For Immediate Release: Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Contact: Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933; Kirsten Stade email@example.com
EPA Science Integrity Program Is Beacon of False Hope
No Findings of Political Interference under Trump; Most Complaints Ignored
Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s program to protect its science from manipulation is largely non-functional, according to records obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Numerous complaints of alterations of scientific findings due to political or industry influence languish without any formal investigation.
The last annual report EPA’s Scientific Integrity Program published was for FY 2018. PEER obtained the data for outcomes since then through the first half of FY 2021. During this two-and-a-half-year period, 35 allegations were filed, 22 remained “active” (i.e., unresolved), 12 had been closed or referred, but only one complaint (discussed below) was deemed “substantiated.”
Looking back over the entire length of the Trump administration, a total of 68 allegations were received (an additional 11 in FY 2018 and another 22 in FY 2017), yet no complaint about political interference was ever substantiated, although several were made.
During a June 15, 2021 “stakeholder and partner meeting,” EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer, Francesca Grifo, stated that her staff had “quietly documented” alleged violations of the agency’s scientific integrity policy during the Trump era and pointed to a trove of evidence showing “political interference” with agency programs. She added: “… now we have a lot of information to review and consider and we are actively working on it.”
In response to a PEER Freedom of Information Act request for any evidence supporting Grifo’s claims, the agency could produce none.
“During Trump’s tenure, the record indicates EPA’s Scientific Integrity program was inoperative and it has yet to revive,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “EPA’s Scientific Integrity program is a beacon of false hope and, in that sense, is worse than useless,”
Major hinderances in EPA’s Scientific Integrity program include the total lack of investigative staff, the inability to draw upon expertise needed to assess technical issues, and the absence of any protocol for reviewing or investigating complaints. Further, EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy carries no penalties for violations. As a result, the only tool the program has is trying to persuade non-compliant managers to address their own violations when raised by their subordinates.
For example, allegations that a memorandum made policy changes that resulted in human health assessments much less likely to find risk for new chemical substances were ignored for months. The scientists first brought these concerns to EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer last November. The allegations in the complaint were “sustained,” and this resulted in managers temporarily revoking the policy memo in question. However, it appears that the memo may be reissued, and the altered assessments were not corrected. Notably, this was the only complaint classified as “sustained’ during the past 30 months.
“It has become clear that the only way to force EPA to address scientific malpractice is to avoid the Scientific Integrity program altogether and go public,” added Bennett, pointing out that the Scientific Integrity program repeatedly acts as if it is a branch of Human Resources, seeking to deflect or suppress staff complaints. “EPA needs to stop protecting managers who violate EPA’s scientific integrity policy and deal with them appropriately.”