Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is illegally blocking
the release of internal surveys of its own scientific staff, according to a federal
lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
PEER had requested copies of extensive employee surveys conducted in 1999,
2001 and 2003 within the EPA Office of Research and Development. ORD consists
of a network of laboratories and research centers comprised of approximately
2000 scientists in which much of the agency’s basic and applied science
concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health
issues is conducted.
According to agency scientists, the surveys covered a range of topics concerning
how EPA conducts its science, including questions on scientific integrity and
quality, the adequacy of resources and the effects of management practices on
employee morale. The three sets of surveys taken over six years would also allow
comparison of scientist perceptions during both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
The PEER suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act, contends that EPA
has no legal basis for withholding survey results. EPA is even refusing to disclose
copies of the questions posed to agency scientists. The agency contends that
the survey materials are predecisional and thus exempt from release.
“The agency claims that the surveys are part of EPA’s ‘deliberative
process’ without offering any justification as to how or why,” stated
PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who filed the suit in federal district
court in Washington, D.C. “It is difficult to imagine what groundbreaking
policies the agency might be contemplating based on six-year-old survey data.”
During the Bush Administration, EPA has been plagued by reports of political
suppression of scientific results on issues ranging from global warming and
mercury regulation to the health effects of the toxic fallout from the September
11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists and PEER released a survey the
two groups conducted among scientists within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
That survey revealed high reported levels of political intervention to change
scientific conclusions as well fear of retaliation for expressing scientific
concerns at variance with perceived agency positions.
“These scientists work within an agency but they work for the public,”
commented PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose who filed the Freedom of Information
Act requests with EPA. “The public has a right to know if public agency
scientists are being prevented from doing their jobs by politics.”
Next week, Senate confirmation hearings for Stephen Johnson are slated to begin.
President Bush nominated Johnson, a long-time agency official and currently
the Deputy Administrator, to serve as EPA Administrator. If confirmed Johnson
would be the third EPA Administrator in the Bush Administration, succeeding
former Governors Christie Whitman and Mike Leavitt. Several senators have vowed
to make political manipulation of EPA science an issue in Johnson’s hearings.