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For Immediate Release: Dec 17, 2008
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

EPA SCIENCE PROGRAM SCRAMBLED BY LAST MINUTE MOVES

Long-Term Research Plans Ditched; New Round of Buyouts; New “Brand” Emphasis


Washington, DC — In the waning days of the Bush administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency science program is being “transformed” through a series of hasty but far-reaching moves, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The net effect would downsize support for research and narrow work down to a few unidentified “issues of national/international significance” in order to enhance the “brand” of the agency’s science arm.

Tomorrow, December 18th, the leadership of the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) will summon all 1,800 of its scientists to attend the second “all hands” meeting in the past month to hear about plans to “implement the new business approach.” Its centerpiece would reduce funding and support down to a few unnamed big projects which “require an integrated multidisciplinary approach to succeed” [emphasis in original] while servicing “multiple partners.”

“This new plan is practically incoherent; it reads like a game of buzzword bingo,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “EPA scientists are flummoxed and frustrated that important work may be abandoned to chase after the bureaucratic flavor of the month.”

The “Transforming ORD” PowerPoint first presented at the November 13 “all hands” meeting and the subsequent question-and-answer session suggests that the EPA science program will –

  • Eschew emergency investigations as well as regional, watershed and other work that only supports “single partners” no matter how important;
  • “Divest” long-term chemical and other single-subject studies in favor of “integrated multidisciplinary research” to be encouraged by “align[ing] award and promotion criteria”; and
  • Re-orient or drop all multi-year research portfolios. In addition, the highly regarded ORD Strategic Plan developed in the mid-90s by an array of outside experts, such as the National Academies of Science and the National Academy of Public Administration, Congress and agency specialists would become outmoded.

One prosaic but profound step already taken is the offer of early retirements to ORD administrative and budget personnel through January 12, 2009, little more than a week before the Inauguration, in order to strip support for any laboratories outside of three contemplated consolidated research centers. This would hamstring technical assistance projects and other work by ecology laboratories in the field.

This attempt to totally reorganize ORD before the new administration takes over is being pushed by a mixture of Bush political appointees and senior career managers. The stated rationale is that declining funding will not support the ORD research base. In order to survive, ORD must broaden its constituency and strengthen its “brand’ identification among those making funding decisions.

“It is stunning how little analysis, consultation or collaboration has gone into this scheme to redirect all EPA scientific research,” added Ruch. “This makeover needs to be put on hold so the new administration and Congress together with the scientific community have a chance to soberly consider its merits.”

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View “Transforming ORD” PowerPoint excerpts
(Complete PowerPoint available upon request)

See the All Hands calls to EPA scientists

Look at expanded lame duck buy-outs

Revisit ORD efforts to burnish its “brand”

Trace disinvestment in science at EPA under Bush