Interior First Out of the Gate with Science Integrity Rules

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Interior First Out of the Gate with Science Integrity Rules

Rules Ban Alteration of Technical Findings and Foster “Free Flow” of Scientific Data

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Interior today
imposed a new set of rules covering all of its employees - including
political appointees - and contractors to promote the integrity and
transparency of its scientific work.  Taken together, the rules confer
new legal protections on both scientific information and the specialists
who create it, according to Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER) which has pushed for enforceable safeguards.

Adopted as a new chapter in the Interior Departmental Manual, the rules
take immediate effect.  They are the first concrete action to implement a
March 2009 presidential directive that all agencies adopt rules to
prevent political manipulation and suppression of scientific findings. 
That government-wide effort is more than 18 months behind schedule and
it is not clear if other agencies will follow Interior's lead.

The most salient feature of the rules is a prohibition against altering
scientific conclusions for non-scientific reasons by public relations
staff, political appointees and non-scientist managers.  The rules also
lay out a process for investigating misconduct allegations against
scientists and non-scientist managers.

"This is the first official attempt to punish managers who skew science
to advance agency agendas," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,
noting that the previous pattern was to reward managers who bend science
to win approvals.  "As amply evidenced by official public statements
following the BP Gulf spill, political manipulation of scientific
information still is common practice. These rules will begin to change
agency culture once they are successfully applied to a political
appointee."

Interior's new rules still leave a number of gray areas that will have to be filled in, including -

  • Ambiguity about scientists' prerogative to publish findings or
    submit papers to peer reviewed journals (a right secured in only one
    Interior agency, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service);
  • Promised whistleblower protections for scientists are not spelled out; and
  • Circumstances under which scientists are forbidden from speaking with the media are unstated.

Interior's new rules also leave a number of unresolved issues, such as
the tension between promises of complete transparency versus protecting
"confidential and proprietary information...to the fullest extent allowed
by law."  In addition, the rules contain an expanded definition of
conflicts of interest which may give industries an avenue to disqualify
the most highly qualified scientists from reviewing their projects.

"This is very much a work in progress but appears to be a good faith
effort to grapple with a basket of knotty issues which heretofore have
been kept out of sight," Ruch added, pointing out that the White House
Office of Science and Technology Policy is not even asking other federal
agencies to report on the status of their efforts in promulgating rules
until mid-April.  "Historically, the Department of Interior has been
infamous for thorough-going political distortion of science.  If
Interior can adopt science integrity rules, then surely other agencies
such as EPA, NOAA and the Forest Service, have no excuse not to follow
suit."
 

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Read the new Interior Department rules

Compare EPA's apparent reluctance to clarify scientist rights

Look at the stalled and watered down Obama scientific integrity initiative

View skewing of science during the BP spill

See ongoing efforts inside Interior to edit science

Examine Fish & Wildlife Service policy of not screening scientific papers

Review background on development of Interior's rules

 

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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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