“Honest Chief” Chambers wins appeal against Dept. of Interior

CHAMBERS WINS APPEAL AGAINST U.S. INTERIOR DEPARTMENT
Privacy Act Violation for Bush Officials Destroying Favorable Personnel Evaluation

Washington, DC – In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today upheld the claim of former U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers that records exonerating her may have been illegally destroyed by Bush administration officials. The ruling also sets a precedent for using the Privacy Act to redress improper shredding of personnel files and other records, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The case involves the disappearance of a favorable performance evaluation for Chief Chambers prepared by then-Deputy Park Service Director Donald Murphy covering the same period when Murphy later alleged Chambers had ignored the chain-of-command – allegations utterly absent from Murphy’s appraisal, according to sworn testimony. Chambers is seeking restoration as Chief of the U.S. Park Police following her dismissal in 2004 after an interview she gave to The Washington Post concerning staff shortages. Her dismissal was based in part on charges that would be impeached by a glowing performance evaluation.

In 2005, Chambers filed a lawsuit under the Privacy Act on the grounds that this key exculpatory evidence had been intentionally and wrongfully destroyed. In 2008, the federal district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the government only had an obligation to undertake a diligent search for the document. Chambers appealed, arguing, among other things, that a diligent search was no remedy when the government had already improperly destroyed the document that was the object of the search.

“This is an important ruling not only for Teresa Chambers but for all citizens who rely upon the government to safeguard records about them,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein who argued the appeal. “The federal government cannot shred incriminating documents with impunity.”

The ruling remands the case back for a trial on whether Interior in fact intentionally destroyed the evaluation. In the meantime, Chambers’ direct challenge to her dismissal is before another federal appellate court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That latter panel has already ruled once for Ms. Chambers only to have two holdover Republican appointees on the Merits Systems Protection Board again reject her challenge. Her appeal on the underlying action will be argued this fall.

A definitive ruling on the missing performance evaluation would undermine Interior’s contention that the dismissal of Chief Chambers was justified on the merits.

“The long legal saga of Chief Chambers boils down to one question – May a public servant be fired for telling the truth, especially a truth vital to public safety?” Dinerstein added. “We also wonder how long the Obama administration will want to keep on defending the multiple acts of misconduct by their predecessors in this case.”

What’s our national BLM science coordinator up to? Not a lot.

What has your national science coordinator at the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. been doing lately? The answer is, not a lot.
Besides giving a conference paper here or there, we can find only one bit of testimony before Congress, a powerpoint presentation, and a few other minor things. The recommendation of the Public Land Foundation seem to have fallen on deaf ears (see below).

What’s being done

Although the directors of land agencies have spoken of their concern about climate change for many years, there is little evidence that actual efforts are under way to create ways to adapt to it. Most of what has gone on, as of the summer of 2008, is still in the category of talking, meeting, and scheduling workshops. However, some agency heads are now trying to construct the guidance that GAO and others said has been sorely missing.

They also are realizing that climate change is not another pesky environmentalist buzzword that should be invoked alongside the usual suspects of habitat loss, invasive species, and the like. Ron Huntsinger, the national science coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management, says, “We have been addressing the impacts of changing climates for some time, but not under the rubric of ‘climate change.’

“We know what some of the anthropogenic causative factors are, and we should be taking appropriate action on those. Right now the focus is on greenhouse gases, which I think is shortsighted. We should be responding to ecosystem changes”—for example, the waste of natural resources, the “extravagant use of energy,” and the use of products like broad-spectrum pesticides—and developing better recycling and transportation systems. “This is a systemic issue not restricted to the effects on climate change, but which encompasses the larger issues of the general health and well-being of humans and natural systems,” Huntsinger says.

