Letter from Henry Waxman to Mike Griffin re: White House influence

By Phil Plait | May 8, 2007 7:31 pm

When the Democrats took back the House in 2006, Henry Waxman (D CA) took over as chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee (actually, when he took it over, the word "Oversight" was not in the committee’s title, as his predecessor had removed it — I mean, hey, after all, why should the government need oversight?).

Waxman has been very, very busy trying to find out just where the government – both Congress and the White House — has stepped over the line of the law. Recently, it came to light that the White House has been giving presentations to government agencies and using these as platforms to promote the Republican party. That is a very bad no-no. So on April 27, Chairman Waxman sent out letters to many Agency heads, asking if there have been any shenanigans, and that includes a letter sent to NASA’s Mike Griffin.

I figured BABloggees might be interested in this. It’s not an indictment of anyone at NASA, just a letter to see if the White House has been pushing a political agenda.

Dear Administrator Griffin:

I am writing to request information about political briefings given by White House officials to federal agency officials.

On March 28,2007, the Committee held a hearing during which Lurita Doan, the head of the General Services Administration, testified that White House officials in the Office of Political Affairs conducted a political briefing at GSA headquarters on January 26,2007. The briefing slides, which the Committee reviewed, identified the Republican Parfy’s top electoral targets in the 2008 elections. After the presentation, Lurita Doan asked her staff to discuss how GSA resources could be used to help “our candidates” in the next election.

An article in today’s Washington Post reports that White House officials now confirm that, in the past year alone, at least 20 similar briefings were given to officials of at least 15 federal agencies, including the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commerce Department, among others.

To assist with the Committee’s continuing investigation of this issue, I request that you provide information about any briefing mentioning elections or candidates provided to agency employees by officials in the White House between January 20,2001, and April 26,2007. Please provide the dates, times, attendees, and locations of these briefings, as well as any communications and documents relating to the briefings. Please provide these materials to the Committee by May 18,2007.

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X. An attachment to this letter provides additional information about how to respond to the Committee’s request. I would appreciate your cooperation with this request.

I’ll be curious to see what happens here. A little while back, Administrator Griffin made a speech where he thanked Tom Delay (who is allegedly a major crook, but also a big supporter of NASA since he was a Representative from the district where Johnson Space Center is) and said, before Delay resigned, "He’s still with us and we need to keep him there." Many people interpreted that as an endorsement, for obvious reasons, which is also a no-no. It was a simple mistake on Griffin’s part — I don’t think he was really trying to stump for Delay, he was just endorsing someone who was a friend of NASA. Nevertheless, it was a violation of the Hatch Act, which restricts political appointees from politicking. It was a minor violation and no big deal, but it can’t be fun for Mr. Griffin to have to get the letter he did from Henry Waxman. I’m sure right now there are other things on his mind!

Update– The U.S. Office of Special Counsel investigated Griffin’s remarks, and found that he lacked judgment in making them, but nothing worse. Interestingly, they also investigated a broadcast on NASA Select by John Kerry, and also found it violated the Hatch Act; it looks like someone at NASA relied on "incorrect advice" and outdated NASA guidelines. Thanks to commenter JR Keller for pointing this out!

We’ll see how this plays out. This White House has been absolutely shameless in its suppression of science and its promotion of fundamentalist religion at NASA and elsewhere. It may be that no one spoke to any NASA employees and nothing will come of this particular letter. But the letter was sent to the heads of 26 other agencies, so we’ll see what happens.


Comments (18)

  1. Tom

    “House Rule X”? I’m guessing that’s a placeholder and he forgot to go back and fill in the appropriate number when he was done writing. Or does the House really have something as ominous-sounding as “Rule X”?

  2. Daffy

    When one party controls all branches of government the corruption is simply staggering. The trouble is, most people involved only love their party, not their country…so this is very likely to happen again.

  3. jrkeller


    The investigation of the Griffin/Delay endorsement was closed in January 07, with Griffin being issued a warning.



    Excellent point.

  4. Eric P

    It amazes me that BA is always so ready to dismiss the ‘psuedo-scientist’ who selectively cherry-pick to support their point of view. That seems to be his m.o. when it comes to politics. Seriously, Republican/Democrat, it doesn’t matter who is in control, neither party appears to be looking out for the good of the citizens anymore.

  5. Quiet_Desperation

    Anyone else think Waxman looks like Art Bell?

    Have they ever been seen at a party together?

  6. Daffy

    “Seriously, Republican/Democrat, it doesn’t matter who is in control, neither party appears to be looking out for the good of the citizens anymore.”

    True…but let’s not forget that it is the Republicans who were in total control for years, and abused that control in the most egregious ways possible. When the Democrats control everything you can bet that I, for one, will yell at them, too.

    When neither party is in control, we can have a hope they will cancel each other out. Probably why the budget was balanced in the 1990s.

  7. Eric P– if you hadn’t noticed, the Republicans have held the White House for the past six years, and both houses of Congress for the past 12. It has been under their purview that all this science suppression has been happening.

    Criminy, I have to say this every time I post something political? If and when Democrats do something to suppress science, I’ll be on it if I can. But they haven’t really been in a position to for some time, and now that they are in control, the corruption in the former ruling party is coming to light. A lot of us have known about it for a long time, but now it’s getting into the mainstream. Like it or not, many Republicans in Congress and the WH have been suppressing science and encouraging fundamentalist religion. It’s just a fact.

  8. Irishman

    Tom, I think that is “House Rule Ten“, i.e. the Roman numeral.

  9. Tom

    BA, we met one time when you spoke at Goddard. I enjoy this blog much more when you’re talking about science only instead of the scientific/political world, though I’m not naieve enough to believe that they don’t come in contact or collide.

