EPA Scientist Survey Yields Horrific Results

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Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933

EPA Scientist Survey Yields Horrific Results

Scientist Feedback Scathing, Not Shared with Staff


Washington, DC —Morale inside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was supposed to rebound after the departure of the Trump appointees but in one key arm of EPA, morale appears to be getting worse, according to results of an internal “Climate Survey” released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The full comments by scientists in this Climate Survey were extremely negative and have not been shared within the agency; rather, a whitewashed summary of them was sent to employees.

Starting in September, scientists working within EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) were asked to participate in a Climate Survey to help its managers assess its “work practices and culture in order to promote collaboration and enhance the science…” These scientists are engaged in some of EPA’s most contentious and controversial work in conducting risk assessments for new and existing chemicals and regulating pesticides.

Their direct feedback in the survey is achingly bleak, laced with statements such as:

    • “Work has been dysfunctional, stressful, and hostile. There is virtually nothing good about this environment.”
    • “Most staff believe that they are not protecting the public and decisions favor industry instead.”
    • “It is clear to staff that they will never see a manager removed or disciplined for anything. The staff knows that their only recourse, when confronted with unethical or illegal actions by management, is to leave.”
    • “People are made to cry regularly.”
    • “The managers perpetuate a culture of fear.”
    • “Retaliation, intimidation, lack of transparency, improper alterations of assessments without staff knowledge.”

“This is a desperate howl for help from some of the best scientists in government service,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Their work is stressful because it has direct impact on public health, but it is clear they are not allowed to do their jobs due to industry-driven management interference.”

This same EPA division registered the lowest morale in the agency in the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey during the last year under Trump. These Climate Survey results reflect little improvement under Biden and perhaps a greater sense of staff dissatisfaction.

By far, the most common complaint in the survey was a lack of sufficient scientists to do the work properly, compounded by yawning gaps in needed specialties. Yet, the new budget recently approved does not provide any sizeable staff augmentation, and instead Congress doubled down on short deadlines for approvals, thus ratcheting up the pressure on already stressed scientists.

Perhaps the most depressing aspect was that rather than release the unexpurgated results to staff, earlier this month OCSPP management circulated a PowerPoint presentation featuring painfully clueless solutions for “Going Forward”, such as –

    • “Mentor-mentee support; including coaching”
    • “Develop checklists for useful information”
    • “Coach for trust training series”

“EPA needs to change the culture within OCSPP by bringing in managers who respect the input of scientists and the scientific process,” added Bennett, noting that PEER obtained the Climate Survey results through a Freedom of Information Act request. “One scientist summed it up when asked ‘What is your greatest hope going forward?’ replied ‘That I find a new job as soon as possible.’”


Read selected scientist answers

View full survey results

Scan agency post-survey PowerPoint

Look at comments on understaffing

See OPPT failure to remedy understaffing

Compare dismal 2020 survey results for OPPT

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