Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Interior Dept. issues new policy protecting government scientists

By Ed O'Keefe

The Interior Department on Tuesday became the first federal entity to set rules that would protect scientific information and the people who create it from political interference, earning wide praise from outside groups who have long alleged that top political officials regularly manipulate or misinterpret scientific data.

The new scientific integrity policy applies to the department's 67,000 employees as well as its contractors, grant recipients and volunteers when they analyze or share scientific information with reporters and the public or use the department's information to make policy or regulatory decisions, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The hiring and promotion of officials should be based on "knowledge, credentials, and experience relevant to the responsibility of the position," according to the new policy that also requires the public distribution of scientific and scholarly work not protected by government secrecy laws.

The changes "sets forth clear expectations for all employees - political and career - to uphold the principles of scientific integrity, and establishes a process for impartial review of alleged breaches of those principles," Salazar said in a statement.

The policy details new whistleblower protections, and says workers may share their findings with reporters without manipulation by public affairs officials. Department employees are also encouraged to work with professional organizations and societies so long as they don't create conflicts of interest.

Allegations of scientific or scholarly misconduct will be investigated within 60 days, and officials will work to ensure unfounded allegations don't negatively affect an employee's reputation, the department said.

Obama in 2009 ordered federal scientific agencies to adopt new rules meant to prevent political interference with scientific findings after government scientists and advocacy groups alleged that top officials in George W. Bush's had either manipulated or suppressed scientific reports on environmental concerns and endangered species.

But Obama administration officials have also faced criticism for misinterpreting data released in the wake of the BP oil spill. A report last month by the National Oil Spill Commission faulted White House Climate Adviser Carol Browner for incorrectly stating last August that "the vast majority" of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico was gone.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said political manipulation of scientific information is still common practice, but the department's new policies appear "to be a good faith effort to grapple with a basket of knotty issues which heretofore have been kept out of sight." The advocacy group represents state and federal scientific and environmental workers.

"This is the first official attempt to punish managers who skew science to advance agency agendas," Ruch said, adding however that the policy won't work until it's "successfully applied to a political appointee."

Several scientific groups first shared their concerns about the political manipulation of scientific data during the 2008 presidential transition, said John Fitzgerald, policy director with the Society for Conservation Biology. He called on the department's watchdogs to report on whether the new policies lead to revisions of Bush-era reports on endangered species.

James P. Collins, president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, credited the department for incorporating the recommendations of outside groups and for applying the new rules equally to career and political officials.

"Federal scientists are often leaders in their fields. Science benefits when they are able to fully participate in their professional communities," Collins said.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 2, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Weather Service Web site falters at critical time
Next: Know a fed eligible for insurance or an award?

Comments

Hooray for scientific integrity! Too bad those who do not listen to actual research will still cry voodoo if it doesn't meet their wants.

Posted by: Falling4Ever | February 1, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

AMEN. Science should always without exception be decided by science never by dogma theology politics opinion convenience or power. period. some priests politicians and people who drink tea think the law of gravity is legislation, that can be repealed. a theory of gravity does not mean gravity may or may not "exist" a theory of light and energy does not question the exıstence of light and energy. anyone who imagines that a theory of evolution questions the occurrence of evolution does not belong on any science board. any more than a cement mixer turns out ice cream.

return science to science and leave out the magical mystery tour thinking.

Posted by: isafakir | February 1, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Not that it'll make a lot of difference a couple of years from now when all the best scientists and thinkers have left the government for better paying jobs elsewhere. And that, thanks, unbelievably, to Obama and his Federal pay freeze. What a screwed-up mess our country is. Where in God's name are our priorities?

Posted by: barnesgene | February 1, 2011 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Another rule to be repealed for the Rep.

Posted by: rolandberger | February 2, 2011 8:04 AM | Report abuse

How will the Government handle this collusion?

Dear Congressman Farr, 04-07-2010

I am a Police Officer with the City of Santa Cruz and have been employed there for almost 18 years. I wanted to pass on a little information I found that I hoped would garner your support to re-open the Clear Creek Management Area. I have been recreating in the Clear Creek Management Area since I was a young boy, 1968.

The Friends of clear Creek Management Area who I am a member of requested from the BLM's Hollister field Office, information regarding Clear Creek under the Freedom of Information Act. After going through many of the reports, memos and emails I found some interesting information that you needed to be aware of.

I also requested using FOIA the photographs the EPA took during their test to record their "as close to real life" testing procedures.

On September 28, 2005 the EPA conducted their dry season dust sampling and took many photographs to document their study. The CCMA was closed to the public during the test due to the BLM enacting a dry season closure. In the photos and DEIS comment I attached you can clearly see the roadway where the ATV's and motorcycles are riding, it is very dusty. What I wanted to point out is the CCMA road has had tons of gravel placed and compacted on it over the years to keep vehicle traffic safe and to control erosion. In the photos the EPA took during their testing they photographed a portion of the roadway from Oak flat back towards the entrance. In these photos you can clearly see tractor tracks and scrape marks on the roadway, which appear to cover the fresh tire tracks. Per the BLM Hollister field Office there are no records of road maintenance during this time period and per their own policy they do not conduct road maintenance during dry the season.

