For Immediate Release
Interior Posts Only Half of a Scientific Integrity Policy
Draft Would Punish Scientists But Not Protect Against Political Manipulation
WASHINGTON - Seeking to rehabilitate its tattered
reputation, the U.S. Interior Department today proposed rules to improve
the accuracy and integrity of its scientific work. Disturbingly, the
proposal ignores political manipulation of science and instead focuses
on punitive measures against scientific specialists, according to Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
A report issued this year by its Office of Inspector General
(IG) faulted Interior for lacking any policy to ensure the integrity of
its scientific work. The proposed rules published today in the Federal
Register would subject Interior scientists to discipline for actions
such as falsification of data, disclosure of proprietary data and
avoidance of conflicts of interest. Significantly, the rules do not
apply to agency managers or bar alteration of scientific reports by
non-scientists for political reasons.
"The scientists within Interior are not the ones rewriting
documents inappropriately. Scientific misconduct stems from Interior's
political appointees and hand-picked senior managers but these folks are
not covered by the policy," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,
pointing to a recent Government Accountability Office report that found
Interior managers short-circuiting environmental reviews of offshore
drilling in its Alaska office. "Interior's approach to scientific
integrity in essence penalizes the victims and gives a free ride to the
In the Gulf of Mexico, Interior managers waived environmental
and safety reviews on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig and signed off on a
shoddy spill response plan that listed walruses and seals as local
wildlife, among other absurdities. This spring, Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar and top aides overlooked scientific warnings about the risk of
oil spills and the lack of response capacity before approving a major
expansion of offshore drilling, just days before the disastrous BP
explosion and spill.
"Interior's performance in the Gulf raised a host of troubling
questions - all of which this proposal avoids," added Ruch, noting that
agency scientists are already subject to discipline and negative
performance reviews for scientific deviations and errors. "Reform at
Interior needs to start at the top."
The draft Interior policy also appears at odds with a directive
issued by President Obama in March 2009 that agencies work with the
White House to develop policies providing transparency and peer review
to technical work, protecting scientific data from being "compromised"
and extending whistleblower protection to scientists. The Interior
draft rules contain none of these key elements.
The proposed rules are subject to a 20-day public comment period.
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.