Interior Science Has Integrity Issues, IG Says

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Interior Science Has Integrity Issues, IG Says

No Safeguards against Political Manipulation of Science despite Repeated Scandals

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Interior still lacks any policy to ensure the
integrity of its scientific data, according to a new Inspector General
report. As a result, agency scientific findings remain susceptible to
alteration or suppression in support of pre-determined political
positions, according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER).

The report by the Interior Office of
Inspector General (IG), dated April 2010, was quietly posted without
announcement on the IG website late last week. In recent days, Interior
has been reeling from reports that it ignored both internal and
external scientific warnings about the risk of oil spills and the lack
of response capacity before Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a
major expansion of offshore drilling, just days before the disastrous BP
explosion and spill.

"The problem is not the scientists but their
managers who are actually rewarded for filtering information to serve
the announced agency agenda," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,
noting that the slim 12-page IG report only skims over root causes.
"Political skewing of science became a major cause for complaint under
Bush but it remains just as bad under Obama because nothing has been
done to stop it."

By way of example of ongoing scientific
dysfunction within Interior, PEER points to -

  • Continued
    efforts inside the Minerals Management Service to stifle scientists who
    raise environmental concerns about offshore drilling, as documented in
    an April 2010 Government Accountability Office report;
  • Endangered
    Species Act positions taken by the U.S. that fly in the face of the
    overwhelming weight of agency science, on issues ranging from the
    Florida panther to the sage grouse. As under Bush, conservation groups
    are able to prove in court that Obama agency stances are "arbitrary and
    capricious" for ignoring the best available science; and
  • Interior's
    ongoing hostility toward whistleblowers and continued reliance on "gag
    orders" and other restrictions on specialists candidly discussing
    problems or sharing data.

"In March 2009, President Obama
promised new policies that would both protect agency science from
political tampering and scientists from retaliation for doing their jobs
but those policies never were promulgated," Ruch added. "Compromised
scientific integrity is not just a problem inside Interior; it is a
government-wide phenomenon whenever technical data carries heavy policy
implications."

Contrary to the IG report, Interior claimed that
it did adopt a scientific code of conduct back in 2002, but the agency
did so via a press release and never put it into its official manual.
That code applied only to the scientists and not to managers and
political appointees who remain free to alter technical documents for
non-scientific reasons.

 

See
the Inspector General Report

Look at the GAO
report on manipulation of eco-science on offshore drilling 

Revisit Sec.
Salazar ignoring warnings on dangers of drilling

View the ongoing
prosecution of whistleblowers by Interior

Read the 2007
PEER testimony on science integrity problems within Interior

Learn about
Interior restrictions on sharing data about offshore drilling

Examine the
belated Obama scientific integrity initiative

Trace official
scientific fraud regarding the Florida panther

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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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