Here are some questions that members of the Senate Commerce Committee should have asked of William J. Brennan, acting director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, at his May 1 nomination hearing to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

On May 1 the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation considered the nomination of Dr. Brennan to be Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. This position is also that of Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Brennan has also served as Acting Director of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program since the retirement of James Mahoney two years ago. Our understanding is that the administration intends to promote Brennan to the position of Director of the CCSP upon his confirmation by the Senate.

Members of the Committee should have asked some due diligence oversight questions along these lines (and should put these questions to Dr. Brennan in writing for the record):

Q:  In August 2007 a federal court ruled in the case of Center for Biological Diversity v. William J. Brennan et al. that the Bush administration and the Climate Change Science Program are in violation of the requirement of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 that the program produce for the President and Congress a scientific assessment of global change impacts every four years.

The administration abandoned the process that had been established for conducting the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts and now, in its eighth year, has still not delivered anything comparable. 

The court ordered that your program produce a scientific impacts assessment by May 31, 2008. That is just one month away. Will you be in compliance with the court order and the Global Change Research Act’s requirements by May 31?  If not, why not?  If so, what will you deliver to Congress to bring yourself into compliance? (See “CCSP Synthesis Reports are years behind schedule as program scrambles to meet court deadline” here.)

Q:  On March 12 your program released a major report on the likely very serious and damaging impacts of global climate disruption on a wide range of transportation systems and infrastructure in the U.S. Gulf Coast region. The report was released by the Department of Transportation in a way that was clearly intended to minimize public attention to it. The report was long delayed internally, there was no press conference and no Congressional briefing on its release. At first the DOT even tried to block journalists from talking with the lead author at the agency about the findings in the report. (See “Stealth release of major federal study of Gulf Coast climate change transportation impacts” here.) 

Can you explain how this unacceptable “stealth release”procedure is allowed to happen?  Do you have any influence on the communications strategy for the release of your program’s reports? What do you see as your responsibility to ensure this is done with integrity? What steps will you take to ensure, when reports are released in the future, that your program engages in more proactive meaningful communication with Congress and the media?

Q:  In 2003, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program in its Strategic Plan said it would prepare 21 reports on various topics related to climate change and its impacts by the end of September 2007. The program said these reports would be a key component of showing thast the program was relevant to climate change policymaking. As of today, however, only five of the 21 reports have been released, and many of them are years overdue from what was originally promised. (See CCSP web site here.)

Do you, as director of the CCSP, have any influence on this process?  What steps are you taking to overcome this failure to communicate in a timely manner? How can we ensure that, in the future, this program starts to make a better connection with the real needs of society’s decisionmaking?

Q:  What, if anything, do you think you will be able to do in providing leadership for the Climate Change Science Program as Director that you can’t do now as Acting Director?