A global-warming-denying Bush official burrows in at the NSF

Think Progress reports:

Kathie Olsen — a global warming denying Bush official at the National Science Foundation — has entrenched herself into the agency prior to the arrival of the Obama administration. A congressional investigation said Olsen’s action “raises serious questions concerning whether a high-level Bush White House science appointee is trying to ‘burrow in‘ at the agency.”

The whole sad story, from Talking Points Memo, is below:

The Bush administration’s participation in the personnel tactic known as “burrowing” has been well-reported in recent weeks. The practice isn’t unique to the Bush crowd; during presidential transitions, political appointees eager to stay on the government payroll often wriggle their way into secure civil service positions — despite the differing political beliefs of the White House’s new occupant.

But because the central objective of burrowing is for political appointees to fly under the radar while Washington changes hands, it’s often hard to tell when the practice is actually occurring. Consider the case of Kathie Olsen, who just made a very curious move: going from the No. 2 post at the National Science Foundation to the far less influential job of “senior advisor” in the NSF’s Office of Information and Resource Management.

As Science magazine observes, Olsen had already submitted her resignation to the Obama administration and would have been out the door had she not slipped into her new, seemingly secure post. And this isn’t just any Bush appointee avoiding the need to find a new job — Olsen was at the forefront of the former president’s systematic denial of the human causes of climate change.

Before becoming deputy director of the NSF, Olsen was the associate director of the Bush White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. Her immediate boss there was Bush science adviser John Marburger, who was implicated in the 2007 censorship of congressional testimony that would have publicly illustrated the human health risks of the warming climate.

Remember Phil Cooney, the once and future oil industry representative who habitually erased from government documents any evidence that fossil fuels cause global warming? It was Olsen who first handed Cooney a debunked, Big-Oil-underwritten study that purported to disprove the existence of climate change. As Rolling Stone reported in 2007:

“It was sham science,” says McCarthy, the Harvard scientist. “It’s almost laughable, except that this study was held up by the administration as a definitive refutation of the temperature record.”But even as the paper was being discredited, it was causing great excitement in the White House. When Kathie Olsen of the Office of Science and Technology Policy forwarded the study to Cooney, he responded with an enthusiastic, “Thanks, Kathie!” Six minutes later, according to internal e-mails, the study was in the hands of Kevin O’Donovan, who served as Cheney’s point man on climate. The study also grabbed President Bush’s attention …

During Olsen’s 2002 Senate confirmation hearing, before she officially joined the Bush OSTP, her wavering avoidance of climate change questions aroused the ire of none other than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). From Science magazine’s report, available on Nexis:

McCain first read a description of how “warming in the 21st century will be significantly larger than in the 20th century … and temperatures in the U.S. will rise by about 5 degrees – 9 degrees F … on average in the next 100 years.” Without identifying the source — a recent White House report that President George W. Bush has dismissed as mere speculation — McCain then asked each nominee whether he or she agreed with the statement.Olsen and Russell initially refused to answer the question. Olsen, despite NASA’s dominant role in the global change initiative, later said that she “was nervous … [and] didn’t understand the paragraph,” adding that “I don’t know if we have enough data to make that statement.” Foiled in his attempt to solicit the nominees’ views on climate change, McCain declared that “I will oppose your nominations until I get an answer” and stalked out of the hearing.

How was Olsen permitted to slip inside the NSF bureaucracy after playing such a front-and-center role in the Bush administration’s politicization of science? We’re looking into whether her case fits the technical definition of “burrowing” — and what the Obama team can do about it — but suffice to say that her survival hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“This internal NSF personnel action raises serious questions concerning whether a high-level Bush White House science appointee is trying to ‘burrow in’ at the agency,” said a senior congressional investigator with knowledge of NSF. “Usually when a director or deputy director vacates their post, they are not given a non-competitive, SES-level job at the same agency. This merits scrutiny.”

We have a call into the NSF to confirm whether the new “senior advisor” post announced last week is senior enough to ensure that Olsen could not be reassigned for several months.

Late Update: An NSF spokeswoman confirms that Olsen has reinstatement rights as a member of the Senior Executive Service, or SES. This could mean that civil-service rules preclude anyone in the Obama administration from acting on the matter. We’ll keep you posted.

