New Conference Approval Process Adopted by USGS

Date: June 14th, 2018

Agency: DOI, Federal

Explanation: Government Censorship

Scientist: Climate, Other

On June 14, 2018, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has adopted new procedures for determining which scientists should attend the annual meetings of the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America. Under the new procedures, when applying for approval to travel to the meetings, scientists will be required to submit a detailed “attendee justification.” The justification must include the title(s) of any presentation(s) to be given by the scientist and an explanation of how the scientist’s research relates to the priorities of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Scientists’ “attendee justifications” will be evaluated by a political appointee — the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tom Petty — who will determine which scientists can attend. This represents a marked change from existing policy, with one former USGS director reporting that political appointees were never previously involved in selecting attendees, and a former Interior Secretary describing the shift as “a form of censorship.”

Update: On August 14, 2018, the Union of Concerned Scientists published a report detailing the findings of a survey of USGS and other federal government scientists. The report suggests that USGS scientists are being prevented from attending conferences. According to the report, 76 percent of USGS scientists surveyed agreed “that the number of scientific conferences attended over the past year is not similar to the number of scientific conferences attended three years ago.” One USGS scientist is quoted in the report as saying: “[t]ravel to scientific conferences has been restricted and scrutinized.”