Tuesday, March 16, 2011
Contact: Christopher Horner, [email protected]

Today, American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center announced it would appeal a NASA decision to withhold from the public documents for its high-profile global warming activist, astronomer Dr. James Hansen.

Two months ago ATI sought records detailing whether and how Dr. Hansen and his office, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), has complied with federal ethics and financial disclosure laws and regulations, and NASA Rules of Behavior. Specifically ATI is curious whether Dr. Hansen has filed applications for outside employment, like speeches, books (emails obtained already indicate NASA staffed worked on this), cash awards and other gifts, and other support.

“NASA’s denial of our request represents the height of arbitrary and capricious application of the law,” said Christopher Horner, senior director of litigation for the ATI Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to seeing, through these requested records, just how NASA is complying with ethics laws, and why they went to such extraordinary rhetorical lengths to hide the files.”

From earlier records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, Horner learned that Dr. Hansen’s protégé, Gavin Schmidt, was for years not held to ethics requirements that employees seek and obtain waivers for such outside employment – such as Schmidt’s extensive work on the global warming activist Web site during business hours. Logic follows that since Dr. Hansen allowed Schmidt to ignore disclosure rules, that Dr. Hansen himself may well also be ignoring them.

NASA denied ATI’s request for Dr. Hansen’s records in part because of a FOIA exemption that “permits the Government to withhold all information about individuals in ‘personnel and medical files’ when the disclosure of such information ‘would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.’” Also in NASA’s denial was the claim that ATI “failed to make the requisite showing with respect to Dr. Hansen’s outside activity …, namely, how these specific documents would contribute to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the Government, or how it would shed light on NASA’s performance of its statutory duties, such that the public’s disclosure outweighs Dr. Hansen’s privacy interest.”

In ATI’s appeal Horner argues “whether NASA holds its employees to compliance its employees to comply with ethics laws sheds light on NASA’s performance of its operations and performance of statutory duties.” Further, in records previously obtained that pertained to Schmidt, NASA has already shown that it has been operating out of compliance with regard to ethics disclosure obligations. In fact, NASA revealed this by releasing the very files (NASA Form GSFC 17-60) of which it now, selectively, insists would constitute a ‘clearly unwarranted violation’of an employee’s personal privacy — so long as that employee is James Hansen.

NASA’s budget for Fiscal Year 2010 was $18.7 billion. Its budget for earth science research, which includes climate studies, was $1.4 billion.