An investigation by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General, begun at the request of Republicans in Congress, determined that it was not department officials but staffers in Browner's office who revised the report.
The staffers re-ordered paragraphs of the report in an attempt to help justify the administration's decision to impose a temporary ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as millions of barrels of crude oil gushed into the gulf from BP's Macondo oil well off the coast of Louisiana.
The staffers "misrepresented that the moratorium was reviewed and supported by a group of scientists and industry experts," states the report by Inspector General Mary Kendall.
"The Executive Summary to the 30-Day Report was worded in a manner that implied that the experts peer reviewed and supported this policy decision, when in fact they had neither reviewed nor supported such a policy decision and had never been asked to do so," states the OIG's report.
BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns before sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, April 21, 2010 (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)
Kendall wrote in a November 9 memo to Salazar, "All DOI officials interviewed stated that it was never their intention to imply the moratorium was peer reviewed by the experts, but rather rushed editing of the Executive Summary by DOI and the White House resulted in this implication."
"After reviewing different drafts of the Executive Summary that were exchanged between DOI and the White House prior to its final issuance, the OIG determined that the White House edit of the original DOI draft Executive Summary led to the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer reviewed by the experts," Kendall wrote.
U.S. Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican who called for the investigation after the scientists and industry experts expressed to him their concern about misrepresentation, said, "This report reveals exactly what I suspected all along - Obama administration officials appear to have deliberately disregarded the Information Quality Act to push their destructive moratorium that has crushed job growth along the Gulf Coast."
"I initially requested this investigation on June 16 because I wanted to make sure that the federal government was basing policy decisions that would directly impact so many Louisianians on science - not politics," said Vitter. "Unfortunately, this report reveals the contrary."
In June, Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar offered the experts three separate apologies for any perceived misrepresentation in a letter, a conference call and a face-to-face meeting.
Steve Black is the counselor to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and was placed in charge of a a team responsible for producing a report that would review current industry practices and standards for deepwater oil drilling and make recommendations to President Barack Obama as to how those practices and standards could be improved.
It was this set of recommendations that the experts peer-reviewed, but not the policy decision to impose a six-month deepwater drilling moratorium, which was made by President Obama and Secretary Salazar.
The OIG's report states, "At 2:13 a.m. on May 27, 2010, Browner's staff member sent an email back to Black that contained two edited versions of the Executive Summary. Both versions sent by the staff member contained significant edits to DOI's draft Executive Summary but were very similar to each other. Both versions, however, revised and re-ordered the Executive Summary, placing the peer review language immediately following the moratorium recommendation causing the distinction between the Secretary's moratorium recommendation - which had not been peer reviewed - and the recommendations contained in the 30-Day Report - which had been peer reviewed - to become effectively lost."
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