“I find the decision to remove Dr. Weatherhead from the National Climate Assessment extremely troubling for a variety of reasons,” Lucas wrote in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “Not only does she have an impeccable record, but there were no explanations given for her removal.”
Although selected by Droegemeier, Weatherhead was brought into the position as a civil servant rather than a political appointee. Lucas said he was disturbed that politics rather than merit may have motivated Weatherhead’s ouster.
“While Administrations are free to hire their own political appointees, penalizing and removing civil servants represents disturbing political interference in the federal scientific enterprise,” Lucas wrote.
For its part, the Trump administration removed Michael Kuperberg, also a civil servant, as director of the U.S. Global Change Research Program in November, the interagency body that coordinates the National Climate Assessment. In Kuperberg’s place, the White House appointed David Legates, a scientist who questions the seriousness of climate change and its human influences. Legates resigned in January.
Several people with the knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel decisions, said Weatherhead faced challenges navigating the federal bureaucracy and clashed with some agency officials on the direction of the report. They suggested her removal had less to do with politics and more to do with disagreements about her vision for the report and its implementation.
The climate assessment examines the present-day harms that climate change is having on the United States and makes projections about future damage down to the local level from such issues as greenhouse-gas emissions and burning fossil fuels.
Before her appointment, Weatherhead had decades of experience as a climate scientist in the academic and private sectors and was broadly respected. Her views on climate change science are considered mainstream, and many scientists, including those who have worked with Democrats, have praised her competence and background.
On Monday, Lucas wrote a letter to Kei Koizumi, acting director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, expressing his concerns about Weatherhead’s removal.
“[I]t is difficult to think of a more clear example of political interference and bias than this leadership change,” he wrote.
Lucas requested by May 4 all communications between the White House and past and present leadership of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, involving Weatherhead.
Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado who has studied the research program, said the White House’s ability to remove and appoint whomever it likes to leadership positions is a design flaw that needlessly politicizes the climate assessment process. “It’s a problem regardless of who is in the White House,” Pielke wrote in a Twitter message. He said an independent advisory committee should select program leadership.
A new director for the National Climate Assessment has not been named nor has an executive director for the overarching research program.
The next assessment is due in 2022, although the carousel in program leadership since November could result in delays, according to people close to the program.