After squirming through three weeks of committee hearings, Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks has reinstated Allen V. Astin as Director of the Bureau of Standards. But his original decision to fire Astin revealed political pressures on this essentially un political body which return to status quo cannot erase.
The affair started early in the year when Astin issued an unfavorable report on a battery additive produced by Pioneers Inc. and dubbed AD-X2. As a result, the Post Office Department canceled Pioneer's mailing rights. Then Weeks stepped in and secured the firm its post office sanction and, on March 31, demanded and received Astin's resignation. When called to defend his action before the Senate Small Business Committee, Weeks claimed that Astin had not been sufficiently objective in his tests. He cited similar tests made at M.I.T., claiming that in this case, AD-X2 had proved successful. The official spokesman for the Institute, however, stated that AD-X2 had shown no effect, either good or bad.
Later, Dr. Wallace Brode, temporary director of the Bureau, revealed that "terrific pressures," consisting chiefly of letters from 24 unnamed Senators, had led to the dismissal.
Faced with this open admission of political influence, protests from many of the nation's leading scientific organizations, and the sympathy resignations of 400 bureau scientists, Weeks reinstated Astin.
While Weeks must take the blame for this fiasco, the 24 Senators who influenced his decision should not escape unrevealed. It is common practice for congressmen to ask an executive body to review a decision. In this way, many unfair judgments are reversed. But in Astin's case, the 24 letters exerted such pressure that they outweighed scientific tests.
It is fair to assume that many of the Senators asked for more than a review of the case. Those who did were not only interfering with the governments most important testing body, but they were indulging in the same kind of influence peddling that plagued the last Administration.
The only way that Weeks can return the Bureau to its proper non-political realm is to make those letters public. The voters and the government's many scientific personnel deserve to know who is tampering with the Bureau's decisions. Moreover, publishing the names of the 24 legislators will help check any further abuse of this Congressional right.