NASA Reneges on Transparency - Still No DSCOVR Documents

Mon, 2009-03-30 20:28Mitchell Anderson
Mitchell Anderson's picture

NASA Reneges on Transparency - Still No DSCOVR Documents

It was welcome news last month when Congress committed $9 million to refurbish the long-overdue Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR). Good start. So how about some information to go with it?

Desmog blog readers will recall the long and fruitless quest to wring documents out of NASA about the bizarre story of the DSCOVR spacecraft. This $100 million instrument was fully completed eight years ago yet has been sitting in a box in Maryland ever since.

DSCOVR was designed to directly measure climate change for the first time ever by observing our warming planet from the unique vantage of the Lagrange Point - one million miles towards the Sun.

The climate denial industry has been regularly harping on the unreliability of low Earth orbit satellite data for years. Strange then, how the very experiment that could resolve such issues was mothballed – over the strenuous objections of dozens of leading researchers.

I struggled for over a year to extract any kind of internal documents from NASA using the Freedom of Information Act and got nowhere. After 11 months of stonewalling, the space agency elected to withhold an unknown number of documents due to some very bizarre rationales. I appealed later in 2007 and was also turned down.

Then Barack Obama was elected President of the United States…. One of his first actions, only one day after inauguration was to issue a memorandum to the heads of every federal agency directing them to err on the side of disclosure and openness. The legally binding statement ordered among other things that:

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.

What a breath of fresh air. I decided to take President Obama at his word and re-submit my FOIA request to NASA the next day.

To make it easy on the beleaguered space agency, I kept the wording almost identical. In effect, all they would have to do is look at the already collected documents from my original request, glance at the presidential directive from Mr. Obama and release most or all of the long-withheld documents.

So what happened next? Absolutely nothing.

More than two months have gone by and I haven’t heard a peep from NASA in spite of numerous emails asking for an update on the status of my request. Maybe they didn’t get the memo…

Alas there was another directive just last week from the new Attorney General Eric Holder, overturning a draconian directive from John Ashcroft in the wake of 9-11. This new policy again instructs the heads of all federal agencies to pull back the veil of secrecy that has plagued the US government for years. Specifically, this policy states:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C.§ 552, reflects our nation’s fundamental commitment to open government. This memorandum is meant to underscore that commitment and to ensure that it is realized in practice.”

Holder also makes it clear that hiding behind legal technicalities is unacceptable:

An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption.”

That bureaucratic game playing is a thing of the past:

FOIA professionals should be mindful of their obligation to work “in a spirit of cooperation” with FOIA requesters, as President Obama has directed. Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the “new era of open Government” that the President has proclaimed.”

The Attorney General also demands that requests be handled as quickly as possible:

When information not previously disclosed is requested, agencies should make it a priority to respond in a timely manner. Timely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency. Long delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.”

In light of all that, my question to NASA is quite simply: where are my documents??

I have been more than patient for the last two months, filed a very modest request that does not require any additional document searches, and have made several failed attempts to get an update on the status of FOIA request FOIA-09-070.

The ball is your court NASA. What do you have to hide?

[x]
A U.S. District Court judge ruled on June 27 that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service both wrongly approved expansion of the West Elk coal mine in Somerset, Colo., because they failed to take into account the economic impacts greenhouse gas emissions from the mining would have.
 
The federal agencies said it was impossible to quantify such impacts, but the court pointed out a tool is...
read more