EPA Science Divorced from Needs and Discombobulated

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA Science Divorced from Needs and Discombobulated

Science Advisory Board Seeks Better Integration of Science into Agency Decisions

WASHINGTON - The state of science within the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency is in disrepair and needs major
improvements, according to a fact-finding review by its own Science
Advisory Board.  Scores of interviews with EPA scientists reveal deep
dysfunctions and disconnects among its branches, according to Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The Science Advisory Board (SAB), a 32-year old
Congressionally-chartered panel of outside scientists to provide
guidance to EPA, began a review of how well the agency uses science in
its decision-making in late 2008.  On March 31, 2010, the SAB finished
the fact-finding stage of its review in which it spoke with EPA
scientists from each major branch of the agency.  Its major conclusions
include that - 

  • Scientists are cut off from decision-making by agency managers with little science background;
  • Science
    resources are balkanized into stove-piped agendas.  The biggest
    concentration of scientists, the Office of Research and Development, is
    not tied into the research needs of EPA's regional offices working on
    an array of problems requiring applied and basic science; and
  • Scientists are disenfranchised within EPA with limited career options, lower pay and little chance for advancement.

The
net result is SAB found "regional concerns that science needs are not
met" since those needs "do not seem to be an Agency priority."  One
disturbing but telling result regions reported is that "EPA has
dis-invested in environmental monitoring" so that it no longer tracks
long-term trends and effects - a key component of its mission.

"EPA's science program suffers from the 'flavor-of-the-month' syndrome
in which the agency's political leadership announces a new priority
every month in response to the latest media exposé without first
finding out what its regions are doing or need to be effective," stated
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. 
The SAB also noted a surprisingly low proportion of EPA resources
devoted to science: "Although 50-60% of regional staff are scientists
and engineers, many of them are not working in those fields and do not
have the support or capacity to provide the science needed.There are
fewer senior scientist positions at EPA, compared to other federal
agencies (e.g., National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug
Administration, and Centers for Disease Control)."

"While EPA's budget has ballooned under Obama, its investment in
science has not," added Ruch, noting that the SAB lauded the candor and
courage of the 73 EPA staff it interviewed.  "What is welcome but rare
about this Science Advisory Board fact-finding is that someone finally
started speaking with EPA scientists to find out what they think."

The SAB is slated to complete its report later this year.  EPA is not
required to adopt or act upon Science Advisory Board recommendations.

 

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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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