In a website release earlier this year, NOAA proudly announced the extensive involvement of its officers in IPCC as lead authors, review authors and even the co-chair of IPCC WG1,
Susan Solomon, a senior scientist of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., is co-chair of Working Group 1 (WG1), the Physical Science Basis. Nine of the lead and review authors are from NOAA and 20 of the model runs were done by the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. Lead authors are nominated by their governments.
NOAA authors and IPCC review editors for WG1 include Thomas Peterson, David Easterling, Thomas Karl, Sidney Levitus, Mark Eakin, Matthew Menne of the NOAA Satellite and Information Service; and Venkatachala. Ramaswamy, David Fahey, Ronald Stouffer, Isaac Held, Jim Butler , Paul Ginoux, John Ogren , Chet Koblinsky, Dian Seidel, Robert Webb, Randy Dole, Martin Hoerling of the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, and Arun Kumar of the NOAA National Weather Service.
In addition, a cadre of NOAA scientists from the laboratories and programs, including the joint and cooperative institutes, served as contributors and government reviewers of the final report, which is a state of the science based upon published peer-review literature.
Referring to this story, I submitted an FOI request to NOAA about a month ago for the review comments (now online at IPCC) and the review editors comments, reported at CA here. Here is an excerpt:
I request that a copy of any NOAA records (documents, memoranda, review comments, reports, internal and external correspondence or mail including e-mail correspondence and attachments to or from NOAA employees) be provided to me on the following subjects:
(1) review comments on (a) the Second Order Draft and (b) the Final Draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, including, but not limited to, all expert, government and review editor comments;
(2) all annotated responses to such comments by Chapter Lead Authors.
I noted that all my email correspondence with Susan Solomon and Martin Manning had been with their noaa.gov email address.
A.R. Ravishankara, Director, Chemical Sciences Division, Earth Systems Research Laboratory/NOAA (where Susan Solomon and Martin Manning work) has now replied as follows:
“You have asked for copies of NOAA records concerning review comments on the second order draft and the final draft of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC Working Group 1. In addition, you have asked for all annotated responses to such comments by chapter authors.
After reviewing our files. we have determined that we have no NOAA records responsive to your request. If records exist that are responsive to you request, they would be records of the IPCC and as such can be requested from the IPCC…”
Their strategy is a little different than Phil Jones, who claimed that his records were “exempt”. NOAA did not avail itself of any of the possible exemptions for the request – it denied that it had any records whatever. In many FOI regimes, email messages are producible. I don’t know the American law but I imagine it’s not dissimilar from Canadian FOI law where, for example, the University of Victoria’s policy specifically says that “E-mail messages created on University computer equipment and transmitted using the University’s e-mail system are University records.” If there is no similar policy at NOAA, I’d be shocked.
A guide to FOI from senior officials says that “most records in the possession of an agency are “agency records” within the meaning of FOIA.
The 1996 FOIA amendments affirm the general policy that any record, regardless of the form in which it is stored, that is in the possession and control of a Federal agency is usually considered to be an agency record under the FOIA. Although the FOIA occasionally uses terms other than record,’ including information’ and matter,’ the definition of record’ made by the 1996 amendments should leave no doubt about the breadth of the policy or the interchangability of terms
A document that does not qualify as an agency record’ may be denied because only agency records are available under the FOIA. Personal notes of agency employees may be denied on this basis. However, most records in the possession of an agency are agency records’ within the meaning of the FOIA.
What NOAA is arguing, among other things, is that email to and from NOAA employees on NOAA computers about IPCC review comments is the property of IPCC, rather than NOAA. Suppose that this established a precedent. Let’s say that NOAA employees decided to act as reviewers of pornographic videos sent to them by the International Pornography Council and they were caught. Could they argue that the videos on NOAA computers were records of the International Pornography Council and outside the disciplinary scope of NOAA? Of course not. Or think of this another way: if the emails on NOAA computers are IPCC property, then IPCC should be able to exert control over the emails. If IPCC told NOAA to delete all correspondence involving them, would NOAA be obligated to follow their instructions? I doubt it. I can’t imagine a court finding that records on NOAA computers were not NOAA records.
Now the issue has, for the most part, become somewhat moot with the IPCC release of the review comments and responses (although the review editor comments, included in my request to NOAA, are still not online.) As a Canadian, it’s hard for me to take much umbrage at NOAA’s actions and I’m surprised to some extent at having standing. Nonetheless, this sort of action by a government agency is annoying (but it’s bad policy to be annoyed because you have to expect a run-around from government officials.) I presume that Americans who submitted similar requests will get similar replies. It appears that there is an appeal provision and I’ll probably avail myself of that facility.
The three monkeys? See no records, hear no records, got no records.