According to news accounts from Fox News and the Associated Press, the Interior Department's inspector general says the White House edited a drilling safety report in a way that made it falsely appear that scientists and experts supported the administration's six-month ban on new drilling.
The inspector general says the editing changes resulted "in the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed." But it hadn't been. The scientists were only asked to review new safety measures for offshore drilling.
The investigation is the latest in a string of incidents where the Obama administration has been accused of overstating the science behind official reports and political decisions made after the massive Gulf oil spill.
Last month, staff for the presidential oil spill commission said that the White House's budget office delayed publication of a report by federal scientists that forecast how much oil could potentially reach the Gulf's shores. Federal scientists initially used a volume of oil that did not account for the administration's various cleanup efforts. A smaller volume was ultimately presented.
The same report said that President Barack Obama's energy adviser, Carol Browner, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Jane Lubchenco contributed to the public's perception that a government report on where the oil had gone was more exact than it was by emphasizing peer review. Browner, the commission's staff said, also mischaracterized the analysis on national TV, saying it showed most of the oil was "gone." The report said it could still be there.
"There was no intent to mislead the public," said Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Salazar, who also recommended in the May 27 safety report that a moratorium be placed on deepwater oil and gas exploration. "The decision to impose a temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling was made by the secretary, following consultation with colleagues including the White House."
The Interior Department, after one of the reviewers complained about the inference, promptly issued an apology during a conference call, with a letter and personal meeting in June.
At least eight of the 15 experts asked to review the Interior Department's work expressed concern about the change made by the White House, saying that it differed in important ways from the draft they had signed off on. But the experts also questioned the basis for the drilling ban.
"We believe the report does not justify the moratorium as written and that the moratorium as changed will not contribute measurably to increased safety and will have immediate and long-term economic effects," the scientists wrote in a fax sent to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, earlier this year. "The secretary should be free to recommend whatever he thinks is correct, but he should not be free to use our names to justify his political decisions."
A federal judge in New Orleans struck down the Interior Department's first moratorium in June, saying the government didn't justify it, and ruled that the department improperly issued safety rules because it issued them without soliciting public comment.