Lynn Scarlett, the interior department’s deputy secretary, attributes increased activity at the department to a variety of recent public reports. She points to “the accumulated amount of research information and knowledge building, all of which have come together to amplify the seriousness of the issue and drive people to take action.” She named a number of assessments and task forces, along with the efforts of the USGS. “I think certainly the creation of the Climate Change Task Force by Secretary [Dirk] Kempthorne has been a spark to action. All of these things together, I think, have increased the pace and extent” of action. (Asked about Al Gore’s contribution, she replied: “I don’t know how much that figured into folks’ thoughts. I haven’t heard that mentioned by folks as a driver.”)

The Climate Change Task Force that Scarlett cites, and which she heads, brings together some three dozen interior department experts to explore issues facing climate change science. The group has been meeting periodically for a year and a half, with the aim of providing Secretary Kempthorne with a body of information on which to act. The meetings have been closed to the public, and records of its deliberations are not available publicly.

In October, 2008, BLM put out a call for nominations to all State Directors as follows:

EMS TRANSMISSION 10/16/2008
Information Bulletin No. 2009-006

To: All State Directors

From: Assistant Director, Renewable Resources and Planning

Subject: Call for Nominations for Science Committee Members DD: 10/17/2008

The Director has approved the revised Science Strategy (attachment 1) and the charter for the Science Committee (attachment 2). The Science Strategy calls for a formal approach to the application of science to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) programs based on the identification of agency priorities. The Science Committee will play a key role for the BLM in the future, including prioritizing and approving research project proposals for funding. Both documents are currently being printed at the National Operations Center.

The first step in implementing the strategy is the formation of the Science Committee. There are 12 members of the Committee. Three positions on the committee are filled by nominations from the field, and are to represent the three levels of officials of the BLM field organization – Deputy State Directors, District Managers, and Field Managers. These committee members will serve terms of 2 years, with the potential of reappointment for an additional 2 years. The committee is expected to meet or conference twice a year – shortly after the new budget year, and prior to the development of the budget justification. However, additional sessions may be called if circumstances warrant. In order to keep costs down, it is anticipated that most of the meetings will be by conference call.

Recognizing that Committee members already have a great demand on their time, it is our desire to utilize the work of the committee efficiently, and limit the additional demand that participation would require. To do so, the Committee will be assisted by the Division of Resource Services and a standing subcommittee made up of the State Office Science Coordinators, Regional Science Coordinators, and the Joint Fire Science Coordinator at the National Interagency Fire Center. The first task of the Committee will be to participate in the development of the implementation plan for the Science Strategy. With the recognition of the need to better manage our research activities as a part of the M4E initiative, we would like to initiate this effort in the near future. To that end, please submit your nominations for the three field representative positions by the due date cited above.

It is our desire to schedule the first meeting of the Science Committee before the end of the current calendar year. Nominees will be notified of their selection to the Committee, and the scheduling of the first meeting.

Thank you for your assistance in this very important effort. For further information please contact Ron Huntsinger, National Science Coordinator, at (202) 452-5177.

Signed by: Authenticated by:
Edwin L. Roberson Robert M. Williams
Assistant Director Division of IRM Governance,WO-560
Renewable Resources and Planning

2 Attachments
1 – Bureau of Land Management Science Strategy (18 pp)
2 – Science Committee Charter (3 pp)

Public Lands Foundation Position Statement

The Role of Science in BLM Land Management Decisions

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Science is important for supporting land management decisions and helping to outline their consequences. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must state clearly the role of science in resource management decision-making and act accordingly. The use of science within BLM has received critical media attention. Recent media debates about perceived conflicts between scientists, policy makers and political appointees have led the public to question public policy decisions, and have eroded the public trust. The Public Lands Foundation (PLF) believes BLM needs to reinforce its institutional commitment to the application of science to land management decisions. Also, BLM would benefit from increased partnerships with public and private science providers in making informed resource management decisions. The use of the best available science is critical when developing public land policy. A clearly understood and transparent relationship between scientists and policy makers can be highly productive and beneficial to BLM and the public.

