Drowned Polar Bear Probe Closes With a Whimper
Unrelated Disclosures from 2007 and 2008 Dredged Up in Questionable Reprimand
Washington, DC — No charges will be brought against the federal scientist regarding his high-profile research on polar bears, despite a two-and-a-half year investigation, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead, he has received a letter of reprimand for allegedly improper disclosures back in 2007 and 2008 which helped reveal that Bush administration Arctic offshore drilling reviews illegally suppressed adverse environmental consequences.
Up until July 2011, Dr. Charles Monnett had directed a multi-million dollar portfolio constituting a majority of research on Arctic wildlife and ecology conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). He was temporarily suspended due to an Interior Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into a polar bear research contract managed by Dr. Monnett. The OIG probe, which began in March 2010, also centered on a 2004 paper authored by Dr. Monnett in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology concerning observations of drowned polar bears following a storm.
The final IG report, delivered to BOEM three months ago, is slated for imminent release. On Friday, September 27, 2012, BOEM informed Dr. Monnett that no action would be taken against him based on “findings made by the OIG in its report regarding your conduct” with the exception of a series of “improper disclosures of internal, deliberative government documents to a non-governmental entity” back in 2007 and 2008. These disclosures had nothing to do with polar bear research but they embarrassed the agency and were, according to the letter of reprimand, “cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in making decisions to vacate BOEM’s approval of the Shell exploration plan” for Arctic waters.
“We are pleased this misguided witch hunt is finally stumbling to a conclusion,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is providing legal representation to both Dr. Monnett and his co-author of the drowned polar bear paper, Dr. Jeffrey Gleason. “We will push to learn how this abusive probe got started and why it was sustained. We expect Dr. Monnett to return to work as a scientist.”
Dr. Monnett was returned from suspension after a month and placed on detail pending the outcome of the OIG investigation with duties largely unrelated to his previous work. He has been verbally informed that he will return to scientific work. The letter of reprimand, a low level of discipline, will be placed in his personnel file for two years and then “be removed…and destroyed” if he commits no further “misconduct during this period.” The reprimand may be challenged through civil service and ultimately court appeals.
“We are amazed that Dr. Monnett would be reproved for revealing that his agency was wrongfully withholding information,” Ruch added, noting that such disclosures are protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act, among other laws. “For his actions, Chuck Monnett deserves a citation, not a reprimand. However, if after years of investigation, these stale, stilted charges are the only things these jokers could dig up, Dr. Monnett must be an exemplary public servant.”
The OIG report will become final 90 days from delivery to BOEM or when the agency acts on the report’s recommendations for administrative action. According to the OIG, today its report becomes final.