Interior Secretary James G. Watt acknowledged yesterday that he consults the Republican National Committee before selecting his science advisers, but said he also checks with many other groups to "pick the best people we can to help restore America's greatness."
Watt made the remark on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM-TV) in response to reports that he removed more than half the scientists on an advisory committee for Interior's offshore oil development program after the RNC deemed them unacceptable.
"I no longer want the dozens and dozens of advisory committees to give me the kinds of advice they gave former vice president Walter F. Mondale, and former president Jimmy Carter," Watt said when asked why a scientist's political affiliation is important. He said such advice had hurt the country's national parks and constrained energy development, "leaving us subject to blackmail" from oil-rich nations.
"I don't want that kind of advice," Watt said. "So I gave instructions generally to my folks: Let's clean up the advisory groups. Let's get good advisers that want us to be successful and let's check with every group. We check with congressmen, we check with senators, we check with special interest groups, we check with the National Academy of Sciences and I would hope we check with the Republican National Committee."
Evaluations of the scientists by other groups were not immediately available yesterday.
A check of the RNC recommendations, contained in a memo obtained by reporters, shows that they all were accepted. Watt did not appoint 10 candidates beside whose names the RNC wrote "no." Alongside four scientists' names, the RNC wrote "yes," and all were appointed.
Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), who obtained a copy of the memo, said yesterday he has asked for a congressional hearing into the matter.
An RNC spokesman said it is routine for the committee to check the party affiliation of candidates for government advisory panels, including scientific committees, and that his group exerts no influence over final selections. Watt said that the final decision on appointments to Interior advisory panels is his own, and that he bases it on a candidate's "experience and knowledge in the field."
The influence of politics over science became a major issue in the controversy over the Environmental Protection Agency, where science advisory boards were pruned of members characterized as liberal by conservative and industry groups.
One former member of the Interior panel who had a "no" next to his name on the memo is marine biologist Jack Anderson of the Batelle Memorial Institute in Richland, Wash. He served on the panel for two years.
The panel has no influence on the issues Watt mentioned yesterday in saying past science advisers had hurt the country, Anderson said. Its job is to help Interior improve scientific studies of the environmental impact of offshore development. Anderson and other scientists on the panel said those costly studies have been "slipshod" and "in some cases worthless." The scientists said they were making headway in suggesting improvements.