BACKGROUND

Land management is complex because the natural and social systems that are affected are complex. Full consideration of relevant scientific information can improve land management decisions. It can expand the number of options considered, and it can increase the probability that intended outcomes will be achieved. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) directs BLM to use science in its decision-making process:

In the development and revision of land use plans, the Secretary shall use a systematic interdisciplinary approach to achieve integrated consideration of physical, biological, economic and other sciences. [Section 201, FLPMA]

Policy development is rightfully a political process. When done well it involves defining the issues; gathering the best scientific knowledge and technology, pertinent facts and opinions about the issues; and then designing a policy to address the issues in a scientifically sound, socially acceptable, economically feasible and legally possible manner. Poor public policy results when scientific knowledge and facts are ignored, suppressed or distorted to further a particular political agenda. Likewise, poor public policy can occur when narrow scientific analysis is used to dictate and justify complex policy choices that involve social and political outcomes. Both misuses of science by policy makers and by scientists (and science providers such as U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, academia, etc.) impact the public’s trust in BLM’s decisions.

BLM, as defined by FLPMA, is not by itself a scientific research organization; rather, BLM is a resource management agency that uses science to inform its land management decisions and policies. Scientific research provides data and knowledge for BLM decisions in land use planning, National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) analyses and policy options.

Fundamentally, quality resource management depends on the interface of science and policy. Within BLM the interface between science and policy occurs primarily at the field management level when land management decisions are made or at the national level when policies are developed. At the present time, the linkage between science and policy-making is often informal and serendipitous.

Most science providers have rules (policies, manuals, guidelines, codes of ethics, etc.) for producing science, getting peer review, and interfacing with policy makers. BLM does not. Thus, BLM must rely on luck, opportunity and its limited institutional capabilities to link science and policy.

BLM does not have a separate research organization. However, it has a wide variety of highly-qualified resource professionals and researchers inside and outside of the agency who provide scientifically based information to inform the policy-making processes.

Whether science is the underpinning or the driver of policy is not always clear. Science should be neutral to policy and both scientists and policy makers need to understand this. Science provides the facts on which good analysis and policy can be based. Scientists and policy makers must work together to make decisions on complex biological, physical and social science issues.

As long as there have been professional resource managers, there have been scientists in the field of resource management. Current media attention indicates that those who promote and oppose current BLM policy decisions both use science to justify their policy positions.

Advancements in policy often lag behind advancements in science and technology. And, conclusive science is often not available within practical timeframes to inform management decisions. Within BLM, the informal linkage of science and policy leads to further diminishment of science influencing policy. Recent expansion of concepts such as ecological restoration, landscape scale analysis, and multiple species habitat conservation plans are just examples. Best Management Practices based on scientific analysis of their consequences and efficacy would be an example of an appropriate and timely linkage of science and policy.

Historical BLM efforts have made a start at increasing its institutional capability and commitment to the use of relevant science, but much still remains. On September 26, 2000, the BLM Director approved BLM’s Science Strategy (available at http://www.blm.gov/nstc) which sets forth an overall approach to science with the following three primary objectives:

1. “to delineate the role of science in BLM decision making and public land management;

2. to establish a clear process for identifying science needs and priorities and to assure that those needs are reflected in the Bureau’s Strategic Plan and budget; and

3. to provide a mechanism for communicating the Bureau’s science needs, sharing its science and results, and highlighting its science opportunities on BLM-managed public lands.”

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, BLM used a Science Coordination Committee with representatives from each State and the Headquarters offices to address science needs. This committee played an important role by providing, among other things, internal coordination of calls for research priorities from agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Forest Service, etc. The committee was discontinued for a couple of years (about 1996 to 1998), re-established in 1998, and then disbanded again within the last few years. BLM Science Advisor positions in the Headquarters office also were eliminated. Over time, Science Coordinator positions were created in several directorates to provide some focus on science at the Headquarters level. Their success has been directly proportional to priority given to science by their Assistant Director. And, a commitment by one Assistant Director did not necessarily translate into a commitment by all Assistant Directors.