The BLM purposely softened the roadway using a tractor to create dustier conditions just prior to the EPA test. This action severely undermines the public's trust in the BLM and EPA. I have attached the photographs for viewing.

On March 4, 2008 at 0831 hours, Mike Poole sent Henri Bisson an email titled: Clear Creek Asbestos Problem-Serious. The following is from the email. I attached the complete email for your viewing.

“If the EPA risk assessments hold true in their final report to be completed late April or early May, we plan to close the area off to public use. This temporary/emergency closure would encompass approximately 32,000 acres-perhaps even more to logically secure the area at key points. Subsequently, we will revise the Clear Management Plan and decide on a preferred alternative regarding future use.”

Posted by: kend135 | February 5, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Continued::

“The exposure rates are much higher than expected.” “Both the BLM Toxicologist Karl Ford and the Departmental industrial hygienist Tim Radtke have reviewed the draft EPA findings. At this stage, they have not disputed the risk assessment to human health. This includes the EPA protocols for sampling, analysis and modeling outcomes. We anticipate the closure will go into effect around May 1-concurrent with the posting of the final report by EPA.”


I have the Karl Fords memo to Rick Cooper dated February 8, 2008 regarding review of “Clear Creek Management Area Asbestos Exposure and Human Health Risk Assessment,” Region 9 EPA but It’s in paper/memo format and I am unable to attach it at this time. I will forward it as soon as I can get it scanned into a pdf form.

The HFO BLM had been in direct contact all along with the EPA regarding their test results and knew the EPA’s position regarding the risk assessment was “uncertainty or perhaps zero.” The draft is not yet out yet and when they do receive it, it still states “uncertainty and perhaps zero.” The EPA’s report does not reflect a need to close CCMA.

On 03-07-2008 at 1:32 pm Rick Cooper sent Jim Abbott an email titled: Discussion on Clear Creek.

First bulleted paragraph: "Making a decision the minute the final report comes out gives the appearance that BLM dis not even take time to consider the report. The intent of the RMP was to analyze land use on the project area utilizing the assessment data. It is in BLM's interest to have an open public process (even a short one) prior to making a decision for closure and may aid in our defense of any appeals."

Second bulleted paragraph: "BLM will need to close all county roads in CCMA to effectively close and control access to the Hazardous Asbestos Area. Not fully disclosing BLM's intent (closure) with key audiences identified in the Pre Comm. Plan and then 2 weeks later closing the CCMA could be detrimental for our long term relations ad credibility with our stakeholders."

Posted by: kend135 | February 5, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

continued:::

On 04-11-2008 at 1105 hours, After receiving the final draft EPA Executive summary report regarding the asbestos test/study of Clear Creek, Timothy Moore sent Rick Cooper an email regarding the EPA's report. Also included with the executive summary is a three-fold information sheet titled "Asbestos in the Environment at the Clear Creek Management Area."

Mr Moore writes: Rick, On the FAQ's- we need to change the information packet we sell that contains, "Asbestos in the Environment at the Clear Creek Management Area." some of this information in this three page handout conflicts with the new EPA data, such as pg 2 "low levels of asbestos are not likely to be harmful to your health."

"I think the BLM needs to develop its own FAQ's for the CCMA EIS process."

"Questions could be:"

"Why the emergency closure?"

I have attached Timothy Moore's original email for your viewing.

On 04-11-2008 at 0142 PM Rick Cooper sent Jere Johnson and Arnold Den of the EPA an email regarding the Executive Summary. Subject: uncertainty in model.

Jere and Arnold,

Just reading through the executive summary. The last paragraph places some doubt as to the adequacy of the model used. The risk could be lower or zero. I am aware that the EPA has been consistent in mentioning this and it was in the previous draft.

I am sure the BLM will be asked “why make an emergency decision on a model that may not accurately portray the risks to the public?”

The basis for this decision is the models depiction that most of the activities exceed the acceptable risk range of 1in 10,000.

Any thoughts on a response?

The EPA’s report still reflects their position regarding the risk assessment, which was “uncertainty or perhaps zero.”

Posted by: kend135 | February 5, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Continued:::

The BLM and EPA are still not being very forthcoming with my FOIA requests for information regarding their communications between each other regarding the CCMA but my investigation shows the BLM severely sabotaged the EPA’s dust sampling test in September of 2005. Also the BLM was in contact with the EPA throughout the study and knew the EPA’s opinion regarding the risk was “uncertainty and perhaps zero” not supporting an emergency closure. After the final EPA draft was provided to the BLM, the BLM convinced the EPA to change the wording to support an emergency then permanent closure of the Clear Creek Management Area.

I also learned through reading the emails the BLM met with you and your staff prior to the closure to garner your support. I believe you as was the rest of the public were misled by the BLM.

Congressman Farr, the people need your help in this matter.

Respectfully,

Ken Deeg
Timekeepers MC
Friend of Clear Creek Management Area

Again, two agencies colluded and lied to close a area to the public.

This is wrong.

Posted by: kend135 | February 5, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company