OMB Uses Misleading Appeal to 'Deliberative Process Privilege' to Shield EPA Corruption
Not only is the corruption of the IRIS process a clear example of the Bush administration’s politicization of the EPA, it is also emblematic of its pursuit to raise the Executive Branch above the law.
The OMB’s Kevin Neyland argued vociferously that all “interagency deliberations” should be shielded from any scrutiny because “these documents are covered by the deliberative process privilege.” Neyland cited the Freedom of Information Act, NLRB vs. Sears, Roebuck & Co., and EPA vs. Mink, to conclude: “accordingly, protection of internal Executive Branch communications is not ‘inconsistent with the principle of sound science.’”John B. Stephenson, the GAO’s director of natural resources and environmental issues, explained to the Washington Post that “transparency in the risk assessment process is the cornerstone of sound science.” In his report, Stephenson shot down the OMB’s defense in no uncertain terms:
Contrary to OMB’s assertion, the report specifically acknowledges that OMB considers the documents at issue to be protected from disclosure because of their deliberative nature. Moreover, OMB’s assertions concerning the deliberative process privilege are misleading and illogical. That is, OMB’s comments fail to note that the deliberative process privilege protects internal and interagency communications from judicially compelled disclosure, an issue irrelevant to our report. The privilege in no way prevents agencies from voluntarily disclosing such information. OMB is thus arguing that because the scientific comments at issue might generally be protected from discovery in civil litigation, refusal to disclose them voluntarily in this specific context is necessarily consistent with the principles of sound science. OMB provides no citation or other support for this conflation of judicial and scientific procedures.
Stephenson concludes, “OMB fails to explain why certain scientific views should be given added consideration and protected from the critical scientific scrutiny all other comments will receive simply because the reviewers providing the comments are federal employees.”