When the Obama White House announced its moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP-Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in April, the administration insisted that they followed the recommendations of its panel of experts. This story blew up when the panel of experts insisted that they had not recommended any kind of blanket moratorium, and that one simply wasn’t necessary to address the deficiencies at MMS that contributed to the catastrophic fire and spill. A new report from the Inspector General probing the White House response accuses the administration of rewriting key sections of the report in order to falsely give the impression that the panel had made that recommendation:
The White House rewrote crucial sections of an Interior Department report to suggest an independent group of scientists and engineers supported a six-month ban on offshore oil drilling, the Interior inspector general says in a new report.
In the wee hours of the morning of May 27, a staff member to White House energy adviser Carol Browner sent two edited versions of the department report’s executive summary back to Interior. The language had been changed to insinuate the seven-member panel of outside experts – who reviewed a draft of various safety recommendations – endorsed the moratorium, according to the IG report obtained by POLITICO.
“The White House edit of the original DOI draft executive summary led to the implication that the moratorium recommendation had been peer-reviewed by the experts,” the IG report states, without judgment on whether the change was an intentional attempt to mislead the public.
The White House claimed some vindication, saying that the IG had stopped short of accusing the administration of a deliberate deception, and called it “a misunderstanding.” That seems like a bit of a stretch, especially since the supposed mistake didn’t exactly occur in a vacuum. Opponents of oil drilling, usually among Obama’s allies on the Left, had demanded an end to drilling in the region at least until the investigation into the disaster was completed. The White House version of the report gave Obama political cover to order the six-month moratorium — at least until those involved in its peer review cried foul after the White House publicly used them to defend the action.
But even if it was just a “misunderstanding,” an artifact of some guileless editorial tweaking that inadvertently put a paragraph ahead of or behind an important qualifier, it was at the very least incompetence. Why was the staff of energy “adviser” Carol Browner allowed to edit a report issued by the Department of Interior’s blue-ribbon panel in the first place? Why did no one review those changes at Interior to determine whether the edits were justified, especially since the IG report indicates that the edits took place because the staffer or Browner didn’t think it summarized the findings properly? Why not just ask the report’s authors to rewrite it themselves?
This is no mere academic exercise. Thousands of people lost their jobs because of this supposed instance of sloppy editing, and the delay it created in safe exploration and drilling may impact the region for years, as well as America’s energy independence.