Oct 022015
 

Progress and Problems: Government Scientists Report on Scientific Integrity
at Four Agencies
reveals results of survey of 7,000 scientists

NOAA numbers not as bad, but concern remains

Politics plays too big a role in decisionmaking at the Fish and Wildlife Service, a new survey from the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes. | Download the full report

"Many scientists felt that too much consideration was given to political interests at their agencies," said the report, based on surveys of employees at four different agencies: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, FWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This was particularly true at the FWS, where 73 percent of respondents reported the level of consideration of political interests was 'too high', " the report said. "FWS respondents also noted that interference can come from the legacy of previous administrations affecting current work."

"One [FWS] respondent noted, 'Ultimately, the USFWS would be improved the most if we could make decisions based solely on the science, instead of having to balance those decisions with politics.' Another respondent inferred the motive accounting for such political influence:

“It is my perception that upper-level managers are influenced by fear of Congress dismantling the Endangered Species Act and/or otherwise interfering with the mission of the service. This affects their ability to appropriately support the scientific integrity of the very conscientious scientific staff whose work is supposed to support the managers’ decision making.”

Regarding NOAA, the report said, "Compared with 2005, when UCS surveyed scientists working at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the agency appears to have vastly improved in terms of perceived agency effectiveness and adherence to scientific integrity principles. Aside from these improvements, some issues remain, including barriers to scientists publishing their work and communicating to the media and public. NOAA scientists also indicated that the overuse of contractors was having a negative impact on agency morale and productivity."

Also from the report:

"Similar to other agencies, NOAA scientists reported too much weight being given to political interests (56 percent, 973 respondents). When asked what could improve scientific integrity at NOAA, several scientists focused on ways the agency should address this issue. One respondent wrote, 'Remove all political agendas and influence by those without expertise in a designated field of study.' Another respondent wrote, 'Stop giving in to political and industry pressure when making scientific decisions!' Another put it this way: 'No single entity unduly influences the agency but the combination of NGOs, industry, Congress, OMB, and Commerce results in watering and wearing down and splintering of the agency’s efforts.' "

Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst for UCS's Center for Science and Democracy, said that "the new survey results offer a treasure trove of information." From the results, she concluded that "scientific integrity has certainly improved in recent years but much work is still needed to fully implement the relatively new scientific integrity policies and change agency cultures.

"For example, a significant number of scientists are still unaware that their agency has a scientific integrity policy, despite the policies being in place for three years (1,489 respondents across agencies). Of those that were aware, some respondents didn’t think their agency adhered to the policy (227 respondents across agencies). These results suggest we have more work to do."

According to the report, "Of respondents who reported awareness of the scientific integrity policy, 50 to 66 percent believed their agencies adhere to this policy, with 66 percent of CDC scientists (643 respondents) at the high end and 50 percent of FWS scientists (345 respondents) at the low end."

Feb 252015
 

PEER news release (2/25/15) (and pasted below)

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.”

###

Read key excerpts from the hearing testimony

View the full 673-page hearing transcript
Volume I

Volume II

See PEER lawsuit on FWS Director’s role in fraud cases

Note recent weakening of Interior’s Scientific Integrity Policy

Review recent FWS scientific integrity scandals

 

Jul 082014
 

Group wants to know why whistleblowing scientists haven't gotten redress

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is suing the Fish and Wildlife Service to obtain documents about a scientific misconduct case that has dragged on for years.

PEER wants to know why FWS Director Dan Ashe has not released documents that might explain why the two managers who violated scientific integrity standards were not disciplined, while the scientists who blew the whistle on them were suspended without pay. Those employees continue to work at the service but have not received their back pay or had their records cleared.

The PEER news release, issued today, notes that a paper on the range of the American burying beetle, which was withdrawn for use by FWS in Section 7 consultations, continued to be posted by an online journal until the journal was contacted by ESWR. [Update: The paper is still online, despite a commitment by the publisher to remove it. We have sent another email inquiry to M. Ilyas Khan, Managing Editor of Bentham OPEN.]

Here is a story from the latest issue of ESWR on the misconduct.


For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Contact:  Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE SUED OVER SCIENTIFIC FRAUD DOCUMENTS

Records Show Why Director Did Not Act After Investigations Proved Misconduct

Washington, DC — The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is wrongfully withholding documents detailing why top agency officials refused to act on findings of scientific integrity reviews confirming serious scientific misconduct by agency managers, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This stalemate signals that the vaunted new scientific integrity program inside FWS has broken down completely, apparently at the instigation of its Director Dan Ashe.

In spring of 2013, two separate panels found two managers of the FWS Oklahoma Ecological Services field office guilty of scientific misconduct in two separate cases.  Months followed without any action by FWS leadership.  Approximately one year ago on July 11, 2013, Deputy Interior Inspector General Mary Kendall issued an extraordinary public rebuke in the form of a Management Advisory stating:

“The Office of Inspector General (OIG) requests that immediate action be taken to address an unreasonable and inappropriate response regarding the discipline of two Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) supervisors who engaged in scientific misconduct and apparently retaliated against three FWS employees in 2012. The failure to take timely and appropriate management action by FWS senior leadership, including Director Dan Ashe, damages the credibility and integrity of the Department of Interior (DOI) and the FWS Science Program as well as senior leadership.”

Besides Ashe, the OIG named Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle and Deputy Director Rowan Gould.  Days later, FWS issued a statement that it “is pursuing all appropriate disciplinary actions to address the matters raised in the Inspector General's Management Advisory.”  Subsequent events, however, suggest that statement was untrue.  A year later, there is no sign of the “appropriate” actions promised by FWS:

  • The two guilty managers were not demoted or suspended.  Instead, they were kicked upstairs through prestigious details until they ultimately found other jobs.  One, Luke Bell, left to work for an oil company. Dixie Porter, the senior manager, eventually secured a high-level position with the U.S. Forest Service, although it is unclear if her new employer was apprised of the scientific integrity review findings about her deliberate misconduct;
  • The three whistleblowing scientists who suffered a series of unpaid suspensions and other punishments have yet to get FWS to agree to redress the career damage they suffered; and
  • FWS took no steps to withdraw a fraudulent paper cooked up by Porter and Bell to create a phony paper trail supporting their actions.  The journal moved to withdraw the paper only after being contacted by a journalist.

“The Service leadership is itself guilty of scientific misconduct in how it handled these findings,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Dissembling about its actions to ensure integrity speaks volumes.”

The scientific integrity report about the two cases came to light only after PEER pursued an appeal of their denial under the Freedom of Information Act.  Today these redacted reports can be seen only on the PEER website. The agency, however, continues to balk at turning over report exhibits and the communications from FWS leadership following those reports.  After it became clear that further appeals would not secure production, PEER filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force their release.

“How can official efforts to guarantee scientific integrity have any credibility if they are exercised only in secret?” Ruch asked, noting that the FWS never even made the reports available to the scientists who brought the complaints.  “Progress in protecting science from political interference requires that the courageous scientists who exposed this corruption are fully vindicated.”

 

###