A Science Advisory Board (a Federal Advisory Committee Act—FACA—committee) was established in about 1996, which consisted of representatives from outside of BLM. Its charter was allowed to lapse within the last few years.

PLF Annual Meeting

At its annual meeting in Golden, Colorado in September 2006, PLF was privileged to have Patricia Nelson Limerick, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, as a luncheon speaker. Professor Limerick spoke about the history of western expansion and the importance of science to decision-making. Later in the meeting, a panel composed of a BLM scientist and a BLM manager spoke on “Science in BLM Decision-making.” Panelists emphasized the need for scientists who understand BLM laws and programs and can explain their findings in terms that managers can understand and use in decision-making. BLM panelists also recognized that NSTC has limited capability to create new science and that its basic role is linking field management to relevant science.

PLF CONCLUSIONS

BLM’s use of science is part of a continuing public dialogue. Patricia Limerick has stated: “In shaping the West’s past, present, and future, no factor is more interesting and consequential than the role of science.” She goes further to explain a number of circumstances that reflect BLM’s role, as mandated by FLPMA in the “new west”. These include such concepts as BLM’s ability to promote partnerships among diverse interests, skill at advancing ecological restoration and rehabilitation of degraded habitats, landscape scale analysis, and skill at adapting to local variation. This management occurs within a context of multiple risk and multiple demands, commonly known as multiple use management.

We concur with her conclusions, and proffer that BLM, as the largest federal land manager with the most diverse land management responsibilities, has a continuing and expanding role in the American west to continue its legacy of promoting, utilizing, and advancing sound science for land management decisions. And, PLF calls upon BLM to increase its institutional capability and commitment to use relevant science in policy development, NEPA analyses and land management decisions.

PLF believes BLM’s Science Strategy clearly articulates a process for effectively using science and technology in BLM land management decision-making. However, PLF also believes BLM management needs to make an even stronger commitment to a) implementing this Strategy than it has in the recent past, b) acquiring the resources needed to assure science is given appropriate consideration in natural resource management decisions, and c) share that commitment with its staff, constituents and the public. BLM needs to walk the talk.

Practicing science in a political environment is always challenging, especially without rules and guidelines. Practicing science in a highly decentralized organization also is difficult. Current trends in diminishing the role of BLM’s science organization and eliminating the technology transfer and linkage between science and policy is troubling. Budget cuts in this arena provide only short term benefits and further reduce BLM’s capability to manage the public lands based on relevant scientific concepts. There are opportunities for BLM to reinforce its capability and commitment to the development and use of sound science. We also believe there are opportunities to further define and refine a linkage between science and policy. The Forest Service, as an example, has clear roles and relationships between researchers and policy makers (See Mills, et al).

There are opportunities to formalize roles and relationships between scientists and policy makers, so that media misinformation and the loss of public trust can be avoided. BLM must protect itself from the manipulation of science by institutionalizing the linkage between science and policy and strengthening the roles for scientists, practitioners and managers in policy development.

BLM’s new Managing for Excellence initiative, among other things, proposes to establish a single National Operations Center (NOC) in Denver, Colorado. This will give the NOC a senior executive to lead and manage the organization. NOC will centralize NSTC, the Lands and Resources Project Office, the National Information Resources Management Center, the National Human Resources Management Center, the National Training Center, and the National Business Center under a single Director who will be responsible for servicing the entire BLM. PLF is on record in support of NOC considering it a means of increasing the visibility and stature of NSTC and the other important offices and their service to the field and Headquarters offices of the Bureau.

BLM should avoid the short term expediency of down-sizing NSTC. Even under current budget constraints, it is important that BLM commit to maintaining the current capability of the Center, and to the role of science and technology in resource management. A centralized control is needed to ensure that BLM’s limited research and development dollars are well-spent for the benefit of BLM as a whole. NTSC is the natural location for this operational work.