In my days at DOE, an SES could be asked to take any comparable SES position — no matter where it is or what the duties. That should give the Obama administration some opportunity for creative thinking.

17 Responses to A global-warming-denying Bush official burrows in at the NSF

  1. Russ says:

    That should give the Obama administration some opportunity for creative thinking.

    Yes, in the movies there would be some gruff honcho saying, “I want her at a polar research station researching ice within 24 hours.”

    Seriously, I don’t understand much about the way this bureaucracy works. Since when did they get tenure?

    Oh well, of course sidelining her, giving her zero responsibilities and zero funds, and making her parasitic life hell in other ways, and doing the same for any other burrowing insects, should be easy enough.

    Or would that be too “mean” for these hippies?

  2. paulm says:

    Hey Joe how bout pushing mass transit here …

    Any Takers For a Green Stimulus? Senate Bill Lowballs Mass Transit

  3. Mark says:

    An excellent place for the budget ax to fall, and pronto, if you ask me…

  4. Bob Wright says:

    Maybe she’s a good “hired gun”. Turn her loose on her old masters. Along those lines, what’s good old Harlan Watson up to these days? He had to know better, but did the administration’s dirty work at Kyoto.

  5. RCA says:

    The “tenure” is a key feature of the civil-service. Prior to it being established (in the US) in 1872, federal jobs were handed out by elected officials with somewhat less regard for merit and qualifications.

  6. In a perfect political world, McCain would be the one to call her out.

  7. Russ says:

    RCA – yes, I knew about that part, regarding career civil servants.

    But this:

    The practice isn’t unique to the Bush crowd; during presidential transitions, political appointees eager to stay on the government payroll often wriggle their way into secure civil service positions;

    those who were politically appointed with no regard for merit and qualifications, as you say, then somehow being illicitly assumed into tenure, is what I meant to say I didn’t follow.

    I know if I came into office and said fire all the ideological cadres and was told, this one and that one “burrowed” into tenure and can’t just be fired, I would’ve been surprised.

  8. john says:

    I’m not sure that when she converts from a sched C (a political appointee) to a civil servant she retains tenure. I believe she’s still on probation.

    If not, as an SCS she can be reassigned on a whim. I say she should be counting fish scales in Duluth.

  9. Can anyone explain why so many scientists disagree with AGW if there is a consensus???

    Here are just a few of the scientist who disagree:

  10. jorleh says:

    Cast the anti-science witch out in time. The deniers are killing us.

  11. Rick says:

    Hey Dash – not to argue with you, but an article from the hootersville gazette is not likely to carry a whole lot of weight around here in my opinion. Maybe upgrade your source a little.

  12. Kevin says:

    I usually don’t bother responding to people saying they don’t know if Global Warming is real. It often seems like they are trying to say something innocent so they can then mention the big conspiracy and repeat the goofy lies of others.

    But I’ll assume Dash is legit and point out that there is a consensus about evolution, but there are a handful of scientists, including even some biologists who have devoted their lives to studying DNA, who insist that Intelligent Design must be true.

    Their decisions aren’t based on science even though they are scientists.

    It is the same with Global Warming.

    Joe has a good article on conservative commentators who deny Global Warming, suggesting that because the only solution to the problem is massive government programs (something that they hate) they make themselves deny Global Warming. [I think I’m paraphrasing correctly.]

    Others of course just like attacking liberals or environmentalists and can’t bring themselves to change.

    To be honest I don’t really understand the denial movement.

    But I must ask: I learned in grade school about how green house gasses keep Earth much warming then if it had no atmosphere. Dash, Didn’t you learn that too?

  13. David B. Benson says:

    (I wrote about this yeasterday, but it never appeared.)

    She is a member of the Senior Executive Service. As such she has preferment for any position for which she is otherwsie qualified.

  14. Jim Prall says:

    I’ve been working my way through several of those lists of “skeptics” and comparing how they rank on a list of climate scientists, sorted by how widely cited their work is. Please take a look for yourself. The short version: fewer than 5% of the top 500 most cited authors have signed any of these skeptics’ declarations; they are outnumbered some six to one by signers of strong calls for prompt action, not even counting the IPCC reports (which are themselves clear calls for action).

