Washington, DC — The new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator should immediately adopt agency rules implementing her confirmation vows to promote “scientific integrity”, “rule of law” and “transparency”, urges a letter sent today to Lisa Jackson on her first day of office by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As President Obama has done in issuing a series of directives on openness and ethics, PEER suggests Jackson declare specific policies that outlaw gag orders, forbid political rewrites of scientific findings and hold managers accountable for actions found to be illegal.
“The Bush people also pledged to respect science and obey the law and look what happened,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization criticized Jackson for ignoring science, shirking public health responsibilities and relying upon excessive secrecy – precisely the three areas she has pledged to reform at EPA – while serving as Commissioner for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. “The question is whether there will be real teeth behind the lip service.”
In a news interview last week, Jackson said “The most important thing right now is to find a way to empower the agency workforce again to make them know that they're really important.” PEER contends that the best way to accomplish that is to adopt policies that directly protect EPA specialists and put managers on notice that violations will not be tolerated. Among the PEER suggestions are –
- Scientific Integrity. EPA lacks rules forbidding alteration of documents for non-technical reasons unless the basis is included as a part of the document. Similarly, EPA does not prohibit adverse personnel actions or other discrimination in retaliation for voicing a reasonable scientific disagreement. PEER advises that honesty should be an EPA policy;
- Transparency. EPA has been plagued by gag orders, including one issued this year that staff could not speak to investigators. A January 13, 2009 survey by the EPA Inspector General found that more than half of the staff did not know or did not think they could provide information to the IG without permission. EPA has no policy barring such restraints on providing information; and
- Rule of Law. As with most agencies, EPA does not provide that officials responsible for making decisions that violate federal law should be disciplined and/or removed. In many instances, miscreant managers are rewarded or promoted.
Following her confirmation, Jackson issued a statement to all EPA employees reiterating her pledges. For example, she states that –
“In 1983, EPA Administrator Ruckelshaus promised that EPA would operate ‘in a fishbowl’ and ‘will attempt to communicate with everyone from the environmentalists to those we regulate, and we will do so as openly as possible.’ I embrace this philosophy.”
Yet, she does not commit to officially re-adopt the “fishbowl” policy. PEER advocates that Administrator Jackson take that next step and move beyond the purely philosophical plane during her first days in office.
“In New Jersey, Lisa Jackson invoked executive privilege to block our records request for a copy of her calendar,” Ruch added. “At EPA if she wants to promote transparency, Ms. Jackson should post her daily calendar on the agency website.”