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Monday, January 24, 2011

Center Responds To PEER Critique of EPA Science Integrity

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Issued the Press Release Below:

See Center Response to PEER Press Release below the release:
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WILL EPA SIT OUT SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY RULE-MAKING?
Memo Implies EPA Will Not Clarify Scientists’ Right to Publish or Speak with Media

Washington, DC — Despite a White House directive that federal agencies strengthen their procedures for ensuring scientific integrity and transparency, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is apparently planning no changes, according to an internal EPA e-mail released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, EPA scientists will continue to lack consistent rules for publishing studies, speaking at scientific conferences or answering questions from the media.
On December, 17, 2010, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memo directing all agencies to “develop and implement policies” to address a set of issues including scientists’ right to speak and publish, interactions with scientific societies and the media, as well as a ban against alteration of technical documents for political reasons. In spite of the fact that EPA has no clear policies addressing these topics, Administrator Lisa Jackson, in a December 21, 2010 e-mail to staff circulating the OSTP memo, suggested that her agency needed to do nothing further because:

“I am proud that we have maintained our commitment to scientific integrity. Our ongoing work to uphold scientific integrity is part of our progress as One EPA and should continue to set the standard for federal government agencies.”

“Far from setting the standard for scientific integrity, EPA daily subjects its scientists to the murky backwaters of arbitrary ad hoc decision-making,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that other agencies, especially the Department of Interior, are moving ahead with precedent-setting open science policies. “The area where EPA does seem to set the standard is undeserved self-congratulation.”

In a letter sent today, PEER urged Ms. Jackson to consult its staff scientists in an earnest effort to promulgate enforceable open science protocols. PEER cites recent instances where EPA has –
Prevented one of its top experts on sea level rise from publishing papers;

Impeded scientists from making invited presentations at scientific conferences; and

Failed to issue promised guidance on when scientists may speak with Congress or the press
EPA also does not have policies on the ability of its scientists to protect against inappropriate alterations of their work, to participate in scientific societies or to freely communicate with outside experts, among other topics contained in the OSTP memo. Nonetheless, Ms. Jackson’s e-mail distinctly implies that she has no plans to promulgate such policies (nor is there any announced schedule of activity to do so) even though her agency is supposed to report its progress back to the White House by mid-April.

“Within EPA management there is a culture of disrespect for its scientists, an upstairs-downstairs mentality where scientific acumen carries little weight,” added Ruch, arguing that EPA should be in dialogue with its scientists and unions right now if it intends to have new rules in place by the spring. “If agencies such as EPA stand pat, the entire Obama scientific integrity initiative may produce little more than pious promises.”

In January 2009, shortly after she was sworn in, PEER wrote to Administrator Jackson pressing her to follow through on her confirmation commitments to promote “scientific integrity,” “rule of law” and “transparency” by outlawing gag orders, securing the right to publish and reaching out to agency scientists to hear their views. PEER has yet to receive an answer to that letter.

See Lisa Jackson’s memo on scientific integrity
Read PEER protest letter

Look at sea level rise material EPA is suppressing
View EPA’s murky “fishbowl” policy and the unanswered 2009 PEER letter

Review White House directive to agencies on scientific integrity and transparency

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CENTER RESPONSE

While understanding the need for 'chain of command' within any business or institution, we understand PEER's motivation to include more 'freedom of expression' from agency scientists.  The question is one of balance.  How to balance the need for scientific integrity and transparency with the agenda of the adminstration.  Too much independence can lead to chaos and too much control can lead to stifling independent thought.

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo comes to mind.  Her career at EPA was ended for whistleblowing about mining practices in a foreign country.  If a mechanism had been in place to address her concerns, she might not have taken EPA to court [where the agency was convicted of discrimination] and she would not have been pressed into getting a law passed [NO FEAR ACT] to addresss the agency response problems.

EPA should address the legitimate concerns raised by PEER.  PEER should also understand that without appropriate controls on the agency message, chaos could rule.  Thus the need for an institutionalized mechanism to address the need for agency scientists to dissent, while maintaining management 'command and control' of the ageny's messages to the public.  A middle ground is possible.

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