    I’ve skipped over the Oregon Petition as utterly unusable, as it omits any info on institutional affiliation, and random sampling of names yields very, very few who have published anything at all remotely relevant to climate science. I’m forced to view the Oregon Petition as simply being from the general public. Compare its 31K names to the 2.6 MILLION who’ve signed statements supporting greenhouse gas reductions – all linked on my “petitions” page.

    The Heidelberg Appeal was not about climate change. Also it makes claims that are hard to disagree with in literal terms, but easy to misinterpret.

    Marc Morano’s various lists done for Sen. Inhofe merely combine copies of other lists plus names he has quotemined arbitrarily, several of whom repudiate his claims (but never seem to get back off his list) so it’s not a reliable source for what those listed actually believe – it’s not a letter that people on the list actually signed (while some of the shorter lists actually are – see my discussion on my site.)
    The other skeptics’ petitions such as the Manhattan Declaration are better documented. They were good enough to sort the names into a list of scientists (197, over 30% ‘former’, ‘retired’ or ’emiritus’…) and I’ve incorporated the list of current scientist signers in my rankings.

    This Hooterville Gazette page links to several smaller variant lists I haven’t cross-checked yet (more work for me, oh joy) but I suspect I’ll find a lot of overlap.

    The URL of my site is linked from my name above; here’s another link for reference:

  15. Jim Prall says:

    I misspelled “emeritus” above. That’s the term for any retired university professor. It’s not a particular badge of special status. Some retired professors do continue to do relevant research. Again, judge by what they are publishing and whether it is being cited by others.
    There is a very evident skew in age in the ranks of skeptics’ petition signers.

  16. Jim,

    While you’re at it, cross-check the UN IPCC list of 2,500 experts.
    I’d love to see what you find there.


  17. Jim Prall says:

    Dash –
    I’ve already done all 619 names from “Working Group 1” of the IPCC AR4. WG1 are the group that deal with the scientific basis. Within my site I have a separate list just for them:

    I’ve limited my review to just WG1 since they are the focus of the discussion of the science behind the greenhouse effect and of the range of different climate forcings and feedbacks, and of projecting how much earth can be expected to warm.

    I found homepages for 584 of the 619. While the ‘inactivists’ like to argue that the ‘consensus is crumbling’ and such, the only one of the 619 to have resigned from the IPCC is Chris Landsea, over differences on projecting changes in hurricane severity.
    The IPCC Assessment Reports have grown more decisive and forceful on the strength of the scientific basis and the evident urgency of reducing GHG emissions. Thus inactivists need to try to minimize the significance of the Assessments. This is difficult, as the reports draw on top climate scientists from around the world (over 300 have 50 or more citations to their *fourth* most cited paper) and the reports have been reviewed and reaffirmed by all the top academies of science around the world.

    To address the objection that IPCC reports might conceal widespread dissent among the authors, with the skeptics having been somehow squelched, silenced, bullied or whatever, I’ve also compared how many IPCC authors have signed public declarations or open letters outside of the IPCC; I’ve reviewed ten such declarations, both skeptical and ‘activist’ (calling for prompt GHG cuts), starting from the 1995 Leipzig Declaration. Notes on the declarations are included on my main page and the longer list of over 2000 names going beyond the IPCC.

    If you look at my list of IPCC wg1 authors, you’ll see that 157 signed the activist declarations that I’ve checked up to now; NONE have signed any of the skeptics’ declarations. John Christy appeared in the film The Great Global Warming Swindle and is widely cited as a ‘climate skeptic’ over his views on satellite temperature records. Sami Solanki of the Max Planck Institute in Germany was profiled in Lawrence Solomon’s column and resulting book entitled “The Deniers” for his view that solar variability explains significantly more of 20th century temperature variation than is allowed by the majority or ‘consensus’ view.

    Both Christy’s and Solanki’s works are covered in the Assessments, so it’s hard to support any claim that they’ve been silenced. There were more people on the IPCC holding different views from theirs, and the range of opinions were taken into account in the Assessments.

    Moving to my longer list of names, where I’ve collected citation stats for almost 1300 authors, the signers of the skeptics’ declarations are skewed toward the bottom of the ranking by frequency of citation.

    By contrast, of the top 500 most cited authors in the larger list, just 18 (3.6%) have signed any climate skeptic declaration, while 179 (36%) — nearly ten times as many — have signed an ‘activist’ statement (aside from the IPCC reports themselves.) Here’s a link to the longer list: