EPA Scientific Integrity Program Lacks Integrity
Unable to Document Claimed Successes; Complaints Pending Since 2015
Washington, DC —The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Integrity Program has kept several major misconduct cases in an “open” status for years and has failed to document cases it claims to have resolved, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The situation has deteriorated to the point where EPA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) now classifies scientific integrity breakdowns as a top management concern under Biden – a status not achieved during the chaotic Trump years.
In its May 2022 report to Congress, the IG wrote that the Scientific Integrity Program had reported 22 cases where it had substantiated misconduct charges brought against the agency either by its own employees or outside entities. Yet, when PEER submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in March 2022, for the subject matter and outcome of these cases –
- EPA has so far been only able to produce one case, not the 22 reported to the IG;
- In that one case, the scientists (represented by PEER) felt that the underlying problems had not been adequately corrected and filed a new complaint the next year with the IG; and
- EPA did produce a list of 21 “open” scientific misconduct allegations, with one dating back to 2015 and another to 2018. Yet, it remains unable to account for the 53 closed or resolved cases it had reported to the IG.
“What is the recourse for EPA scientists when their own scientific integrity program itself lacks integrity?” asked Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch who has been tracking case outcomes since the inception of the program. “EPA’s Scientific Integrity Program simply suffocates misconduct cases so that they never see the light of day.”
These results correspond with previous PEER FOIA results showing that EPA’s Scientific Integrity Program was largely inert during the Trump years, despite multiple documented cases of political interference with scientific findings. Yet, conditions have not improved under Biden and, by some measures, have gotten worse.
A 2021 survey of scientists within EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention reflected acute dissatisfaction with the Scientific Integrity Program. The biggest reason (70.7%) scientists gave for not reporting misconduct is fear “my confidentiality will not be protected.” In one recent case, a Scientific Integrity Officer circulated an unredacted complaint, including the scientists’ identities, throughout the division and then convened a damage control meeting of the accused managers.
“EPA’s Scientific Integrity Program has been broken so long nobody has any reason to trust it,” added PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, pointing to a continuing stream of misconduct charges by scientists conducting risk assessments on new and existing chemicals. “EPA’s lack of any action to remedy integrity breaches, no matter how egregious, only reinforces the sense of impunity among its managers.”
In several filings with the Biden-created government-wide Scientific Integrity Task Force, PEER has maintained that the quality of science within EPA will not improve until it has a strong and independent capacity for addressing and redressing alteration and suppression of science. This is especially true when misconduct is perpetrated by senior managers or political appointees.