House Hears of Intimidation by DOE Officials

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Questions surrounding unethical lobbying and intimidation practices by senior Department of Energy officials went largely unresolved during a joint congressional misconduct hearing Wednesday.
     Dr. Noelle Metting told members of the House Science, Space and Technology committee Wednesday that high-ranking members at the Energy Department attempted to fire her after accusing her of being both “overly enthusiastic” and “taking an advocacy position” during an October 2014 congressional briefing where she presented information on the effects of low-dose radiation on the American public.
     Metting described her experience as an “unjust and painful saga of unrelenting intimidation” which began as soon as the committee members exited the forum after her briefing.
     According to Metting, her direct supervisor Dr. Julie Carruthers — who also serves as the department’s senior science and technology advisor — immediately chastised her for defending funding for the research.
     “After the briefing ended and the Hill staff had left, Dr. Carruthers accused me of advocating and lobbying for the program, and of being too enthusiastic about research results. I was shocked. During the briefing, I had answered all the questions based on my knowledge as a scientific subject-matter expert,” she said.
     During the heated exchange Metting’s supervisor Dr. Todd Anderson, who did not attend Wednesday’s hearing despite a committee request, raised his voice to the scientist and Metting felt that she was being goaded into insubordination.
     Metting had also corrected Carruthers during the briefing when her supervisor said that the Department of Energy does have established regulatory standards for research.
     “That was not true. I did correct [her] in a collegial fashion and I think that was what Carruthers was reacting to,” Metting said.
     Tensions continued to build within the department for weeks and in December 2014, Metting received a notice of proposed removal on grounds of insubordination and “inappropriate workplace communication” two hours after an office holiday party. She was placed on administrative leave until her official termination in May 2015.
     Since being removed from her supervisory position, Metting was reassigned to handle “unclassified tasks,” the scientist told committee members.
     Metting had been entrenched in low-dose radiation research for 14 years up to that point.
     “When scientists get fired for speaking honestly about their work, [politics inside the department] are going to negatively impact the work of Congress and stifle public dialogue. Not to mention research,” energy subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, told fellow committee members.
     Weber also brought to light a series of damning emails between Carruthers, Anderson and witness Dr. Sharlene Weatherwax, the department’s director for biological and environmental research. Weber aggressively suggested that the emails pointed toward lobbying attempts by management, not Metting.
     “I think this is an opportunity to subtly yet firmly let the Senate know they don’t need to pursue a companion to the [House Space Science Technology] bill. If the goal is to squash the prospects for Senate support of HSST, Todd Anderson may be better [than Metting] at staying on message,” Weatherwax wrote to Carruthers in an Oct. 4, 2014 email leading up to the congressional briefing.
     Weber zeroed in on Weatherwax’s use of the phrase “subtly yet firmly” throughout the hearing and repeatedly asked her to explain how such a statement could be understood by the committee as anything other than an attempt by senior department officials to dissuade the Senate from certain pieces of legislation.
     “In your opinion, is Congress entitled to the opinion of experts or just the ones that the department agrees with?” Weber asked.
     “Congress is entitled to what they ask for,” Weatherwax replied.
     “So you would agree that this apparent lobbying effort was inappropriate?” Weber questioned.
     Weatherwax deflected several times before Weber ended the exchange.
     “You won’t answer the question, so I’ll move on,” he said.
     Subcommittee chairman Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Georgia, pressed the witnesses for details surrounding a two-year-old conversation Metting had with her supervisors just moments before department representatives went before the committee.
     “I was told I would be doing the science and that’s it. I was told in the prebriefing that we are against this bill and that we don’t want to this bill to pass,” Metting said.
     “You were fired because you honestly answered questions by [congressional] staff and you were not lobbying to keep the program. Carruthers thought you were lobbying to keep the program because you answered questions by the committee honestly,” Loudermilk concluded.
     Republican committee members, including Loudermilk, placed the motive for the department’s questionable tactics squarely on the shoulders of the Obama administration.
     “The DOE decided it wanted to redirect funds from the low-dose radiation program to support Obama’s climate action plan instead. It’s disappointing that senior management would silence a federal researcher to advance political goals,” Loudermilk said.
     Debates over the merits of climate-change research were argued between questioning of witnesses. Virginia Democrat Don Beyer called Metting’s removal “a bit overzealous and a badly mishandled case,” then quickly dressed down GOP committee members.
     “I find this half-hearted investigation especially ironic given that the committee majority is currently engaged in the clear intimidation of government scientists that are conducting climate research at NOAA, including issuing a subpoena to NOAA administrator and former astronaut Katherine Sullivan for emails, all because the majority disagreed with the results of a twice-peer-reviewed [climate change] study she provided,” he said.
     California Republican Dana Rohrbacher went on the defense of his criticism of global warming science and took the opportunity to support Metting simultaneously.
     “We hear all the time that because we Republicans have doubts about manmade CO2 warming the planet, we’re politicizing science. But I feel like what we have here is an example of [politicizing science],” Rohrbacher said.
     “Someone in your department feels compelled to try and placate the rest of the DOE’s commitment to global warning as being a manmade situation and that’s what I call fanaticism on the global warming issue,” he added. “The effects of that are being felt all the way down to this very honorable scientist.”

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