Interior Hangs Science-Altering Official Out to Dry

Environmental groups say Dept. of Interior Sec. Dick Kempthorne needs to honor science over politics.© Tami Heilemann

Julie MacDonald, a senior Interior Department official criticized by environmentalists for revising scientific reports to minimize protection of endangered species, resigned her post last week. Critics charge that MacDonald, a civil engineer by training, repeatedly instructed federal biologists to change their recommendations on identifying "critical habitats" for threatened wildlife in order to favor development and resource extraction interests, true to the Bush administration party line.

Insiders report that prior to MacDonald’s resignation, Congress was preparing to scrutinize her activities in upcoming hearings. Meanwhile, her superiors at the Interior Department were considering enacting internal disciplinary measures and demoting the embattled deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

For their part, environmentalists couldn’t be happier to see MacDonald go, and revel in the attention that her departure has garnered. "Increasing transparency in the decision-making process would make other political appointees think twice before altering or distorting scientific documents," says Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit group instrumental in obtaining and publicizing documents altered by MacDonald.

Grifo adds that UCS will continue to monitor Interior Department decisions. "While we welcome Ms. MacDonald’s resignation, interference at Interior predates her arrival," she says. "Secretary Dirk Kempthorne must send a clear message to all Interior political appointees that substituting opinions for fact is unacceptable."

Sources: Union of Concerned Scientists; Washington Post