Bush still staffing science posts with political appointees
Posted: 22 November 2008 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]
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From today’s Washington Post:

Top Scientist Rails Against Hirings
Bush Appointees Land Career Jobs Without Technical Backgrounds

By Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 22, 2008; Page A03

The president of the nation’s largest general science organization yesterday sharply criticized recent cases of Bush administration political appointees gaining permanent federal jobs with responsibility for making or administering scientific policies, saying the result would be “to leave wreckage behind.”

“It’s ludicrous to have people who do not have a scientific background, who are not trained and skilled in the ways of science, make decisions that involve resources, that involve facilities in the scientific infrastructure,” said James McCarthy, a Harvard University oceanographer who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. ...

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Posted: 22 November 2008 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Yes, I read some details on this and they’re sticking people with absolutely zero scientific credentials into administrative positions involving science funding. This truly is an outrage, and apparently Mr. Bush believes that not enough of an outcry will be raised because of this. What does this suggest about the likelihood that he will issue blank pre-emptive pardons to all members of his Administration?

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Not that I’m for it, but I’d see how he’d justify his actions as eliminating conflict of interest.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Sed non Satia - 22 November 2008 04:19 PM

Not that I’m for it, but I’d see how he’d justify his actions as eliminating conflict of interest.

What is the conflict of interest here? I don’t see it.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think the conflict of interest is between science and their educations.  tongue rolleye

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Posted: 22 November 2008 05:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 22 November 2008 04:50 PM
Sed non Satia - 22 November 2008 04:19 PM

Not that I’m for it, but I’d see how he’d justify his actions as eliminating conflict of interest.

What is the conflict of interest here? I don’t see it.

Assuming that scientists are “pro-science,” they might be more willing to fork out the dough for programs that others might not see the merit of funding.

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Posted: 22 November 2008 05:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Sed non Satia - 22 November 2008 05:05 PM

Assuming that scientists are “pro-science,” they might be more willing to fork out the dough for programs that others might not see the merit of funding.

But they don’t get to set the budget. Their job is to allocate the budget to those programs that are most meritorious. So there is no conflict of interest here. Indeed, who would better know how to allocate a given budget than people who are already experts in the relevant fields?

On the other hand, who would know more about how to allocate funds to political allies other than political appointees? There’s the real conflict of interest. Why put political appointees in these offices except to promote misuse of the allocated funds?

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Posted: 22 November 2008 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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dougsmith - 22 November 2008 05:10 PM
Sed non Satia - 22 November 2008 05:05 PM

Assuming that scientists are “pro-science,” they might be more willing to fork out the dough for programs that others might not see the merit of funding.

But they don’t get to set the budget. Their job is to allocate the budget to those programs that are most meritorious. So there is no conflict of interest here. Indeed, who would better know how to allocate a given budget than people who are already experts in the relevant fields?

On the other hand, who would know more about how to allocate funds to political allies other than political appointees? There’s the real conflict of interest. Why put political appointees in these offices except to promote misuse of the allocated funds?

Later in the article:

“DOE spokeswoman Healy Baumgardner said Salmon’s duties include ‘operational administration and management,” which are “not science-based.’”

Also,

“At NOAA, spokesman Anson Franklin said…‘the position did not require a scientific background, but a background in international relations.’”

If this is the case then I don’t see what the problem is here.  I mean, having a scientific background would be great, but it seems it’s not necessary.  The context is not what the programs involve, but what the role of the hired is.

[ Edited: 22 November 2008 06:38 PM by Sed non Satia ]
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Posted: 23 November 2008 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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SnS, these spokespeople work for their bosses. They are employed to justify decisions that have already been made. That isn’t to say they are always going to lie, but one cannot take their claims at face value when they are telling you that the right decisions have been made, particularly when those decisions involve who is going to be their boss. Now there is a conflict of interest.

Clearly there is more to the job than being a scientist. But the point is that someone with the relevant scientific background is likely to be more prepared to lead a scientific agency than someone without one. Do you remember what happened with ‘Heck of a job, Brownie’ at FEMA? Part of the issue is that Brown was a political appointee without any of the necessary background of how to run a disaster relief agency.

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Posted: 23 November 2008 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Some years ago, I had the pleasure of a conversation with a fellow who allocated research funds for the Air Force. He was an Air Force general and held a doctorate in astronomy. He was quite passionate about astronomy and I asked him why he had taken an administrative job when he could be in the front lines doing research. He sighed and explained that, if scientists like him weren’t willing to do the administrative work, then that work would be done by non-scientists who always screwed things up. He figured that someday, after having done his duty, he’d get back into doing real astronomy.

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Posted: 23 November 2008 10:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 23 November 2008 09:20 AM

SnS, these spokespeople work for their bosses. They are employed to justify decisions that have already been made. That isn’t to say they are always going to lie, but one cannot take their claims at face value when they are telling you that the right decisions have been made, particularly when those decisions involve who is going to be their boss. Now there is a conflict of interest.

Clearly there is more to the job than being a scientist. But the point is that someone with the relevant scientific background is likely to be more prepared to lead a scientific agency than someone without one. Do you remember what happened with ‘Heck of a job, Brownie’ at FEMA? Part of the issue is that Brown was a political appointee without any of the necessary background of how to run a disaster relief agency.

I don’t doubt that they may just be saying that to please their superiors.  But from this article alone, I’m not even sure exactly what the appointees really do, besides some stuff with policy and funds allocations.  To what extent does their power range?  What exactly are they doing?  And why is this something I should be worried about?  Perhaps you have an inkling beyond what this specific article is saying.  I’d love to know more before I take a stance either way.

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Posted: 24 November 2008 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Sed non Satia - 23 November 2008 10:03 PM

I don’t doubt that they may just be saying that to please their superiors.  But from this article alone, I’m not even sure exactly what the appointees really do, besides some stuff with policy and funds allocations.  To what extent does their power range?  What exactly are they doing?  And why is this something I should be worried about?  Perhaps you have an inkling beyond what this specific article is saying.  I’d love to know more before I take a stance either way.

Well, one that they specifically mention in the article is this:

... Jeffrey T. Salmon, who has a doctorate in world politics and was a speechwriter for Vice President Cheney when he served as defense secretary, had been selected as deputy director for resource management in the Energy Department’s Office of Science. In that position, he oversees decisions on its grants and budget.

HERE is the org chart for the Office of Science, and HERE is the org chart for the deputy director of resource management. Basically he’s the lead guy that decides how to budget and give money. This is the perfect position to put a political appointee if you’re looking to politicize the organization, since it gives you an immediate quid-pro-quo. You do (political) business with us and you get funded. You don’t, you don’t. The implication from this guy’s history is that he is there to reward and punish rather than to allocate funds based on the merits. He doesn’t have the background to know the merits.

Now, obviously it will, in the long run, depend on whether this and the other individuals named decide to be professional in their jobs or not. Even someone without the right background can defer to others in the organization to provide the right information, and to help out. But prima facie it doesn’t look good.

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