The Scientific Activist

Although the Bush Administration has already proven itself pretty effective at interfering with science and regulation through existing channels, yesterday’s New York Times reports that this wasn’t quite enough:

President Bush has signed a directive that gives the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.

In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.

This strengthens the hand of the White House in shaping rules that have, in the past, often been generated by civil servants and scientific experts. It suggests that the administration still has ways to exert its power after the takeover of Congress by the Democrats….

The directive issued by Mr. Bush says that, in deciding whether to issue regulations, federal agencies must identify “the specific market failure” or problem that justifies government intervention.

Besides placing political appointees in charge of rule making, Mr. Bush said agencies must give the White House an opportunity to review “any significant guidance documents” before they are issued.

Yes, yes, hmmm, we’ve all seen what great work Bush Administration political appointees do when given influence over government science….

One source quoted in the article describes this as “backdoor attempt” at stalling necessary regulation, but there is nothing subtle about what the Bush Administration is doing here. By pushing through rules with no other purpose than to ensure that the Administration line trumps agency scientists, the Administration is attempting to further institutionalize the culture of political interference in science that has flourished so well under its rule.

Although this smacks of the desperation surely felt by a President whose powers are quickly slipping from his grasp, this is still a dangerous and completely unnecessary directive from the Bush Administration, and it is one that should be thoroughly challenged.

Thanks to Beth for sending me the article. Mike the Mad Biologist also has a post on this topic.