    I’ll use a word typically frowned upon in this forum and put myself in the Fox Mulder category. “I want to believe”

    I want to believe that you look at each lead on a politically-related science issue and decide to write about it based on an unbiased assessment of the impact it has and your knowledge on the topic instead of just getting word of something and saying “Aha! They’re at it again! Time to post!” and piling on.

    I want to believe that when the political winds are blowing a different way, you will apply the same criteria.

    I want to believe that you’ve watched some of the comments developed after your posts, as people actually dig into the legislation or issue in question, finding, in many cases, that the original posting was either overblown or just off the mark.

    For now, call me a skeptic on those three statements. Given your increasingly shrill political postings, I may stop reading them entirely, though I’ll probably stay with your strong suit, the science stuff. With the wheat comes the chaff.

    I note that while a certain political party has been in power for a relatively long time, your chronicling of political actions has been going on for a much shorter.

    I think that mistakes made by big government are made more due to lack of attention and incompetence instead of a “shameless suppression of science.” That should change, and hopefully you’ll play a part in it.

    Got longer than I planned. Again, I enjoy the science posts. Please keep them up. I’ll likely purchase your new book, in the hopes that it focuses on scientific issues instead of political ones. Otherwise, as others have said (and I agree), it’s your blog. Use it well.

  10. Daffy

    I want to believe that all Americans will look at the facts without blind party loyalty. I want to believe that, but I don’t.

    The BA is, IMO, very even handed.

    Suppression of science of official Republican Party plarform in several states! That is not opinion…that is stone cold fact. If there is evidence of the same in Democratic Party platforms please tell me…I will scream it from the rooftops. Wrong is wrong and party loyalty is threatening this country’s future.

  11. 35yrOldFreshman

    I can see BA’s point and how it must appear to him. Incompetence and lack of attention can feel like suppression when it is something that we are very passionate about. It starts to feel like a personal attack and we become defensive. I tend to agree with Tom on this, that there is a serious lack of attention to scientific pursuits including space travel. This may be due in part to the world political climate since 9/11. The government has been slightly preoccupied. I hope our future includes a healthy and active scientific community and we continue with our exploration of space, regardless of which box we check on the ballot in November.

  12. Tom


    I am an independent. I don’t want to be directly affiliated with either of the two major political parties.

  13. Daffy

    Neither do I, Tom. But my anger right now is almost entirely directed at the Republicans for the simple reason that they have been running everything for years. Not to mention the infiltration of the federal government by religious extremists appointed by Bush. That more people aren’t shocked—and even frightened by that—scares me even more than the appointments themselves.

    If the Democrats ever have control of all 3 branches, they will no doubt be just as corrupt. When that happens I’ll be yelling at them, I assure you.

  14. Gary Ansorge

    I think we need a Science party, to defend rational thinking for ALL americans,,,
    ,,,anybody here ready to run for Pres?

    GAry 7

  15. Irishman

    35yrOldFreshman said:
    > I can see BA’s point and how it must appear to him. Incompetence and lack of attention can feel like suppression when it is something that we are very passionate about.

    This is not a case of failing to fund science and space programs, or deciding they are not worthy of federal dollars. We’re talking about telling scientists to change their findings. Changing how they state things to fit some personal religious agenda. That’s not incompetence, that’s malicious suppression.

    Tom said:
    I note that while a certain political party has been in power for a relatively long time, your chronicling of political actions has been going on for a much shorter.

    I’m not sure what your point is. That seems to me to be the precise explanation that the BA has offered for why his attacks appear one-sided, aimed at Republicans. Because they’re the ones who have been in power and thus most effective at suppressing science during the timeframe that the BA has has his blog active.

  16. Rereading my comment above, it comes across as too harsh. I still agree with what I said, but I should not have said it so strongly, so I apologize to Eric P.

    But I do not back down on what I said.

  17. …your increasingly shrill political postings…

    What kind of political content do you typically read, that you consider the BA “shrill”?

  18. Neil

    It’s funny. Anytime, everytime the BA posts on the republican suppression of science, the same comments pop up with the same concerns. I laugh when some use the word “shrill” to describe BA’s posts. I guess some people see it as picking on the republicans or not being fair. The simple truth is that you don’t need to be even slightly liberal to be truly disgusted, angry and disappointed at republican stances on scientific evidence and issues, and NOT just lately-more like the last thirty of forty years, depending on topic.
    I fully realize that the same thing goes on with the democrats, and every other political party on the planet, but the ratio of well thought, rational, science based or at least science-influenced policy compared to irrational, self-serving rhetoric-based policy is not always equal from party to party, time to time. Since at least as far back as Nixon, the republicans have made it clear, again and again, that little or no science will make it into their calculations unless it already fits the platform. Examples?
    Drug policy started by Nixon. No science content whatsoever, all rhetoric, with millions (yes, millions) of Americans losing their freedom and even their lives over it. Expanded by Reagan to the War on Americans (oops, Drugs.) I realize that this is not a big topic with many educated non-indulgers, but never try to claim that it is rational or justified. It’s just tax-funded bigotry and slavery.
    Star Wars. Where did that money go, exactly? I was only a teenager but smart enough to know we wouldn’t be getting the neeto James Bond Magic Laser Death Stopper that we paid for.
    Anything at all to do with the environment. By republican standards, every resource is magical and will last forever, or will be replaced by God, I suppose.
    Any science regarding homosexuals, reproduction, sex ed, law and order issues such as drugs, recividism in prisons, the list goes on for issues that will not even be considered by modern republicans unless the results match the prejudices of the party.
    These examples are often considered strictly social issues, I realize, but there is relevant science that is ignored daily, to the detriment of millions.
    I have seen a lifetime’s worth of science abuse at the hands of republicans, and that’s without even approaching topics like space exploration.
    Too shrill? Put some Catsup on it.


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