Energy secretary seeks to lock in free speech for DOE scientists

The new policy, which Ernest Moniz says was in the works before Donald Trump won the presidency, says scientists 'are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views.'

Yu-Ning Aileen Chuang, Medill News Service
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking Wednesday at the National Press Club, announced new rules aimed at securing scientific integrity for agency scientists.

Outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says the department’s new policy protecting staff scientists and engineers as well as scientists who receive federal funding from political interference was in the works before Donald Trump won the presidency.

The policy, which Secretary Moniz unveiled Wednesday at the National Press Club, covers “all scientists, engineers, or others supported by DOE.” The previous scientific integrity policy, introduced in 2012, only applied to Department of Energy (DOE) employees, but not to researchers at the agency’s 17 national laboratories.

The new policy says the scientists and engineers “are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views,” including through the media, public forums, and social media.

The previous scientific integrity policy required them to get approval before talking to the press.

“We need correct answers, not convenient answers,” Moniz wrote on the agency’s website.

President-elect Trump has denied scientists’ conclusion that human factors are a major factor in climate change. Separately, his nominee to succeed Moniz, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, once said he wanted to abolish the Energy Department.

Trump’s transition team sent the agency a questionnaire to identify employees and contractors who had attended meetings related to climate change, but Moniz refused and the plan was killed after widespread criticism from watchdog organizations and environmental advocates.

“DOE officials should not and will not ask scientists to tailor their work to any particular conclusions,” Moniz said.

He said the refusal to hand over names of those career scientists “should be viewed as a favor” to the new energy secretary.

He denied the policy update was a response to Trump’s election.

“I wish we had gotten this [new scientific-integrity policy] out earlier as we had planned, to be honest, because we started at least a year ago, long before the election. Before the candidates were known,” Moniz said.

The new regulations also require the next energy secretary to appoint an independent Scientific Integrity Official to handle complaints related to scientific integrity within the agency.

This article was produced in collaboration with Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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