Policy and News Updates for February 6, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] House addresses interference on climate change

On January 30, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on political interference in the work of government climate change scientists.

During the last Congress, under the leadership of Chairman Tom Davis [R-VA], the Committee requested documents on global warming from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, whose former chief of staff Phil Cooney (a former lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute) had been accused of imposing his views on scientific reports. At the hearing, current Chairman Henry Waxman [D-CA] announced that he had received nine non-public documents from the White House in response to his request that “add little to our inquiry.” Waxman also reported that on the day of the hearing, he and Davis would send a letter to the White House regarding manipulated documents their staffs had seen during in camera review, “to urge the White House to reconsider the confrontational approach it is now taking.”

At the hearing, the Union of Concerned Scientists introduced their new report, Atmosphere of Pressure. UCS mailed a questionnaire to more than 1,600 climate scientists at seven federal agencies to gauge the extent to which politics was playing a role in scientists’ research. The scientists reported experiencing at least 435 occurrences of political interference in their work over the past five years. Forty-three percent of respondents reported they had perceived or personally experienced changes or edits during review of their work that changed the meaning of their scientific findings.

Sources: The hearing can be viewed on CSPAN [Available here or search “House Hearing on Climate Change Research,” 1/30/2007]; Hearing documents [Committee on Oversight and Government Reform]; White House Stonewalling Release Of Climate Change Documents [ThinkProgress blog]; Atmosphere of Pressure: Political Interference in Federal Climate Science [Report by the Union of Concerned Scientists]

[new] House committee investigates signing statements

On January 31, the House Judiciary Committee began an investigation of presidential signing statements. In his opening statement, Committee Chair John Conyers [D-MI] said, “Today we are taking up the very important item of Presidential signing statements, which supposedly give him the power to ignore duly enacted laws he has negotiated with Congress and signed into law. All too often, the Administration has engaged in these practices under a veil of secrecy.” In his investigation, Conyers plans to, “ask the Administration to identify each and every statutory provision they have not agreed with in signing statements, and to specify precisely what they have done as a result.”

Sources: Hearing information, including the Witness List and Conyers’ opening statement [House Judiciary Committee];Who’s Afraid of Presidential Signing Statements? [New York Times Select 2.4.07]

[new] Senate introduces intelligence bill

On January 24, the FY 2007 intelligence authorization bill was reintroduced in the Senate and reported out of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As Steve Aftergood reports in his publication Secrecy News, this bill was introduced after two years without an annual intelligence authorization. The Senate bill would require disclosure of the agency budgets, one of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.

In an interview with OpenTheGovernment.org, Aftergood said, “The bill is a mixed bag. It does have one very important provision, requiring disclosure of the intelligence budget. But it also has a new provision to expand the “operational files” exemption that is used to exclude some intelligence records from processing under FOIA.” Still, “The secrecy of the intelligence budget total is I think the most persistent and important example of unnecessary classification,” Aftergood says. “I think budget secrecy serves as a barometer of how far we have to go to achieve reasonable openness. As long as the budget remains classified, we know that official secrecy is out of rational control.”

Sources: S. 372 [Thomas]; FY 2007 Intelligence Authorization Bill Advances [Secrecy News]

News from Coalition Partners and Others

[new] Media and Democracy

A new report by the Center for American Progress addresses the effects of local media diversity on democratic participation. The authors argue that, “Americans’ ability to learn about and debate local, state and national issues and to monitor our representatives depends upon our exposure to news and discussion that is not controlled by a small group of mostly like-minded corporations.” The report lays out a series of measurements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt to properly measure local media diversity. Read the report here.

On February 24, a conference will be held at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to address the intersection of media and democracy. The conference is called “Beyond Broadcast 2007: From Participatory Culture to Participatory Democracy.” The organizers say, “Broadcast media have long played a powerful role in shaping political culture and mediating citizen engagement in the democratic process, and the conference will examine how participatory culture is putting the tools of media creation and critique in the hands of citizens themselves.” If you are interesting in attending, visit Beyond Broadcast.

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