How serious is matter of the NOAA thwarting FOIA requests?

We had a recent question here (well several) about the Inspector General report on the NOAA involvement in the Climategate emails. This questioner at Yahoo seems to want the issue to go away: http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index;_ylt=Al...

Well, I suspect Susan Solomon feels the same way. However, Sen. James Inhofe seems to feel quite differently about this: "It also appears that one senior NOAA employee possibly thwarted the release of important federal scientific information for the public to assess and analyze. Her justification for blocking the release was contradicted by two career attorneys in the Office of General Counsel. This is no doubt a serious matter that deserves further investigation. " http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=...

Here is the basic problem in a nutshell:

Inspector General to Susan Solomon: Why did you not release the requested information under the FOIA?

Susan Solomon: Two NOAA lawyers advised me that this information belongs to the IPCC and not NOAA.

Inspector General qustions the two NOAA lawyers: Lawyer 1, I did not speak to Susan Solomon. Lawyer 2, I spoke to Susan Solomon but gave her no such advice.

Inspector General to Susan Solomon: The two lawyers deny giving you any such advice, do you have any documentation or emails as evidence?

Susan Solomon: No.

Note that this aspect of the matter is completely left out of media reports which simply go on to say scientists have been exonerated for umpteenth time, etc. Even the NOAA press release paints a rosy picture.

So do you feel this matter is over and if not, how serious does this appear to be?

(Note for further background reading, Steve McIntyre, being one of the FOIA requesters goes into this in some detail here: http://climateaudit.org/2011/02/24/solomons-diverg... )

Update:

Baccheus, your answer has several inconsistencies and downright illogical remarks. I cannot fathom that a "he said/she said" scenario between a senior NOAA official/IPCC lead author and two Office of General Counsel lawyers regarding proceeding on a federal act with legal obligations is something that "has no further avenue". Really? If you were an FOIA applicant would you accept your request being treated like this and then just "move on"?

As you greatly exaggerate McIntyre's FIOA request frequency. There were 4 FOIA requests for this information. One came from McIntyre and the other three from other skeptics. Most people don't equate one request by McIntyre to be "bombardment".

And then to end if off you lay out three "we found no evidence" statements much like the media echo chamber reports. And like them, you conveniently forget to mention the IG report recommendation on the FOIA requests. It was right between those pages you referenced so I can only assume that your eyes

Update 2:

..glassed over.

11 Answers

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  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    What this demonstrates is that NOAA did not do a complete search for relevant papers/documents within (or what it thought was within) its possession. This demonstrates a flaw in their methodology for responding to FOIA requests, which should be corrected. A follow-up to the response given to those four FOIA requests ought to be carried out according to the IG's recommendation in the report. The matter is likely not over, as we might expect NOAA to follow through with the reanalysis.

    Is it serious? Apart from this flaw in internal methodology, no. Perhaps you should reread NOAA's news report and see what became of the incident:

    http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110224_...

    "The report questions the way NOAA handled a response to four FOIA requests in 2007. The FOIA requests sought documents related to the review and comments of part of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. NOAA scientists were given legal advice that IPCC work done by scientists were records of the IPCC, not NOAA. ****The requesters were directed to the IPCC, which subsequently made available the review, comments and responses which are online at IPCC and www.hcl.harvard.edu.****" [emph.]

    "It also appears that one senior NOAA employee possibly thwarted the release of important federal scientific information for the public to assess and analyze."

    What complete bull crap. Sure, "thwarted" efforts for NOAA to release data, but by redirecting them to another organization that they said would provide the info, and which did? Conspiracy indeed.

    Small rant aside, I do agree that this is a rather serious issue that should be corrected. Especially regarding issues like climate science which have fallen victim to accusations of fraud on several accounts, future handling of such instances as FOIA requests should be carried out with the utmost rigor. Granted, this event occurred before Climategate unfolded, but this shouldn't set a precedent. It will be interesting to see if NOAA does reassess its response, and what its conclusions will be. Hopefully it can lay this issue to rest and give us some indication on how NOAA is planning on improving its documentation-handling.

  • 1 decade ago

    Regarding the validity of AGW, it's completely meaningless.

    As for the "evidence" that you've presented, specifically:

    >>Inspector General to Susan Solomon: Why did you not release the requested information under the FOIA?

    Susan Solomon: Two NOAA lawyers advised me that this information belongs to the IPCC and not NOAA.

    Inspector General qustions the two NOAA lawyers: Lawyer 1, I did not speak to Susan Solomon. Lawyer 2, I spoke to Susan Solomon but gave her no such advice.

    Inspector General to Susan Solomon: The two lawyers deny giving you any such advice, do you have any documentation or emails as evidence?

    Susan Solomon: No.<<

    That would appear to be your interpretation of what Inhofe said that the IG says that Dr. Lubchenco says that Susan Solomon and the two lawyers said. At least that's what I took away from your press-release link. The quoting was not very well attributed... In any case, obviously anyone who wants to actually know what happened would need fewer levels of hearsay.

