Two Fish and Wildlife Service managers are no longer working in the service’s Tulsa, Okla., office, FWS said, responding to the release of a year-old report documenting scientific misconduct.
The two were reassigned to non-supervisory positions elsewhere, FWS said in a statement after Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released a FOIA-obtained investigative report.
The service’s Scientific Integrity Officer (SIO) found that Field Supervisor Dixie Porter and Environmental Contaminants Branch Chief Luke Bell compromised an effort in the fall of 2011 by agency scientists to sample water in the Deep Fork River near the Kelco discharge site, where there had been a mussel kill.
Bell did not properly inform Porter about the kill or the subsequent sampling effort, which was being conducted with the state. Then Porter, acting on a request by Kelco, directed that the sampling cage be moved 30 feet away from the discharge.
The SIO “found that a loss of scientific integrity resulted from Bell’s persistent failure to effectively communicate with his supervisors, [redacted] and Dixie Porter, regarding the September 2011 mussel kill at the Kelco outlet site in the Deep Fork River and the FWS/State ephemeral data collections that followed.”
Due to that lack of communication, “the subsequent Kelco phone call to Porter on 10/18/11 was a complete surprise to [her],” the report says. “The preponderance of evidence indicates that Bell’s persistent lack of communication in this matter was a significant departure from accepted practices of a supervisor in support of [Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program (NRDAR)] contaminant monitoring procedures and he was aware of his actions.”
Porter decided on her own to have the cage moved. “The SIO found that a loss of scientific integrity directly resulted from Porter’s intentional actions and decision on 10/18/11, to move the live mussel monitoring cage further away from the Kelco outlet . Porter’s intentional actions were a significant departure from acceptable practices of a Field Supervisor in carrying out the Regional Director’s NRDAR science responsibilities.”
FWS said the two employees had been removed from the Tulsa office and have been reassigned to non-supervisory positions.
But PEER said the scientists who exposed the wrongdoing have not had their records cleared.
“[T]hree scientists who made or supported the complaints have been subjected to a series of retaliatory suspensions engineered by Porter and upheld by regional officials,” PEER said.
PEER also said Porter was still working as a supervisor and that Bell had resigned to work for an oil company.
FWS was asked earlier today when Porter was reassigned. So far, there has been no response.
“This case shows that one of the largest impediments facing Fish & Wildlife Service scientists seeking to protect wildlife is their own management,” PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said.
PEER obtained the report a year after requesting it under a Freedom of Information Act appeal with Interior’s Office of Solicitor. “The report depicts a political atmosphere inside the Service where it is professionally preferable to sacrifice wildlife rather than stand up to a corporate polluter,”
The service’s statement follows:
The Service takes scientific integrity complaints very seriously, and we thank the Bureau’s Scientific Integrity Officer and the Scientific Integrity Review Panel for their careful and thorough review of the allegations raised in complaints regarding operations in our Tulsa, Oklahoma Ecological Services field office. The Service has acted on the Review Panel’s recommendations and is taking additional steps to help ensure that such an occurrence is not repeated and to ensure scientific and management excellence in delivery of our conservation mission. This FOIA release relates to a compromised data collection effort in the Tulsa office as part of an environmental contaminants investigation. The Service elected not to use that compromised data set in the report on the investigation.