WASHINGTON -- March 31 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is illegally blocking the release of internal surveys of its own scientific staff, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
PEER had requested copies of extensive employee surveys conducted in 1999, 2001 and 2003 within the EPA Office of Research and Development. ORD consists of a network of laboratories and research centers comprised of approximately 2000 scientists in which much of the agencys basic and applied science concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health issues.
According to agency scientists, the surveys covered a range of topics concerning how EPA conducts its science, including questions on scientific integrity and quality, the adequacy of resources and the effects of management practices on employee morale. The three sets of surveys taken over six years would also allow comparison of scientist perceptions during both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
The PEER suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, contends that EPA has no legal basis for withholding survey results. EPA is even refusing to disclose copies of the questions posed to agency scientists. The agency contends that the survey materials are predecisional and thus exempt from release.
The agency claims that the surveys are part of EPAs deliberative process without offering any justification as to how or why, stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who filed the suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. It is difficult to imagine what groundbreaking policies the agency might be contemplating based on six-year-old survey data.
During the Bush Administration, EPA has been plagued by reports of political suppression of scientific results on issues ranging from global warming and mercury regulation to the health effects of the toxic fallout from the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists and PEER released a survey the two groups conducted among scientists within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. That survey revealed high reported levels of political intervention to change scientific conclusions as well fear of retaliation for expressing scientific concerns at variance with perceived agency positions.
These scientists work within an agency but they work for the public, commented PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose who filed the Freedom of Information Act requests with EPA. The public has a right to know if public agency scientists are being prevented from doing their jobs by politics.
Next week, Senate confirmation hearings for Stephen Johnson are slated to begin. President Bush nominated Johnson, a long-time agency official and currently the Deputy Administrator, to serve as EPA Administrator. If confirmed Johnson would be the third EPA Administrator in the Bush Administration, succeeding former Governors Christie Whitman and Mike Leavitt. Several senators have vowed to make political manipulation of EPA science an issue in Johnsons hearings.
Read the PEER lawsuit to obtain the results of EPA surveys of scientists
See the PEER/UCS survey of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service scientists