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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Propagandizing Science – Trump Transition Team Questions Department of Energy

Summary:  President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team for the Department of Energy has submitted a detailed questionnaire to the Department.  Many of the requests solicit personal information on department employees and consultants relating to the role, if any, they may have played in activities that the transition team appears to be questioning.

The Department correctly has refused to provide answers that identify individuals and their activites, and will furnish only information that is available to the public.

Seeking such information on individuals appears to be propagandizing the scientific activities of the Department.  By soliciting this information the transition team implicitly chills the activities of the staff, intimidating them as they carry out their professional duties and casting a pall on their job security.  Such behavior is intolerable and must be put to an immediate end.

Introduction. In the Soviet Union, Stalin’s dictatorial regime controlled political expression or dissent from the party line by encouraging citizens to inform on their neighbors; even family members would inform on their relatives.  Mark Osiel writes of citizens of former Soviet bloc countries who still struggle with memories of “neighbors informing on neighbors, friends on friends and husbands on wives….People watch one another, in even the most private settings, with hair-trigger sensitivity to the possibility of betrayal” (“Mass Atrocity, Collective Memory and the Law”, 1997, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, NJ).  

Such domestic espionage was not confined to foreign lands.  In the U. S. “the Red Scare took a virulent form as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover conducted the dreaded COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting and disrupting domestic subversion.  During the McCarthy communist hunts of the 1950s, widespread illegal surveillance resulted in thousands being jailed, blacklisted, or fired” (Anne M. Wittman, “Talking Conflict: the Loaded Language of Genocide, Political Violence, Terrorism and Warfare”, © 2017 by ABC-CLIO, LLC, Santa Barbara, CA).

As President-Elect Donald Trump prepares to assume the awesome powers of the U.S. presidency he expressed a view eerily consonant with those above.  As reported in Time on Nov. 25, 2016 he told a rally in Myrtle Beach, SC “[p]eople move into a house a block down the road, you know who’s going in. You can see and you report them to the local police.”  He understood that in most cases such informing on one’s neighbors would be unfounded and so “be wrong, but that’s OK.”  President-Elect Trump, it appears, is perfectly comfortable with this remarkable invasion of our right to privacy.  He condones neighbor-on-neighbor espionage, one of the means that police-state dictatorships have used in the past to maintain power.
Trump Transition Team’s Questionnaire to the Department of Energy.  The Trump administration’s transition team for the Department of Energy has issued a detailed set of 74 questions directed to the Department’s employees, requesting detailed information on programs and staffing related to climate change and nuclear energy, and other operations as well.  Among the questions are certain ones asking employees to name colleagues engaged in climate science activities, and their funding, and to list other individual professional activities.  Such questions are transcribed here verbatim, identified by the number used in the document:

·        13. Can you provide a list of all Department of energy employees or contractors who have attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings?  [The social cost of carbon relates to secondary costs to society as a result of carbon-induced global warming.  These include damages from extreme climate events, loss of agricultural yield, wildfires, and adverse health effects, for example.]  Can you provide a list of when those meetings were and any materials distributed at those meetings, emails associated with those meetings, or materials created by Department employees or contractors in anticipation of or as a result of those meetings?

·        15. What is the Department’s role with respect to JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear agreement)? Which office has the lead for the Department?

·        19. Can you provide a list of Department employees or contractors who attended any of the Conference of the Parties (under the UNFCCC) in the last fiv years?  [A Conference of the Parties (COP) is one of the annual meetings held under the UNFCCC (U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change) that negotiates international climate treaties.  The meeting that resulted in the Paris Agreement of December 2015 was COP21.]

·        69. Can you provide a list of the top twenty salaried employees of the lab, with total remuneration and the portion funded by DOE?

·        70. Can you provide a list of all peer-reviewed publications by lab staff for the past three years?

·        71. Can you provide a list of current professional society memberships of lab staff?

·        72. Can you provide a list of publications by lab staff for the past three years?

·        73. Can you provide a list of all websites maintained by or contributed to by laboratory staff during work hours for the past three years?

·        74. Can you provide a list of all other positions currently held by lab staff, paid and unpaid, including faculties, boards, and consultancies?

Questions 13, 19, and 69-74 are troubling because they ask agency personnel to point the finger at their colleagues, and to identify their work products and their communications, in ways that are potentially threatening to the named  employee’s status within the Department or to his/her employment security.  This chilling effect arises because it is widely known that President-elect Trump and the nominee for Secretary of Energy oppose action to address climate change.  Any request for information on particular Department employees must be considered threatening under these circumstances.

(In passing, it should be noted that part of the answer to Question 15 is that the current Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, is a nuclear physicist who left the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to become the Secretary.  He was directly involved at the highest levels of the negotiations leading to the Iran nuclear agreements.)

On December 13, 2016 the Department of Energy responded to the questionnaire by refusing to provide information on the personal activities of its staff to the Trump transition team.   The Department will limit its responses to information that is already available to the public.

Propagandizing SciencePersonnel in Federal agencies are hired because of their technical expertise in their fields, not for their political views.  They are career government employees, who serve under administrations of both parties, carrying out their duties and responsibilities as professionals, not as political appointees.  The requests for information in this questionnaire undermine this premise of federal employment.  Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said the questionnaire “suggests the Trump administration plans a witch hunt for civil servants who’ve simply been doing their jobs….Democrats and Republicans alike should unite to condemn any action that intimidates, threatens or retaliates against civil servants” professionally carrying out the duties of their positions. 

The troublesome questions above are easily interpreted as attempts to intimidate the Department’s employees, perhaps leading to a purge of their positions with the Department.  This cannot be tolerated.  Our government can never be run as a propagandistic enterprise that dismisses meritocracy in its employment policies.  Career departmental employees must be respected for the professional expertise they bring to their work.
© 2016 Henry Auer


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