The Interior Department has removed half the scientists on an advisory committee for its offshore oil drilling program after learning that they were unacceptable to the Republican National Committee.
The scientists' names were sent to the RNC last year in a memo from the office of Interior Secretary James G. Watt and labeled "Appointment Clearance Request." Beside each name was a blank space. The committee returned the memo to Interior with the word "yes" by four names and "no" beside the other 10, the memo shows.
The four approved by the RNC were named to the committee and the other 10, including seven members whose terms were expiring and who had asked to be reappointed, were not, according to Interior officials.
Watt, as interior secretary, appoints the committee members. The memo was written by Derrell Thompson, a special assistant to Watt, and sent to Carol Williams, an RNC staff member at the time. A copy was obtained by Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who made it available to The Washington Post.
Officials of Interior and the RNC said yesterday that it is "routine" for the agency to clear names of candidates for advisory panels with the Republican committee as well as many other groups.
At the Environmental Protection Agency in the past two years, 50 scientists have been removed from technical advisory panels after conservative groups submitted lists characterizing them as politically undesirable, "horrible" or "a real activist."
Watt's official spokesman could not be reached for comment about the Interior action, and other public affairs officers said they could not discuss the matter.
"It's really a very simple thing," RNC spokesman Bill Greener said yesterday. "I'm sure the Justice Department consults with the bar association. In this case, we run a simple research to find out if a person is registered to vote and what party."
However, Republican and Democratic scientists on the list called the political clearance system "absurd" and "unfortunate," saying the panel was bipartisan and apolitical under the Carter administration.
Bumpers called it "a violation of the spirit if not the letter" of the committee's charter, which says members should be selected for "scientific competence, reputation . . . and ability to be representative of important elements of the offshore studies program."
Oceanographer Don Hood, who had a "yes" beside his name and was reappointed after serving one term under the Carter administration, complained that the decision to remove his seven colleagues had frustrated the work of the 14-man panel.
The scientists, who volunteer their time, were advising Interior on how to improve scientific studies of the environmental impacts of offshore oil development. Hood said Interior has spent more than $200 million on the studies but many have been of little scientific value.
"I think the committee could have been a lot of help to him Watt ," Hood said. "It's undesirable to let politics enter a scientific committee. It's rather absurd."
All the scientists on the list have international reputations for expertise in the effects of offshore development, Hood said. He said the panel's caliber will remain high, but expressed concern that it has lost a year of work.
Hood, who lives in Washington state, said he assumes he passed the RNC test because he contributed money last year to Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.).
Jack Anderson, a marine biologist from Sequim, Wash., had a "no" beside his name on the list and was not reappointed.
"We were trying to improve the research so we could have good information for the government," Anderson said. "It had nothing to do with whether we were Republican or Democratic. We wanted the best science for the buck. A lot of those studies are slipshod and don't tell you anything. We thought we were making progress."
Also not reappointed was Donald Boesch, a Louisiana oceanographer known for studies in the Gulf of Mexico and off the East Coast. Boesch, who had a "no" beside his name, was elected chairman of the group at its last meeting more than a year ago because of his "high qualifications," Anderson said.
Bumpers attempted to obtain the memo through a Freedom of Information Act request but was told in a March 21 letter from Mary J. Howard, Interior's committee management officer, that it could not be located in the agency. An aide said he obtained it through "other channels" and expressed concern that it had "disappeared" from Interior.