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Congress Asks that USGS Nominee 'Protect the Scientists'

After recent resignations, there's a new part of the job description: "maintain a sort of firewall between their scientific work and any political agendas."
March 16, 2018, 10am PDT | Katharine Jose
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In a recent hearing on the nomination of geologist and former astronaut James Reilly to lead the United States Geological Surveycongress members "emphasized that Reilly would have to protect the scientists in his agency and maintain a sort of firewall between their scientific work and any political agendas," reports Francie Diep at Pacific Standard 

It was an unusual line of questioning that stems from the resignation last month of two USGS scientists after they were asked to provide data from a study to leaders of the Department of the Interior (which houses the USGS) in advanced of its public release. 

Diep spoke to leaders of the scientific community. 

"'I would not say they have ever been asked to be some sort of buffer or barrier between the [Department of the Interior] and scientists ever before,' says Lexi Shultz, vice president of public affairs for the American Geophysical Union, a professional group for Earth scientists. The union estimates that a bit less than 600 of its members work for the USGS. 'That is not something that we have seen,' Shultz says." 

Though, typically, it has taken President Trump an exceptionally long time to fill the top position at the USGSReilly's nomination attracted comparably little controversy, most likely because he is one of the administration's few nominees to lead a scientific agency who actually has an advanced degree in science.  

If Reilly is approved, he will report Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is more of "a typical Trump appointee," as Elizabeth Kolbert wrote, in that "[n]early all Trump’s Cabinet members have shown disdain for the regulatory processes they’re charged with supervising." 

Still Reilly's response to the committee's questions are "hard to read," Diep writes; interpretations have varied from "USGS nominee vows to insulate science from political pressure" to "USGS nominee inclined to show data to Interior bosses." 

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Published on Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Pacific Standard
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