It’s Official: Griffin is Gone

(I restrained myself and left the exclamation point off the end of the title.)

Yesterday the Obama Administration named a new interim leadership team and officially stated that associate administrator Christopher Scolese “will serve as acting administrator until a successor to Michael Griffin has been nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.” It is not a surprise that Griffin will not be kept on, but this is the first official indication to my knowledge.

It is also worth noting that the mendacious and clearly dishonest David Mould, the Assistant Administrator of Public Affairs who actively censored Jim Hansen, is gone as well.

So, the first good moves have been made. It appears that Mr. Obama is conducting one of the most thorough and patient reviews of the space agency that has ever been conducted by an incoming president, so one expects the next few moves to be wise as well. Given his stellar choices for other scientific and technical positions in his administration, I imagine the president’s choice for NASA Administrator will also be inspiring.

 Hear! Hear!

More Bush Burrowing? Now at NASA

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos)

As the Washington Post and Daily Kos’s mcjoan reported last week, the Bush administration is resorting to the time-honored tactic of burrowing, that is, shifting political appointees into tenured senior civil servant positions, in the rush to preserve as much as it can of its disastrous pro-industry ideology before Obama takes over. The most brazen example, mentioned by the Post and mcjoan, was the burrowing of six ideologues into senior positions at the Interior Department. Now I’ve learned of what looks to be a similar attempt at NASA.

The agency has announced that the position of Chief Information Officer is open – but, here’s the catch, only for a grand total of nine working days, spanning the Thanksgiving Holiday. This is too short and too distracted a time for an adequate search in any event, and also gives someone on the inside track an overwhelming advantage. CIO is a critical position in this information-savvy age: he or she will be responsible for “leading and managing all information technology strategies and initiatives” at the agency. Shouldn’t the Obama administration have an opportunity to make or at least contribute to this important decision? Administrator Michael Griffin doesn’t seem to think so.

The NASA transition: Why Griffin must go

(Cross-posted to Daily Kos)

In the days since the election, a few people have asked for my thoughts on the “transition” that needs to take place at NASA as the reins of power are passed to Barack Obama. While I would not pretend to be an expert on the agency as a whole, I think I may, in the years that it took to write Censoring Science, have developed enough of an understanding of the way the agency’s science effort has been “managed” under Bush, Cheney and administrator Michael Griffin to voice some informed opinions there.

Other reporters or bloggers always have their own deadlines and points to make, and ask me to squeeze my thoughts into a sentence or two. But my main recommendation here is controversial enough to require more than that. It must be supported by facts. Many relevant facts will be found in my book, and new crucial details were revealed in the report on censorship at NASA that the agency’s own Office of Inspector General released this past June, six months after the book’s release. In Censoring Science, I reviewed facts and testimony that cast serious doubt on the administrator’s account of his own involvement in the censorship of climate science at his agency (he denied knowing anything about it), but I refrained from stating directly that I believed he was involved.

The new facts in the Inspector General’s report have changed my mind. I now believe that the preponderance of evidence shows that Michael Griffin not only knew what was happening while the single most egregious act of censorship–directed at climatologist James Hansen, specifically–was taking place, but that Griffin in fact authorized this activity.

This alone should be grounds for his dismissal. On top of that, the ignorance and outright animosity he has displayed toward science in general, climate science in particular, and even scientists as individuals (he has referred to them as children) should disqualify him from leading what was once arguably the most inspiring scientific organization in the world. There has been a brain drain during his tenure, and morale is low in the agency’s science mission. We should also remember that NASA’s climate science program, at more than $1 billion a year, is by far the largest of any single organization in the world, while Griffin’s public statements indicate that he is remarkably ignorant of climate science and completely out of step with mainstream scientific thinking on the causes and consequences of global warming. It seems highly inappropriate for such an individual to lead such an important program.

NASA might have a chance to recover its prowess and inspire entire generations once again, but it has no chance, in my view, with Michael Griffin at the helm.

Why I believe Administrator Griffin helped censor Jim Hansen

Censorship at NASA makes for a long and dismal story. It began early in George W. Bush’s first term and was too widespread to cover even in a book. Michael Griffin inherited an active, though secretive, censorship program when he became administrator in mid-2005. The crucial series of incidents I will review here gave him his first chance to do the right thing, but instead of stepping in to stop the censorship, he helped escalate it. When Jim Hansen finally brought these incidents to light in the media more than six weeks after they began, Griffin and his top aides performed a deft public relations move, cut loose and scapegoated the young man who had been carrying out their orders, twenty-four-year-old George Deutsch, and managed to portray the administrator as a champion of scientific openness and integrity. The media and Congress then bought into this cynical and shameless ploy.

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NASA Office of Inspector General finally releases report

Lo and behold, only two-and-a-half years after the fact, the NASA Office of Inspector General has released a report on the campaign of censorship that took place at the space agency from at least 2003 through early 2006, when Jim Hansen took it public and brought it swiftly to an end. Is it surprising that it took an entire government office, comprising many people and holding the authority to obtain documents and interview government employees — not to mention its rather large budget — twice as long to publish its report as it took me, working alone a few states away, to write and publish a book (Censoring Science) on the same subject? Not to me – although I am gratified that the OIG corroborates many of my findings and adds new, important details about what was arguably the most bare-knuckled of the many censorship incidents at NASA, which was directed at Jim specifically and began with a phone call late on the day of December 15, 2005.

Today, I will talk mostly about the big picture of this report. In coming days, I might like to look more closely at some of the details.

As Andy Revkin of the New York Times reported today on his blog, Dot Earth, I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of the report. (Andy’s article for the print edition of the Times is here. This page also includes a convenient box of links to the series of articles he wrote on this subject in 2006.) But let’s not get carried away: as I wrote on pages 180-81 of the book, one’s expectations would tend to be low. Robert Cobb, the Inspector General, has a long history of protecting the higher-ups at NASA and was even at one time (oxymoronically) ethics advisor to Alberto Gonzales, George W. Bush’s disgraced ex-attorney general. So I expected a complete white-wash. This one is only partial.

As the drama unfolded in the early months of 2006, NASA administrator Michael Griffin and his senior staff managed to direct attention away from themselves by scapegoating an admittedly overzealous bit player, 24-year-old George Deutsch. The commendable thing about yesterday’s OIG report is that it correctly implicates senior NASA officials in the censorship effort and demonstrates that Deutsch was indeed a bit player. The report fingers the main perpetrators inside the agency – all political appointees – accurately and by name: David Mould, who is still NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs (the head of public affairs for the entire agency); Mould’s former Deputy AA, Dean Acosta; and Mould’s predecessor, Glenn Mahone. The latter two have left the agency – both under duress.

But what the report leaves out is any connection between these three individuals (bit players as well when you come down to it – and our new scapegoats) and those who directed the censorship from within the White House – mainly from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Furthermore, CEQ communicated regularly on this issue with the office of Vice President Dick Cheney (Censoring Science, p. 114).

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