington Post reporter who requested the interview] to find out more specifics. She will be asking the following: what research are you doing with climate change; what research has been encouraged or discouraged by the administration; what interaction has he had with the administration; [and] does he have free reign to conduct the research her [sic] wants to do? I told Juliette [sic] that he feels comfortable to comment only on science and does not want to loose [sic] his scientific objectivity by addressing policy/potitical [sic] questions. She said since he is not a policy maker, she wouldn’t ask policy questions. Michele [St. Martin of CEQ] wants me to monitor the call and report back to her when it’s done…” [Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 16 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Juliet Eilperin, Council on Environmental Quality, Kent Laborde, Michele St. Martin, Venkatachalam Ramaswamy, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Screenshot of draft documentScreenshot of draft document [Source: Government Accountability Project] (click image to enlarge)In response to a number of questions for the record (QFRs) submitted by senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) regarding an April 26, 2006 testimony on projected and past effects of climate change, scientists at NOAA submit a document of draft responses to an NOAA legislative affairs specialist for review. The document is ultimately reviewed by individuals at the EPA, Energy Department, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who suggest a number of changes. For example, the OMB suggests keeping the sentence, “The full range and magnitude of the biological and biogeochemical effects of ocean acidification are still so uncertain that a reliable and quantitative estimate of the likely socio-economic effects is not yet possible,” but removing the sentence immediately following that: “However, healthy coral reef ecosystems are important to both the fisheries and tourism industries and negative impacts on these ecosystems could affect these industries.” According to the OMB, “[a]s written this seems to conflict with the factual first sentence of the paragraph, which adequately answers the question.” In another instance, the OMB recommends adding a sentence that attributes global warming to increasing water vapor, drawing from a quote taken out of context from an article written by scientists Thomas Karl and Kevin Trenberth. When NOAA scientist James Butler attempts to explain that the edit is not scientifically valid, the OMB insists on keeping the change. Finally, Karl himself enters the fray, recommending a change that the OMB accepts. The Government Accountability Project, which will obtain the draft document that shows the changes, comments, “These two examples show that, while federal climate scientists are occasionally able to correct distortions to scientific findings in congressional communication, political appointees can still introduce inaccurate information that goes unchecked.” [Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 37, 80 pdf file; Maassarani, 3/27/2007, pp. 44-46 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Thomas Karl, Office of Science and Technology Policy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James Butler, Daniel Inouye, Office of Management and Budget, Frank R. Lautenberg

Timeline Tags: Global Warming

Slate reporter and columnist Christopher Beam coins a new term, “deathers,” to label conservatives who are spreading the debunked rumors that President Barack Obama’s health care proposals would kill old people (see July 16, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Beam publishes his article on the same day that Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) claims that under Obama’s reforms, seniors would be “put to death” (see July 28, 2009), and that Obama holds a “town hall” meeting where he debunks this and other rumors surrounding his proposals (see July 28, 2009). The claim apparently originated with lobbyist and lawyer Betsy McCaughey (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), who used similarly questionable claims to derail the 1994 reform proposals by the Clinton administration (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Others have made similar assertions; Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) recently warned that Obama’s reform proposals would “kill people” (see July 10, 2009), and conservative commentator and author Charlotte Allen says: “Obama’s not going to say, ‘Let’s kill them.’ But he seems to be perfectly comfortable with the idea that a lot more old people are going to die a lot sooner.”
End-of-Life Consultations - Beam shows that the language of the bill, as it stands in Congress at this time, provides for “end-of-life consultations” between patients and doctors, if the patients wish them. In those consultations, doctors would explain what kind of services are available to those patients—palliative care and hospices, in-home care, more intensive treatments in a hospital, etc.—but would not tell patients that they had to restrict themselves to less intensive treatments that would shorten their lives. Some “deathers” have also insisted that the bill provides for the withholding of “artificially administered nutrition and hydration.” McCaughey is a vocal proponent of this claim. However, such a choice would have to be made by the patient and/or the family, specifically not a doctor.
Shared Decision-Making - Opponents of health care reform such as McCaughey claim that the House bill would “coerce” seniors into taking part in a program that forces them into making decisions about “trade-offs among treatment options,” or takes the final decision-making power away from them and places it in the hands of doctors or government officials. In reality, the bill would provide an informational tool for patients and families to make informed decisions. No coercion could legally be applied.
Obama Staffers Cause Concern - Some of Obama’s staffers have said and written things that cause consternation among reform opponents (see July 23-24, 2009). One of Obama’s senior health care advisers, Ezekiel Emanuel, who serves as health policy adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wrote in 2008 that doctors too often interpret the Hippocratic oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others,” leading some to wonder if Emanuel would put cost concerns over patients’ needs; others have gone farther, comparing Emanuel to Nazi doctors and of advocating “eugenics.” In 1977, Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, joined two other authors in writing about possible methods of population control, including a speculative bit about sterilizing people by introducing chemicals into the water supply. (ABC News later reports that the controversial passage was from a textbook in which various methods of population control were considered and rejected. Holdren recently released a statement saying that population control is not the government’s job; his statements on the matter passed muster in the Senate Commerce Committee, whose Republican members joined Democrats in unanimously approving his nomination as the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.) And some worry that the proposed Independent Medicare Advisory Council, which would oversee cost containment for Medicare, would be staffed, in Allen’s words, with “a certain class of secularized intellectuals” who might put cost concerns over quality of life. [Slate, 7/28/2009; ABC News, 7/28/2009]

Entity Tags: John Holdren, Charlotte Allen, Barack Obama, Christopher Beam, Ezekiel Emanuel, Senate Commerce Committee, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Medicare, Virginia Foxx, Paul Broun

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

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