Washington, DC — The Secretary of Interior today issued a far-reaching order that may significantly improve the transparency, reliability and verifiability of its scientific and technical work, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Interior’s action will likely have government-wide influence on the Obama administration’s struggling effort to craft a new system of scientific integrity safeguards.
Today Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued a “secretarial order” which immediately becomes official policy. This order represents a dramatic break from the agency’s checkered past and contains sweeping new mandates, including –
• A ban on political appointees rewriting or altering scientific documents;
• Transparency that allows changes in technical documents to be tracked; and
• Whistleblower protection for scientists who report manipulation of technical reports.
These and other changes in the Salazar order now must be reduced into specific procedural steps for inclusion in the departmental manual and incorporation into guidance for individual Interior agencies, such as the National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and the successors to the former Minerals Management Service.
“We congratulate Secretary Salazar for taking a major step forward in protecting both the integrity of government science and its scientists,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who has been on of Interior’s harshest critics on this topic. “There are still a lot of details to be worked out but if agency rules reflect the spirit of this order, then government science will be much more transparent and trustworthy.”
Major elements of Secretary Salazar’s order reflect steps long advocated by PEER and other reform groups, including clear rules allowing scientists to speak to the public, lifting bars against involvement in scientific professional societies and punishment for managers who skew technical data or findings. These broad policy strokes, however, now must be translated into enforceable internal processes.
Interior’s action will also affect the stalled presidential scientific integrity initiative that was supposed to have been in place in 2009 but is still in limbo. Interior not only leapt ahead of the tardy White House Office of Science & Technology Policy effort but set a bar that all other agencies will have to meet, or else explain why Interior can implement policies that are beyond their ken.
“While this is a welcome development, we have seen bold rhetorical commitments to scientific integrity before without follow-up,” added Ruch, noting that the Interior order did not set a deadline for promulgation of implementing rules. “Once the rules are in place, they must be enforced. So, we will wait for the day when this administration punishes one of its own political appointees for covering up or sugarcoating inconvenient facts.”