Watchdog warns against efforts to ‘chill scientific research’

Watchdog warns against efforts to ‘chill scientific research’

A government watchdog says it will work to protect any federal scientists who feel their research is being impeded by the incoming Donald TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE administration. 

In a letter to Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Office of Special Counsel chief Carolyn Lerner said her independent agency would work to enforce laws on that books that “ensure that employees are not chilled from exercising their rights and seeking the remedies available to them,” according to a copy of the letter provided by Blumenthal’s office.

Blumenthal and other Democrats last week asked Lerner to investigate a Trump transition team questionnaire that asked the Energy Department to name employees that are involved in President Obama’s climate change work. 

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The department refused the request, and the transition team said the inquiry “was not authorized or part of our standard protocol. The person who sent it has been properly counseled.”

But the request has angered Democrats and scientists, who say it could indicate the Trump administration will take aim at federal employees for work they do on climate change. Trump does not believe the science behind climate change and has said he will undo Obama’s actions to combat it when he takes office. 

“We are alarmed by the requests in the Energy Department questionnaire because they strongly appear to be motivated by partisan political purposes, which are forbidden by [the law] and are therefore impermissible actions by transition officials,” the Democrats wrote in their letter to Lerner last week. 

In her response, first reported by The Washington Post, Lerner noted the Trump team’s response to the letter. 

But she also outlined legal provisions that shield federal scientists, like the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which protests employees' right to “blow the whistle on any effort to 'distort, misrepresent, suppress’ or otherwise censor any government ‘research, analysis, or technical information.’”

She said her office “will contact the incoming heads of all agencies and offer training on the whistleblower law, the Hatch Act and the other laws enforced by the OSC.” 

“If any Department employee believes they have been subjected to an adverse action in violation of merit system principles, they may file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), and we will investigate their claim,” she wrote to Blumenthal.