Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Christopher Horner, [email protected]
Paul Chesser, [email protected]

American Tradition Institute’s Environmental Law Center today filed a lawsuit in federal district court in the District of Columbia to force the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to release ethics records for taxpayer-funded global warming activist Dr. James Hansen – specifically records that pertain to his outside employment, revenue generation, and advocacy activities.

ATI seeks to learn whether NASA approved Hansen’s outside employment, which public financial disclosures and other documents reveal to have brought him at least $1.2 million in the past four years. This money comes in addition to – and, more troubling from an ethics and legal perspective, is all related to – his taxpayer-funded employment. Dr. Hansen’s outside employment commenced when he increased his “global warming” activism from his perch at NASA.

On January 19, ATI filed a Freedom of Information Act request (PDF) with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which sought records detailing NASA’s and Hansen’s compliance with applicable federal ethics and financial disclosure laws and regulations, and with NASA Rules of Behavior. Thus far the agency has denied ATI’s request for Hansen’s Form 17-60s (“Application for permission for outside employment and other activity”), and ATI’s request for records of internal discussions about it.

NASA argues the release of the records would constitute a “clearly unwarranted violation of Hansen’s privacy rights,” and says ATI’s lengthy explanation of Dr. Hansen’s outside work “had not made the requisite showing that the documents requested would contribute to the public’s understanding of the activities of the Government, or how it would shed light on NASA’s performance of its statutory duties.”

ATI maintains that NASA’s compliance with ethics laws, and a senior employee’s outside revenue-generating activities, are patently of public interest, as is clear in the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Dr. Hansen’s position requires him to file vastly more detailed Public Financial Disclosure filings (Form SF 278), which are made available to the public on request.

Dr. Hansen engages in high-profile public advocacy with regard to global warming and energy policy, directly trading on his platform as a NASA astronomer to gain interest and attention. This outside employment and other activities related to his work have included: consulting; highly compensated speeches; policy advocacy; a commercial book; advising Al Gore on his movie “An Inconvenient Truth;” and most recently, advising litigants on suing states and the federal government.

Since escalating the “provocative” (in Dr. Hansen’s word) nature of his advocacy in a 2006 “60 Minutes” interview, these outside activities have become extraordinarily lucrative – yielding on average more than a quarter of a million dollars per year in extra income between 2007 and 2010 from outside sources, all based upon the work he is paid by taxpayers to do for NASA.

“Under federal statutes and NASA rules, employees may not privately benefit from their public office,” said Christopher Horner, ATI’s director of litigation. “Outside income must be disclosed, certain activities avoided, and permission must be applied for before engaging in permissible outside employment or activities.

“ATI’s request seeks official documents which, if they exist, would inform the public about NASA’s and Dr. Hansen’s adherence to these ethics rules. Considering the records already obtained and the public record, compliance by NASA and Dr. Hansen is in doubt.”

Dr. Hansen has admitted that lucrative offers of “prizes” and “awards” for his public service began flowing after that “60 Minutes” interview, in which he accused the Bush administration of “censoring” his global warming views. Records show a sudden spike in highly compensated speeches on the subject of his work as well.

NASA has already provided Form 17-60 documents for Dr. Hansen’s subordinate Gavin Schmidt to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Schmidt writes for and edits the climate alarmism blog, during normal business hours. That Hansen and NASA had not required Schmidt to file Form 17-60 seeking permission for these activities – until NASA was asked about this matter – triggered ATI’s inquiry into whether Hansen, too, was avoiding this requirement. Other records obtained by CEI (and posted on ATI’s Web site) indicate that Dr. Hansen has also used NASA staff for his own commercial activities.

“The President and the Attorney General have made clear their commitment to transparency and a high standard of ethical behavior by government employees,” said Dr. David Schnare, Director of the ATI Environmental Law Center. “NASA needs to clear the air by releasing the documents about Dr. Hansen and about whether he had permission to wear his government hat when engaging in a lucrative effort to sway government policy.”