Washington, D.C.— The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced today that it was ending a system that based performance evaluations for its scientists in part on how much money the scientists raise to support their research projects. The sudden turnaround came in response to media inquiries following the revelation earlier this week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) of explicit agency fundraising quotas as part of scientist ratings used for promotions and raises.
Under the now former Bureau of Reclamation system that was put in place only this past March, scientists were tasked with finding private, state and other federal sponsors to buy the scientists’ time. Fundraising quotas increased with the scientist’s pay grade. Thus, a scientist at the GS-11 pay level or higher had to solicit a minimum of $110,000 to avoid an “unsatisfactory” rating and a minimum of more than $500,000 to earn an “exceptional” performance rating.
“This fee-for-science scheme obviously could not withstand the slightest bit of public scrutiny,” said PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose. “It remains to be seen whether scientist fundraising quotas are renounced in name only or whether these federal scientists will be allowed to concentrate on doing their jobs.”
Even as the Bureau of Reclamation takes a step back from fusing fundraising into scientific endeavors, another Department of Interior agency, the U.S. Geological Survey, is moving ahead with plans to have its scientists raise 20 percent of their salaries.
These cash-strapped Interior agencies hope to get interested “partners” to underwrite or share the cost of research projects. While, in many cases, potential research partners are other federal bureaus, state agencies or universities, in some instances, scientists are being asked to solicit oil companies, irrigators and other development interests.
“Turning scientists into fundraisers has conflict of interest written all over it,” Roose added.
By contrast, the National Institutes of Health, after adverse publicity about financial arrangements that its scientists had with drug companies, has banned all financial and much non-financial interaction between its staff and outside interests. The research fundraising system at Interior would be flatly prohibited if subject to the new NIH rules.
“Interior and NIH are both federal agencies operating under what are supposed to be the same set of rules but at NIH, scientists are confined to a financial nunnery while at Interior, the scientists are being turned into streetwalkers,” Roose concluded.