Department of Energy (DOE) officials withheld information from Congress to advance President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and fired an employee who honestly and thoroughly answered legislative staff’s questions, a congressional committee investigation found.
DOE officials, including Noelle Metting, met with staff from the House Science, Space and Technology and Senate Energy and Natural Resources committees in October 2014 to discuss pending legislation the agency opposed. DOE wanted to suppress information to kill support for the bill, science committee Republicans revealed in a report Tuesday.
Metting was later fired because she “refused to conform to [DOE management’s] predetermined remarks” and provided “candid and complete information” in response to the committees’ questions, the report said.
“Instead of providing the type of scientific information needed by Congress to legislate effectively, senior departmental officials sought to hide information, lobbied against legislation, and retaliated against a scientist for being forthcoming,” Science, Space and Technology committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, said in a statement.
The report added: “The DOE’s actions constitute a reckless and calculated attack on the legislative process itself, which undermines the power of Congress to legislate,” the report continued. “DOE’s disregard for separation of powers is … an institutional problem that must be corrected …”
Additionally, retaliating against Metting created a potential “chilling effect,” preventing other scientists from providing forthcoming information to Congress, the report said.
The October 2014 briefing regarded DOE’s Low Dose Radiation Research Program (LDRRP), which studies how small radiation exposures effect humans. Its research assists in the medical field and plays a role in forming evacuation plans in the event a terrorist detonates a radioactive dirty bomb.
The briefing was intended to help lawmakers make an informed decision about pending legislation that would codify the LDRRP program in statute and require a report concerning low-dose radiation’s effects.
But DOE management opposed the legislation — instead preferring to close the program to focus on Obama’s Climate Action Plan — and used the opportunity to lobby against the bill, according to the science committee’s report. That decision allegedly violates the Anti-Lobbying Act.
The agency could reroute funding to programs related to the Climate Action Plan by closing LDRRP.
“DOE placed its own priorities to further the president’s Climate Action Plan before its constitutional obligations to be candid with Congress,” the report continued.
Metting’s immediate supervisor, Todd Anderson, was intended to lead the briefing, since he “may be better at staying on message,” Julie Carruthers, a DOE senior technical advisor, said in an email.
Similarly, Anderson needed “to brief the Senate folks so they don’t develop their own bill,” Sharlene Weatherwax, a DOE associate director, wrote in an email to Anderson.
“DOE management developed a scheme to withhold information from congressional staff,” the report said. “Dr. Metting was directed to omit information from a presentation to congressional staff given during the briefing.”
DOE managers also wanted to “muzzle” Metting — then-LDRRP’s program manager, the report said. “Prohibiting federal employees from providing information and communications with Congress is also a violation of the Anti-Lobbying Act.”
Regardless, Metting provided “too much information in response to questions from committee staff” that “provided supportive evidence to continue the LDRRP,” so management “retaliated against Dr. Metting,” the report said.
The investigation was spurred after Metting and her attorneys contacted the committee in late 2015 and provided an account of the events that followed the October 2014 briefing. The committee then obtained DOE documents and communications regarding LDRRP.
DOE has since reinstated Metting after she took legal action, a committee aide said in a press briefing.