EPA Fears Empowering Its Own Scientists

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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933

EPA Fears Empowering Its Own Scientists

Management Avoids Any Rules to Enforce Scientific Integrity Principles


Washington, DC — Senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have dictated that its new Scientific Integrity Policy will not contain any provisions that could be used to hold them to account for their own inappropriate interference with agency science, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, EPA’s latest draft policy does not contain procedures for how misconduct complaints are to be filed or investigated and provides no penalty for offenses while requiring identities of offenders be “anonymized.”

Following a 2021 order from President Biden that agencies strengthen their scientific integrity policies to “restore public trust” in the wake of the Trump term, EPA began an effort to revamp its toothless policy which was first adopted in 2012. This three-year effort has culminated in a proposed rewrite that is far more remarkable for what it does not encompass than what it does. That draft is out for public comment through the end of this week.

“EPA has produced a Potemkin policy displaying a rhetorical façade but with almost no substance,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out that the draft promises implementing rules will eventually be promulgated but does not specify when or through what process. “Other agencies have had these procedures in place for more than a decade, but EPA’s internal rules have remained in an embryonic state with no sign of gestation.”

Since Biden’s inauguration, EPA leadership has loudly proclaimed their fealty to scientific integrity but has ignored mounting scandals and employee complaints. For example –

  • There has been a stream of complaints about risk assessments for new chemicals being watered down or gutted. Yet, no corrective actions have been taken and responsible managers have been promoted. EPA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) is slated to begin issuing a series of investigative reports on this welter of allegations in coming months;
  • The IG now rates scientific integrity and ethical conduct violations by senior officials as among the top five management challenges facing EPA. In addition, the IG has issued scathing assessments of EPA’s scientific integrity program; and
  • EPA has refused to bargain about scientific integrity procedures with its professional employee unions. In January, EPA put out this same draft scientific integrity policy for employee comment but did not even wait until the end of that period to put the same draft out for public comment, signaling that any employee input was not of interest.

“Improper manipulation of science remains rife inside EPA,” added PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that EPA offers zero protection for scientists who express dissent or raise concerns. “EPA has put forth a draft scientific integrity policy that will do nothing to protect scientists whose work runs afoul of the politics of the day.”

PEER is asking EPA to withdraw its draft policy and resubmit it together with the proposed rules governing investigations, adjudications, appeals, employee protections, and clearance procedures to prevent political suppression of research, among other key issues.


Read the PEER comments

Examine EPA’s draft scientific integrity policy

Revisit misconduct complaints on chemical risk assessments

See IG express alarm about scientific integrity lapses

Drill down on one indicative example

Look at dismal performance of EPA’s scientific integrity program

View how EPA scientists view integrity protections

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