U.S. Ocean Agency Mostly Unscathed on Climate E-mails Inquiry

The U.S. Department of Commerce inspector general appears to have given the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a clean bill of health after reviewing the East Anglia e-mails from late 2009. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) asked the inspector general to see whether NOAA officials had manipulated climate data in any way. Politico summarizes the report:

The Commerce Department's inspector general has found little wrong in the so-called "Climategate" e-mails written by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees.

To wit, the phrase "we found no evidence" appears at least six times in a new report from IG Todd Zinser, conducted at the request of climate skeptic Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

That includes "no evidence" that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data, "no evidence" to suggest that NOAA failed to adhere to its peer review procedures, and "no evidence" that NOAA violated the Information Quality Act.

The report does criticize the agency for its treatment of several Freedom of Information Act requests. But it "cannot reconcile" divergent claims as to why NOAA failed to respond adequately, in the inspector general's opinion, to requests for records related to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. From the report:

Only by going through the proper FOIA process-including conducting a search and turning over responsive documents to NOAA's designated FOIA official-could NOAA have made a determination whether the records in question were in fact NOAA records and whether any exemptions may have been applicable under FOIA.

Given that federal agencies are legally obligated to publicly disclose records under FOIA, we recommend that NOAA carry out a proper search for the records sought in these FOIA requests and, as appropriate, reassess its response. Additionally, given the issues we identified in NOAA's handling of these particular FOIA requests, NOAA should consider whether these issues warrant an overall assessment of the sufficiency of its FOIA process.