Congress has created a number of regulatory agencies and given them specific roles to protect the public interest. It’s my belief that when Congress creates such a regulatory agency, the President has no right to appoint people to senior positions in the agency with a hidden agenda of intending to undermine or frustrate the agency purpose. Many such appointments do not require approval of Congress and a President is free to appoint anyone he wants whatever their lack of fitness or qualification for the job.
I have frequently complained here about the political appointments of President Bush and detailed some in particular (12/6/06 & 12/23/06). This President has made it an art form to appoint someone to a regulatory agency who is unqualified and unfit for the job with the intension of preventing the agency from doing its appointed job. Mr. Bush’s hidden motive is always the same because when the regulatory agency doesn’t function as intended, it allows corporations and industry, especially the oil industry, to do essentially what it wants. Mr. Bush has made it a practice to laud the qualifications of a political appointee to a regulatory agency, but then appoint someone who turns out to be entirely different then the description and who has an axe to grind about the agency activities. This person then proceeds to do what they can to make sure the regulations are no longer enforced and the agency role undermined in order to give industry a free hand. In doing so, Mr Bush is being hypocritical and deceptive with Americans. He also frustrates the Congressional purpose in creating the agency through such deceptive appointments and violates his oath of office as well.
An example of such a Bush political appointee is Julie MacDonald whom he appointed to a senior position in the United States Department of Interior. The Department’s mission includes the protection of the nation’s natural, cultural and heritage resources. It pledges in its mission statement to manage the Department with highly skilled and accountable staff scientists and administrators. In 2004, Mr. Bush, after highly praising her supposed qualifications for the job, appointed Ms MacDonald as Deputy Assistant Secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. The qualifications of this very senior political appointee turned out to be that of a civil engineer by training who lacked any biological or scientific training or experience in this area of any kind. But, she did possess a serious bias in favor of industry over environmental concerns.
Her lack of qualifications, didn’t stop her from repeatedly blocking the findings of the Department staff and frustrating the purpose of the agency. It has been revealed through documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act, that she had often overruled the scientific reports and findings of the Department staff scientists. It turns out she also altered and revised their findings and reports to change their actual conclusions. The Union of Concerned Scientists obtained the documents and brought them to the attention of the the Washington Post and the media who reported the situation. The papers showed that she often rejected staff scientists recommendations to protect animals and plants under the Endangered Species Act. This law requires that decisions be made solely on the basis of the best available scientific evidence, but MacDonald has consistently violated this law by just ordering changes or blocking recommended action without any basis for doing so.
She repeatedly refused to accept the staff scientists findings and would even mock their conclusions. Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by other environmental groups show a continual battle between MacDonald and the scientists and staff in which she would reject their recommendations to safeguard plants, fish, animals and soils from such activities as oil drilling, real estate development and similar business activities. She would even write sarcastic remarks on their reports and often just rewrite them to change the findings. She would also order the reports revised to change their meaning or conclusion. For example a typical internal E-mail read "Per Julie please make the [prairie dog] finding negative" when the staff conclusion was exactly the opposite.
In one case, a federal judge found that a decision by Macdonald to reduce the protections for species of fish in California was illegal as it overruled agency biologists without any basis for doing so other then her arbitrary action. When the Union of Concerned Scientists did a survey, some 84 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Scientists confirmed they had been directed to exclude or alter scientific findings in their reports. One staff scientist said of MacDonald: "I have never before seen the boldness of intimidation demonstrated by a single political appointee. She has modified the behavior of the entire agency."
As the result of media attention, the Department of Interior’s inspector general has launched an investigation of MacDonald. Washington State Representative Jay Inslee and others have called for a Congressional investigation.
An American President should not be allowed to obstruct the function of agencies created by Congress to protect the public and its interests in order to benefit rich oil corporations or big business by the appointment of political cronies. Scientists and not politically motivated politicians should be responsible for making scientific decisions. The public deserves more from its President.