Washington, DC — A top federal Arctic scientist is returning to work today after six weeks on administrative leave without any charges being leveled against him, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Meanwhile, the agency which suspended the scientist is itself under investigation for mishandling the matter.
On July 18, 2011, the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) suspended Dr. Charles Monnett in connection with an ongoing Interior Department Office of Inspector General (IG) investigation. The IG was probing both a 2006 paper written by Dr. Monnett and a colleague on drowning polar bears as well as approval of a 2005 joint U.S.-Canadian polar bear study. During his paid leave, he was forbidden from doing any work, speaking to colleagues or entering any Interior offices.
The leave was ordered by BOEM Director Michael Bromwich who reversed himself after the agency was informed that its top officials, including Bromwich, are now under investigation by Interior’s Scientific Integrity Officer for breaking new departmental scientific integrity rules designed to protect researchers from political interference as alleged in a PEER complaint filed on Dr. Monnett’s behalf.
“This about-face shows Director Bromwich made yet another hasty, ill-considered decision which had to be walked back,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that, on August 1, BOEM similarly had to rescind a stop-work order it issued to Canadian researchers. “Dr. Monnett is owed an apology.”
Even as its case against Dr. Monnett appears to implode, the IG continues to expand its investigation into BOEM management:
- Fellow BOEM colleagues of Dr. Monnett have come forward to state that his handling of the Canadian study was completely proper and conducted under standard agency procedure;
- As the IG begins to examine other research contracts, the hard drive of a key BOEM manager was found to have been wiped clean after the IG asked to examine his files; and
- The IG inquiry into the peer review publication of a paper by Dr. Monnett and a colleague on sightings of drowned polar bears following a storm is drawing outrage from scientists in both the U.S. and abroad and undermining the Obama administration’s posture on climate change.
“By assigning clueless criminal investigators to paw through the scientific peer review process, the Inspector General is generating heat but shedding no light,” added Ruch, pointing out that after nearly a year-long probe the IG still refuses to specify just what it is investigating and why. “Unfortunately, this fishing expedition appears to be as expertly guided as the boat trip to Gilligan’s Island.”
BOEM has not specified Dr. Monnett’s new environmental duties except to stipulate he will not be working on research contracts. The agency also issued a caveat that it reserves the right to bring administration action against Dr. Monnett in the future if it ever discovers a basis for doing so.