Washington, DC — There is a growing disconnect between scientists and managers within the research arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to internal surveys released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Lack of trust, communication and shared vision is beginning to threaten the nation’s largest scientific organization dedicated to studying human health and the environment.
EPA’s Office of Research and Development consists of three national laboratories, four national centers, and two offices located in 14 facilities around the country employing approximately 2,000 scientists. Internal surveys taken in 1999, 2001 and 2003 gauge “organizational climate.” The latest survey had a 66% response rate.
While overall morale remains high, survey results show increasing doubts about the “competence” and trustworthiness of ORD leadership. In the 2003 survey –
- Scientists’ trust in leadership declines markedly at each step higher up in the chain-of-command, with 38% of staff scientists reporting distrust of laboratory managers versus only 23% who expressed trust. The survey did not assess scientist attitudes toward overall EPA leadership;
- Less than one in three respondents (30%) felt that lab managers “address challenging situations competently;” and
- Barely half (56%) were optimistic about ORD’s future.
In essays accompanying the survey, one scientist wrote “Despite email and the like, there is no real communication in the organization and no consistent mechanism to share knowledge.” Another added, “A complete lack of communication exists leading to the strong distrust that is present today.”
This past March, PEER filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the surveys after EPA refused to release them. In July, EPA surrendered the surveys and paid PEER’s attorneys fees and costs.
“These survey results are the early warning signs of a scientific organization drifting toward dysfunction,” stated PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose, noting that during the Bush administration, EPA has been plagued by reports of political suppression of scientific results on issues ranging from global warming to asbestos to mercury regulation. “Thus far, ORD has chosen to mask problems by initiating an aggressive PR campaign.”
The survey results also echo the findings from EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which warned in a draft report this April that the agency is no longer funding a credible public health research program. For example, EPA is falling behind on emerging issues such as intercontinental pollution transport and nanotechnology.
Read the EPA Office of Research and Development 2003 Organizational
Survey Preliminary Results Briefing
(Available upon request)
at selected essays from ORD scientists
See the recent draft paper on research shortfalls by EPA’s Science Advisory Board
(Available upon request)