WASHINGTON - May 1 – Today's resignation of an Interior Department official who manipulated the work of federal scientists was welcomed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), but the organization stressed that the pervasive problem of political interference at federal agencies was not solved by her departure.
Julie MacDonald, a deputy assistant secretary, today submitted her resignation just weeks after an Interior Department Inspector General (IG) report criticized her for overriding recommendations of Fish and Wildlife Service scientists about how to protect endangered species.
The IG investigation came after UCS released information documenting MacDonald's actions. In several cases, her interference resulted in changing a "positive" finding - in favor of protecting species under the Endangered Species Act - to a "negative" finding.
"We welcome Julie MacDonald's resignation," said UCS Scientific Integrity Program Director Francesca Grifo, "but she represents a much larger problem of widespread political interference at federal agencies."
UCS is calling for Interior Department Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to take action to ensure the work of federal scientists will not be subject to political manipulation. UCS says Secretary Kempthorne should guarantee Interior Department scientists final review of their work before it is released.
"Increasing transparency in the decision-making process would make other political appointees think twice before altering or distorting scientific documents," Dr. Grifo said. "To prevent this abuse, Secretary Kempthorne should make available the scientific basis of all decisions."
A February 2005 UCS survey of scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service found pervasive political interference in science at the agency. Two thirds of those who responded to the survey - 303 scientists - were aware of cases in which Interior Department political appointees interfered with scientific findings. Eighty-four scientists reported that they were directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from agency scientific documents.