The Managing for Excellence initiative should advance and promote the role of NSTC in the sound development of national policy. This should lead to an advanced role for NSTC to develop scientific analyses of land management choices, based upon the best available science from within and outside BLM, with consequences and implications identified for policy makers to consider.

The BLM is well-served by a modest centralized science organization like NSTC, lead by a senior executive serving on the BLM leadership team, operated in cooperation with the entire BLM organization, and supplemented with various scientific experts who are located at other BLM duty stations.

PLF RECOMMENDATIONS

The Public Lands Foundation recommends:

1. Roles for Scientists and Managers: BLM establish clear roles and ethical guidelines for policy makers and scientists (i.e., researchers) which foster independent and objective scientific input into policy formulation. This role statement should be unique to the BLM multiple use mission (as compared to single use management) and focus on the complexity of multiple risk assessment in highly complex habitats and landscapes. The Forest Service’s guidelines for scientists and managers are an excellent template for BLM to consider. (See Mills, et al, 2002).

2. Scientific Analysis of Policy Implications: BLM establish guidelines for disclosing scientific consequences that can guide options and alternatives to be considered in proposed land management decisions.

3. Science-based Infrastructure: BLM increase its commitment to the BLM Science Strategy and create an infrastructure to support science in land management decision-making.

4. Science Advisory Board: BLM re-establish a Science Advisory Board to provide independent counsel to the Director on linking policy proposals to relevant and current science findings, and to discuss the potential consequences of proposed new policy based on scientific interpolations.

5. Linking Science and Resource Management: BLM establish a National Operations Center in Denver, as provided for in its Managing for Excellence initiative, to strengthen the linkage of science and resource management decision-making and to provide increased visibility and stature to NSTC and other operational offices.

Bibliography:

“Making the Most of Science in the American West: An Experiment,” Patricia Limerick and Claudia Puska, Report #5, from the Center of the American West, University of Colorado, 2003.

Available at www.centerwest.org

“Achieving Science-Based National Forest Management Decisions While Maintaining the Capability of the Research and Development Program,” Thomas J. Mills, Richard V. Smythe, and Hilda Diaz-Soltero, Pacific Northwest Research Station, April 2002, 20 pages.

“Bureau of Land Management Science Strategy,” BLM/RS/PL-00/001+1700, September 26,2000, 19 pages. Available at www.blm.gov/nstc.

Robert Abbey named to BLM director post in Dept. of Interior

A former aide to Clinton’s Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt, has been named to head the Bureau of Land Management. Bob Abbey was head of the BLM in Nevada. Mike Pool had been named as interim national director of BLM, but once confirmed, Abbey will replace Pool as the permanent director. Abbey has been involved in controversies, from the Cave Mummy to ranching to Mustang removal and adoption. He’s a seasoned veteran of land management issues. Readers, please feel free to share your views, positive or negative, on this appointment.

Obama names Nevadan Bob Abbey to head BLM

By Agelio Networks
contact@agelio.net

US President Barack Obama has chosen Bob Abbey as his pick to head up the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which handles oversight of oil and gas development on federal lands onshore.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the nomination, calling Abbey a “consummate, professional natural-resource manager.”

Abbey has more than 32 years in state and federal public service, including eight years at the helm of the Nevada state BLM office until his retirement in 2005.

Abbey has supported sharing access on BLM lands, especially when it comes to mining and oil and gas development, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In 2007 testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, he said he favoured treating public lands as more than just commodity-production sites.

“I am a firm believer in BLM’s multiple-use mandate,” he testified, “and I believe that appropriate public lands, not all public lands, should continue to be accessible for mineral extraction.”

Abbey’s nomination was reportedly pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also from Nevada.

Abbey still must pass a Senate confirmation vote.