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Washington, DC — There is a growing disconnect between scientists and managers
within the research arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according
to internal surveys released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). Lack of trust, communication and shared vision is beginning to threaten
the nation’s largest scientific organization dedicated to studying human
health and the environment.

EPA’s Office of Research and Development consists of three national laboratories,
four national centers, and two offices located in 14 facilities around the country
employing approximately 2,000 scientists. Internal surveys taken in 1999, 2001
and 2003 gauge “organizational climate.” The latest survey had a
66% response rate.

While overall morale remains high, survey results show increasing doubts about
the “competence” and trustworthiness of ORD leadership. In the 2003
survey –

  • Scientists’ trust in leadership declines markedly at each step higher
    up in the chain-of-command, with 38% of staff scientists reporting distrust
    of laboratory managers versus only 23% who expressed trust. The survey did
    not assess scientist attitudes toward overall EPA leadership;
  • Less than one in three respondents (30%) felt that lab managers “address
    challenging situations competently;” and
  • Barely half (56%) were optimistic about ORD’s future.

In essays accompanying the survey, one scientist wrote “Despite email
and the like, there is no real communication in the organization and no consistent
mechanism to share knowledge.” Another added, “A complete lack of
communication exists leading to the strong distrust that is present today.”

This past March, PEER filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain
the surveys after EPA refused to release them. In July, EPA surrendered the
surveys and paid PEER’s attorneys fees and costs.

“These survey results are the early warning signs of a scientific organization
drifting toward dysfunction,” stated PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose,
noting that during the Bush administration, EPA has been plagued by reports
of political suppression of scientific results on issues ranging from global
warming to asbestos to mercury regulation. “Thus far, ORD has chosen to
mask problems by initiating an aggressive PR campaign.”

The survey results also echo the findings from EPA’s Science Advisory
Board, which warned in a draft report this April that the agency is no longer
funding a credible public health research program. For example, EPA is falling
behind on emerging issues such as intercontinental pollution transport and nanotechnology.


Read the EPA Office of Research and Development 2003 Organizational
Survey Preliminary Results Briefing
(Available upon request)

at selected essays from ORD scientists

See the recent draft paper on research shortfalls by EPA’s Science Advisory
(Available upon request)

lawsuit to force disclosure of polls of agency scientists

about ORD’s tax supported PR campaign

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740