Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has promoted the official responsible for a scientific fraud scandal in Florida last year, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This personnel action comes despite a rare admission of scientific error by the then-Director of the Fish & Wildlife Service in 2005 for using skewed biology in assessing the habitat needs and population of the endangered Florida panther.
In an announcement dated January 27, 2006, Jay Slack, the Field Supervisor of the FWS South Florida Ecological Service Field Office in Vero Beach, Florida has been promoted to serve as the Deputy Regional Director for the FWS Mountain-Prairie Region, responsible for the eight-state area covering Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas.
“By this action, the Fish & Wildlife Service and its parent agency, the Department of Interior, are sending an unmistakable signal that they will not only tolerate, they will reward political manipulation of science,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “This promotion is the scientific equivalent of appointing Ken Lay to run the Securities and Exchange Commission.”
Slack was the central figure in the case of FWS biologist, Andrew Eller, who filed (along with PEER) a complaint under the Data Quality Act that the agency under Slack was deliberately cooking the biological books to sign off on mega-projects in the West Everglades, the last redoubt of the Florida panther. Shortly after he filed the complaint that was later upheld by top agency officials, Slack moved to fire Eller. Days before Eller’s challenge to his termination was to go to hearing, a settlement was reached; Eller is once again a FWS biologist on the Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge in Kentucky.
In a 2005 survey of FWS field offices conducted by PEER and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the results for Florida were striking. Biologists in Slack’s office complained of the “air of fear” surrounding the office, with –
- Nearly two-thirds (63%) of respondents citing cases where “commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions or decisions through political intervention;”
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents whose work is related to endangered species scientific findings admitting that they have been “directed, for non-scientific reasons, to refrain from making findings that are protective of species;” and
- More than one-fourth (28%) reported having been “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from” agency scientific documents.
“Jay Slack should have been fired for his performance in Florida, not promoted” Ruch added. “The elevation of Jay Slack is a case study of how basic accountability mechanisms are perverted in the Interior Department.”