Scientific Fraud Infests Fish & Wildlife Service Top Ranks
Whistleblower Hearing Traces Corruption and Retaliation Back to Director’s Door
Washington, DC —An explosive whistleblower hearing transcript paints a vivid picture of rampant scientific misconduct, callous reprisal and systemic mendacity within the upper echelons of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which posted the full texts today. The transcript also illustrates how a highly-touted agency Scientific Integrity Policy has become a tool for just the opposite.
This whistleblower case is striking because it involves a high-level manager rather than a field biologist; Gary Mowad is a 28-year FWS veteran and former Deputy Director for law enforcement. For the past few years, Mowad had been the FWS Texas Administrator for the Ecological Services Division, handling a parade of thorny endangered species and natural resource issues arising out of the Lone Star State.
The hearing took place because Mowad challenged being placed on an open-ended “detail” causing him to leave Austin for Albuquerque for a position with no apparent duties. The reassignment followed his reporting a number of scientific integrity concerns, including what he termed a blatantly political decision by the FWS hierarchy to reverse the staff recommendation that the dune sagebrush lizard, with habitat in the heart of Texas oil country, be listed under the Endangered Species Act
In an August 18, 2014 hearing before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, testimony indicated:
- Widespread scientific fraud, such as using models to classify paved parking lots as endangered species habitat, is facilitated by top FWS officials to accommodate a network of politically connected consultants called the “Texas mafia;”
- Within hours after Mowad’s disclosure to the FWS Scientific Integrity Officer, it was relayed to top headquarters officials, and he was ordered to vacate his office. An arrangement to end Mowad’s exile was personally quashed by FWS Director Dan Ashe; and
- The Whistleblower Ombudsman for Interior’s Office of Inspector General testified that “Months of pointed discussions and stern warnings…have not resulted in any formal and permanent action” to discipline managers guilty of misconduct or protect whistleblowers from further retaliation.
Mowad’s case quickly settled after MSPB Judge Mary Ann Garvey summarized what she had heard by saying “it appears that the history of the Fish and Wildlife, and specifically …Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle, [Deputy Director Rowan] Gould, and Ashe is that whistleblowing retaliation is tolerated or even condoned. Apparently someone got promoted or something good happened to them after they retaliated.”
“Political skewing of science in today’s Fish & Wildlife Service is just as rife and blatant as it was during the darkest days of the Bush years,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization represented other FWS scientists working in the Southwest Region under Tuggle. “The Service’s entrenched culture of corruption persists with the full knowledge and blessing of Director Dan Ashe.”
Currently, PEER is in federal district court trying to pry records out of FWS detailing the role Ashe and his top deputies played in derailing scientific misconduct cases. Ashe’s office maintains that no records exist documenting what others have testified about his actions. Adding injury to insult, the Interior Department, FWS’ parent agency, weakened its Scientific Integrity Policy, just before Christmas to make it even harder to discipline managers who override science in pursuit of agency agendas.
“After reading this transcript, it is hard to dispute that emerging safeguards against politicized science are stillborn,” added Ruch. “Until these agencies admit the problem exists, there will be no progress. The first meaningful step toward reform would be removing Dan Ashe as Director.”
View the full 673-page hearing transcript