Congress Members Violate Ethical Rules in Lynx Case
Political Involvement in Discipline Prohibited by Hatch Act
Washington, DC — Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) today notified the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior that recent congressional calls to fire or reassign federal scientists involved in a controversy concerning lynx samples violate the Hatch Act, which also prohibits the Secretaries from acting on, or even considering, those recommendations.
In recent weeks, news reports have surfaced concerning scientists within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Forest Service, as well as two Washington state employees, who allegedly submitted false specimen samples to test the quality of work by a contract laboratory in preparing the 2000 lynx survey. The survey attempted to assess the current range of the lynx, which is currently classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. An internal Forest Service investigation found no serious misconduct and that agency’s scientists were counseled”, which is the lowest possible level of discipline.
The Hatch Act, which generally guards against on-the-job partisan activities by federal workers, also forbids members of Congress or their staff from making recommendations to agency leaders concerning any civil service “personnel action” – a term defined to include discipline, termination or reassignment.
The Hatch Act further provides (Section 3303 of Title 5 of the U.S. Code) that if an agency head received such a prohibited communication, he or she:
- Shall not solicit, request, consider or accept and such recommendation or statement; and
- Shall return any such written recommendation or statement, appropriately marked as in violation of this section, to the person or organization transmitting same.
In 1996, Interior Solicitor John Leshy cited Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), one of the Congressional members included in the PEER notice, for a similar Hatch Act violation involving a BLM employee.
“This is a case of right-wing politicians conducting a witch-hunt against agency scientists,” commented PEER’s National Field Director Eric Wingerter. “The question now is whether the Gale Norton and Ann Veneman will follow the law protecting the merit system from political interference.”