Political Manipulation of Science Rife During Nominee's Tenure

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Email: info@peer.org

Political Manipulation of Science Rife During Nominee's Tenure

Fish & Wildlife Service Southeast Region Employees Saw Interference and Reprisal

WASHINGTON - President Obama’s nominee to lead the U.S. Fish & Wildlife
Service did not protect science from political interference or
scientists from retaliation, according to a survey of his employees
conducted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Last week, the White House announced its intent to nominate Sam
Hamilton to head the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which has been
the focus of intense criticism for allowing political officials to
improperly alter scientific findings.

For the past dozen years, Sam Hamilton has overseen the
10-state FWS Southeastern Region of the Fish & Wildlife Service,
home to endangered species ranging from the American crocodile to the
Florida panther. In 2005, PEER surveyed more than 1,400 FWS biologists,
ecologists and botanists working on Endangered Species Act and other
wildlife protection programs across the country. Those survey results
for scientists working within Hamilton’s region found that –

  • Nearly half (49%) of FWS respondents cited cases where
    “commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or
    withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political
    intervention”;
  • A similar percentage (46%) said they had been
    “directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making . . .
    findings that are protective of species”; and
  • More than a
    third (36%) feared “retaliation” for merely expressing “concerns about
    the biological needs of species and habitats” and a similar number felt
    they were “not allowed to do my job as a scientist”.

“Where was Sam Hamilton when all this was going on?” asked PEER
Executive Director Jeff Ruch noting that Hamilton did not inquire or
request any investigation into widespread complaints by his staff. “Why
would anyone expect Mr. Hamilton to protect scientists when he
previously has not?”

A prime example illustrating this concern is the manipulation of
science by Hamilton’s leadership team to green-light sprawl in
shrinking panther habitat. In 2005, the FWS Director under Bush, Steve
Williams, rebuked Hamilton’s region for making false assumptions
designed to inflate panther numbers and viability, in response to a
formal complaint by PEER and an FWS panther biologist. Hamilton took no
disciplinary action against any of his managers and several of the
scientific deficiencies persist today.

The White House announcement cited Hamilton’s record for “delivering
significant wildlife conservation” but his employees reflect a less
positive view:

  • More than two thirds (68%) did not feel the region was
    “acting effectively to maintain or enhance species and their habitats,
    so as to avoid possible listings under the Endangered Species Act” and
  • Less
    than one in four (24%) believed that Hamilton would “stand up for
    scientific staff or supervisors who take controversial stands”.

One FWS supervisor succinctly summed up what Hamilton’s operation needs this way:

“More backbone, less dog-and-pony show…”

In the PEER national survey, Hamilton’s region ranked better than
some and worse than others on key issues. More than one in four (29%)
of all FWS ecological scientists participated in the survey.

“Hamilton’s record as a senior official does not offer much to brag
on,” Ruch added. “We hope the Senate, particularly its Democratic
members, look carefully into this record and interview employees.”

 

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View survey results

Read essays by Southeast Region FWS scientists

Look at the White House announcement

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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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