Washington, DC — A controversial investigation into federal Arctic science is going dangerously off-track and threatens to derail, charges Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Today PEER released documents negating key premises of the latest facet of this long-running Department of Interior Office of Inspector General (IG) probe into polar bear research.
The IG originally begin looking into a short 2006 article by marine ecologist Dr. Charles Monnett and a colleague on sightings of drowned polar bears following a storm. This year, the IG expanded its inquiry to include alleged irregularities identified by its agents in his creation of a joint U.S.-Canadian study of polar bear movement across international boundaries, including a supposed tie between publication of the polar bear paper and award of the study. However, documents assembled by PEER reveal –
- The Canadian study was set up months before drowned polar bears were first observed, making any charge of a quid pro quo between the two unsupportable;
- Dr. Monnett did not receive any appointment with legal acquisition responsibility until after the Canadian contract was signed; and
- All of Dr. Monnett’s communications with Canadian researchers were encouraged by his own chain-of-command and procurement officials.
“A close examination of the record shows that the allegations pursued by the IG are based upon a mixture of false assumptions, misinformation and some just plain nutty notions,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is providing legal representation to Dr. Monnett. “After investigating for more than a year and a half, it is time for the Inspector General to either put up or shut it down.”
The IG initially took its concerns about the Canadian polar bear study to the Department of Justice which declined to take action. The IG next went to Michael Bromwich, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation & Enforcement (BOEM) where Dr. Monnett works. BOEM immediately issued a stop-work order for the study and put Dr. Monnett on administrative leave, but after more facts became known both actions were rescinded.
In a letter recently sent to U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) on the case, Acting IG Mary KendaIl claimed her agency would not “opine on the substance of the underlying science.” Yet during an August 9th interview, IG agents continued to press Dr. Monnett on details of the 2006 peer-reviewed article in the journal Polar Biology, including how the paper’s abstract was edited, how comments made by anonymous peer reviewers were resolved and whether a conservative estimate was within the bounds of good science.
“These clumsy attempts by IG agents to criminalize the scientific peer review process are simultaneously childish and chilling,” added Ruch, noting that the IG handling of this case is itself under investigation following a PEER complaint that the IG is violating new Interior Department scientific integrity rules. “The Secretary of Interior declares that he wants to promote scientific scholarship but this case shows precisely why scientists need to be protected from backlash after their articles are published.”