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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Bush administration is proposing that in the event of any national emergency - such as a release of anthrax, a nuclear plant accident or an outbreak of mad cow disease - the decision of what information to release and when will be left up to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

According to the paper, "OMB also wants to manage scientific and technical evaluations - known as peer reviews - of all major government rules, plans, proposed regulations and pronouncements. Currently, each federal agency controls its emergency notifications and peer review of its projects."

The White House says that by centralizing peer review, evaluations will be more consistent. OMB was created as a tool for the White House to evaluate agency budget, policy, legislative, regulatory and management issues.

The move by the White House already has come in for criticism from what is described as a non-partisan group of former officials from various federal agencies objecting to the change. The group sent a letter to OMB asking that the proposal be withdrawn. One of the signers - a former assistant secretary for environment, safety and health at the Department of Energy who is currently a research professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health - said that such a shift would put scientific decisions in the hands of political appointees. "Under this proposal, the carefully crafted process used by the government to notify the public of an imminent danger is going to first have to be signed off by someone weighing the political hazards," wrote David Michaels.

The Post-Dispatch reports that the letter also was signed by "two former Environmental Protection Agency administrators, a former secretary of labor, two former heads of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a former assistant labor secretary in charge of mine safety and health, and 13 other former senior officials of both political parties."

However, John Graham, administrator of the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said that the criticisms would be used to "prepare a final peer review policy that is as objective and workable as possible" - not to scrap the proposal.
KC's View:
This is nuts for all sorts of reasons. Seems to us that there will be so many political and cultural considerations being taken into account that it will be virtually impossible to get a true scientific reading on anything.

Should the White House - any White House - have been responsible for deciding whether or not the mad cow discovery in Washington State was fit for public consumption? We don't think so.

Besides, it is a sure bet that while the White House tries to make up its mind, it's gonna be up on CNN or MSNBC. And then you’re going to have politicians not just trying to deal with issues, but trying to explain the decision-making process behind releasing or not releasing the information.

Just nuts.