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Political Scaff: Data Tampering by Anti-Safety Biz Advocates Exposed in Vital Report


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An article from the Albany Times-Union shows evidence of data tampering in a report on the state’s contentious scaffolding law. Between the initial draft and a final version of the report, the estimate of the law’s cost was artificially increased.  

The study, conducted by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, was paid for by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance.  The Lawsuit Reform Alliance is one of the leading opponents of the scaffold law.  Following Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, the draft version of the study was made public, according to writer Casey Seiler:

Documents produced by the Rockefeller Institute in response to the Center for Popular Democracy’s FOIL included email correspondence between researchers and Tom Stebbins, the leader of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance. The exchanges, described last month by the Times Union, included a July 2013 email containing two pages of Stebbins’ suggested edits offered in response to a draft version of the report. While many of his suggested changes were merely typographical, others went to the substance of the report.

The institute initially refused to release the draft report, but produced it last week on the advice of SUNY’s FOIL officer. Side-by-side comparisons of the two reports show that in several instances changes were made that addressed issues raised by Stebbins.

The contract between the institute and the LRA required the researchers to communicate regularly with their funders as the report progressed. In an interview last week, Stebbins said his suggestions were nothing more than an effort “to get the complete picture” of the costs of Scaffold Law.

The changes made at the request of Tom Stebbins included MTA insurance data alterations and the proposed removal of a chapter which found that a project in upstate New York was minimally affected by the law:

The same chapter of the draft includes a two-page case study on the construction of the Lake Champlain Bridge, in which those interviewed — including the chief engineers on the New York and Vermont sides of the project, Vermont’s attorney general, and the contractor’s project engineer and risk control manager — said Scaffold Law had only marginal impact on the structure’s price tag.

In his edits, Stebbins recommended scrapping the case study: “As discussed, suggest we remove this section unless we can get someone to talk.”

“I felt that no one they interviewed knew what Scaffold Law was and how it affected the cost of construction,” Stebbins said last week. ” … We were not able to get people who understood what the costs were.”

The final report jettisoned the Champlain Bridge analysis.

In response to the FOIL findings, Josie Duffy of the Center for Popular Democracy called on the Rockefeller Institute to release all drafts of the study, saying, “The public deserves a full accounting of SUNY’s role in helping business groups attack worker safety laws.”


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