Washington, DC — The U.S. Department of Interior still lacks any policy to ensure the integrity of its scientific data, according to a new Inspector General report. As a result, agency scientific findings remain susceptible to alteration or suppression in support of pre-determined political positions, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The report by the Interior Office of Inspector General (IG), dated April 2010, was quietly posted without announcement on the IG website late last week. In recent days, Interior has been reeling from reports that it ignored both internal and external scientific warnings about the risk of oil spills and the lack of response capacity before Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a major expansion of offshore drilling, just days before the disastrous BP explosion and spill.
“The problem is not the scientists but their managers who are actually rewarded for filtering information to serve the announced agency agenda,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the slim 12-page IG report only skims over root causes. “Political skewing of science became a major cause for complaint under Bush but it remains just as bad under Obama because nothing has been done to stop it.”
By way of example of ongoing scientific dysfunction within Interior, PEER points to –
- Continued efforts inside the Minerals Management Service to stifle scientists who raise environmental concerns about offshore drilling, as documented in an April 2010 Government Accountability Office report;
- Endangered Species Act positions taken by the U.S. that fly in the face of the overwhelming weight of agency science, on issues ranging from the Florida panther to the sage grouse. As under Bush, conservation groups are able to prove in court that Obama agency stances are “arbitrary and capricious” for ignoring the best available science; and
- Interior’s ongoing hostility toward whistleblowers and continued reliance on “gag orders” and other restrictions on specialists candidly discussing problems or sharing data.
“In March 2009, President Obama promised new policies that would both protect agency science from political tampering and scientists from retaliation for doing their jobs but those policies never were promulgated,” Ruch added. “Compromised scientific integrity is not just a problem inside Interior; it is a government-wide phenomenon whenever technical data carries heavy policy implications.”
Contrary to the IG report, Interior claimed that it did adopt a scientific code of conduct back in 2002, but the agency did so via a press release and never put it into its official manual. That code applied only to the scientists and not to managers and political appointees who remain free to alter technical documents for non-scientific reasons.