    _

  • 5 years ago

    I'm certainly not amazed and admittedly the AP will win this as should any person else who has filed a request. Here is why (this is a partial reply to one other query I had answered to some days ago): Releasing the portraits won't spark a large outcry in opposition to americans that's not already destined to happen. And now not releasing the photographs isn't going to persuade doubters that he is certainly dead... They'll say the government has had plenty of time to photoshop any image they need to distribute. Does PresBo even have the authorized proper to keep those pix secret? This can be a severe query, so consider about it. These snap shots, the result of a US army raid, are government records. The united states may refuse to unlock records for countrywide safety causes, but what can they very likely exhibit that is secret or would damage or abate future US army or intelligence operations? The whole world has already been advised he's lifeless, with Al Qaeda affirmation now, and the USA executive has been eagerly issuing all types of expertise (albeit most likely conflicting knowledge) concerning the mission and the personnel worried in it. So, on what authorized groundwork can they refuse to release them? Claiming that the pictures might show politically embarrassing won't cut it, nor will raising "fears" that releasing the portraits would spark violence. Please word that i am not ADVOCATING that they unlock the snap shots, i'm just saying that i do not see any authorized justification for them no longer to take action. The primary FOIA request filed, when refused by PresBo, will change into a lawsuit that the federal govt will have to finally lose. So I would like to hear PresBo inform us why he thinks he has the authorized correct to maintain these portraits hidden.

  • 1 decade ago

    In my opinion, failure to comply with a FOIA request is a serious breach of the public trust and the employee should be disciplined, depending on whether the failure was accidental, negligent or deliberate. As a lawyer I deal with this problem frequently. It is a common problem at all levels of local, state, and federal government in the US. Most states have state statutes that are the rough equivalent of FOIA and are binding on state and local government. Compliance with the state statutes is far worse, in my experience.

    At the same time I must say that the failure to respond to the FOIA request indicates absolutely nothing about the validity of climate change. As I understand it the information was eventually released and it was not substantively significant. I don't see Inhofe or anyone else pointing out how it was significant in the debate. In fact your link says it became moot because they got the same information from IPCC.

    So as a policy matter on Federal procedure; I see an issue. As for climate change, in my opinion, this is insignificant.

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  • 1 decade ago

    This is a good question.......One of the reasons these FOI requests are sometimes problematic/difficult is:

    The Westfall Act, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2679(b)(1) provides federal employees absolute immunity from tort claims for actions taken in the course of their official duties, and gives the Attorney General the power to certify that a federal employee sued for wrongful or negligent conduct was acting within the scope of his office or employment at the time of the incident. Once that certification takes place, the U.S. government is substituted as the defendant instead of the employee, and the lawsuit is then governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act. Additionally, if the lawsuit began in state court, the Westfall Act provides that it shall be removed to federal court, and renders the Attorney General's certification "conclusive" for purposes of the removal. Once the certification and removal take place, the federal court has the exclusive jurisdiction over the case, and cannot decide to send the lawsuit back to state court. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that certification can take place under the Westfall Act in instances where the federal employee sued asserts, and the Attorney General also concludes, that the incident alleged in the lawsuit never even took place. Osborn v. Haley, No. 05-593 2007 U.S. Lexis 1323.

    This is why the request just sits and sits and sits......

    Source(s): me
  • Rio
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    Quiet serious, and it should at the least go to a ruling authority whether intuited by NOAA or not. Though the first would be better.

  • 1 decade ago

    Inhofe is looking for a scandal and is obviously frustrated that he can't find one.

    The items from the IG..

    - A mention of a possible irregularity in some contracts with no discernible bearing on the quality of climate science

    - 8 emails that “warrants further action”, which the IG then took further action on an raised no red flags.

    - Solomon's description of lawyers advice, a he-said/she-said with no further avenue to follow-up. Unless the items were proprietary NOAA reseach, the data probably does belong to the IPCC. This has been a common McIntyre strategy, to bombard agencies with requests for data that he knows they don't own and which is available from the owner of the data.

    -- The "bad taste" cartoon, which is rising to the top of the findings in importance. When something this minor is what is talked about it is a certain sign that there are no important findings.

    The statements from the report, no matter how far political operatives want to spin it:

    · “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA failed to adhere to its peer review procedures prior to its dissemination of information.” (Page 11)

    · “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the IQA.” (Page 12)

    · “We found no evidence in the CRU emails to suggest that NOAA violated its obligations under the Shelby Amendment.” (Page 16)

    There is nothing here but standard audit stuff.

  • JimZ
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    I think the most that can come from this is a little embarrassment from NOAA for not being forthcoming. It seems that stalling is the norm. The press sadly don't do their job of keeping an eye on government. Instead they seem to be way to cozy with them probably to ensure they get good scoops and because they largely are in the same political party. FOIA is fine if it is the opposing political party but when it is them, they aren't so eager to comply.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Well, perhaps we'll pull the plug on NOAA too. It wouldn't bother me any, accuweather does a decent reporting job, and they don't charge me for it.

  • Right
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    No it's not over. Since Noaa is government and has the data protected by government law it will be hard to get especially if it shows them to be complicit in fraud.

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