EPA Science Program Scrambled by Last Minute Moves

For Immediate Release

EPA Science Program Scrambled by Last Minute Moves

Long-Term Research Plans Ditched; New Round of Buyouts; New "Brand" Emphasis

WASHINGTON - In the waning days of the Bush administration, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency science program is being "transformed"
through a series of hasty but far-reaching moves, according to agency
documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). The net effect would downsize support for
research and narrow work down to a few unidentified "issues of
national/international significance" in order to enhance the "brand" of
the agency's science arm.

Tomorrow, December 18th, the leadership of the EPA Office of
Research and Development (ORD) will summon all 1,800 of its scientists
to attend the second "all hands" meeting in the past month to hear
about plans to "implement the new business approach." Its centerpiece
would reduce funding and support down to a few unnamed big projects
which "require an integrated multidisciplinary approach to succeed"
[emphasis in original] while servicing "multiple partners."

"This new plan is practically incoherent; it reads like a game of
buzzword bingo," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "EPA
scientists are flummoxed and frustrated that important work may be
abandoned to chase after the bureaucratic flavor of the month."

The "Transforming ORD" PowerPoint first presented at the November 13
"all hands" meeting and the subsequent question-and-answer session
suggests that the EPA science program will -

  • Eschew emergency investigations as well as regional,
    watershed and other work that only supports "single partners" no matter
    how important;
  • "Divest" long-term chemical and other
    single-subject studies in favor of "integrated multidisciplinary
    research" to be encouraged by "align[ing] award and promotion
    criteria"; and
  • Re-orient or drop all multi-year research
    portfolios. In addition, the highly regarded ORD Strategic Plan
    developed in the mid-90s by an array of outside experts, such as the
    National Academies of Science and the National Academy of Public
    Administration, Congress and agency specialists would become outmoded.

One prosaic but profound step already taken is the offer of early
retirements to ORD administrative and budget personnel through January
12, 2009, little more than a week before the Inauguration, in order to
strip support for any laboratories outside of three contemplated
consolidated research centers. This would hamstring technical
assistance projects and other work by ecology laboratories in the field.

This attempt to totally reorganize ORD before the new administration
takes over is being pushed by a mixture of Bush political appointees
and senior career managers. The stated rationale is that declining
funding will not support the ORD research base. In order to survive,
ORD must broaden its constituency and strengthen its "brand'
identification among those making funding decisions.

"It
is stunning how little analysis, consultation or collaboration has gone
into this scheme to redirect all EPA scientific research," added Ruch.
"This makeover needs to be put on hold so the new administration and
Congress together with the scientific community have a chance to
soberly consider its merits."

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View "Transforming ORD" PowerPoint excerpts
(Complete PowerPoint available upon request)

See the All Hands calls to EPA scientists

Look at expanded lame duck buy-outs

Revisit ORD efforts to burnish its "brand"

 

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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