Washington, DC — Stung by a series of scientific scandals, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency is issuing multi-million dollar contracts to
public relations and media firms for work to improve the agency’s scientific
reputation, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). PEER is asking the agency’s Inspector General to
review the legality as well as the appropriateness of using funds for image
enhancement that would otherwise be available for public health and environmental
Under one $6 million contract request for “Communication & Graphic
Research Support,” EPA’s scientific arm, called the Office of Research
and Development, is seeking professional guidance in “strategic communications”
to “enhance ORD’s corporate image.” The chosen contractor
will “conduct focus group and survey research” and “enhance
ORD’s physical identity” through branding and product development.
The work would also include developing press releases, brochures, banners and
“Good science does not need spin,” stated PEER Program Director
Rebecca Roose, pointing to recent reports that have faulted the agency for improperly
altering scientific work on mercury, asbestos, water pollution and even the
public health dangers at the World Trade Center following the September 11 attacks.
“EPA’s scientists are telling us that there is not enough funding
for vital environmental and health research but there appears to be no shortage
of money for media manipulation.”
Under current law, agencies are not supposed to use tax dollars “for
publicity or propaganda purposes.” In addition, EPA’s own policies
(termed “One Agency, One Voice”) discourage deviation from the standard
EPA format or “the creation of identifiers for programs, offices, initiatives,
etc. because EPA should be the primary organizational reference for all EPA
efforts, not a lower-level organization.”
Besides public relations contracts, ORD is training its scientists in “media/press
relations, community outreach/activities, feature story writing and photo opportunities,”
according to one agency email.
Employees tell PEER that Michael Brown, a former PR executive who is ORD’s
Associate Assistant Administrator, is the inspiration for the spending on “communications
strategies.” PEER is charging that EPA is seeking marketing help solely
to attract corporate partners as it transforms into an arm of corporate R&D
and away from its public health mission.
“Politics have so permeated EPA that there is only room for science that
serves the Bush administration slant,” Roose added, noting that, this
spring, PEER had to sue to obtain internal surveys of ORD scientists. “The
assumption that the problems with EPA’s science program can be fixed by
a focus group and a new logo is just plain loony.”