Feb 252015

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


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


Feb 192015

Statement by Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, in response to the whistleblower complaint filed by PEER (received and posted Feb. 19)

This is nothing more than a petty and spiteful attack on the Klamath Basin's family farms and ranches from a disgruntled former BOR employee and an organization that is prone to hyperbole.

KWAPA was formed to assist the federal government and the irrigation community in preparation for implementation of a landmark water sharing agreement, which was negotiated amongst farmers, ranchers, conservation organizations, refuge interests, tribes and governments.

This action won't help the environment or any individual; it will only hurt struggling farms and ranches reeling from a third consecutive year of drought. Unfortunately, it is these sorts of malicious union attacks that give good public employees a bad name.

The specific allegations concerning authority of Reclamation to engage with KWAPA in the WUMP will have to be addressed by Reclamation. However, the allegations that the Water User Mitigation Program (WUMP) did not attain the task of “benefit of fish and wildlife habitat” is absolutely false.  The Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge (LKLNWR) gets all the attention because it has suffered greatly since the impacts of ESA-caused water shortages beginning in 2001. PEER and others should also keep in mind what the situation [would be] without the WUMP.  Without question, the WUMP has provided water that allowed the LKLNWR to receive water it would not have in 2010, 2012 and 2013.  The Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge has been 100% watered (this refuge also provides habitat for endangered suckers).  Crops grown on private land provide tremendous benefit to wildlife for shelter and food.  Without the WUMP there would have been thousands of acres of farmland that would not have produced crops and the associated wildlife benefit.

As far as the administration of the WUMP by KWAPA, we are very careful to adhere to the requirements of the Office of Management and Budget.  An independent audit of the KWAPA financials is conducted each year and is available for public review.  Reclamation conducted a Procedures Review of the WUMP in 2013 as well.

Feb 182015

Federal whistleblowers are alleging that the Bureau of Reclamation's relationship with Klamath Basin irrigators has gotten too close, leading to the spending of nearly $70 million "without any apparent legal authority."

A 2008 contract between BuRec and the Klamath Water and Power Agency “has morphed beyond any recognizable shape from a feasibility study into a direct subsidy bearing no relationship to fish and wildlife,” said Paula Dinerstein, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which filed the scientists’ disclosure with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. “It appears KWAPA just sucked in more and more government funds with little oversight and for no discernible benefit to the general public.” (PEER news release)

ESWR has requested a comment from KWAPA and will post whatever we receive. Update: KWAPA's Hollie Cannon responded to the charges, calling the complaint "nothing more than a petty and spiteful attack on the Klamath Basin's family farms and ranches from a disgruntled former BOR employee and an organization that is prone to hyperbole." He also said that "the allegations that the Water User Mitigation Program (WUMP) did not attain the task of 'benefit of fish and wildlife habitat' is absolutely false." (Full response here.)

In its news release issued today, PEER said:

"A federal program that was supposed to help drought-stressed fish populations in the Klamath Basin has been hijacked for the sole benefit of select irrigators, according to a whistleblower disclosure filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has spent nearly $70 million without any apparent legal authority to do so."

The Office of Special Counsel has 15 days from today to decide whether the disclosure shows a “substantial likelihood of validity.”

"If so, the Special Counsel is supposed to direct the Secretary of Interior to conduct a formal investigation into systemic violations," PEER said. "If the violations are confirmed it could result in the reimbursement of unauthorized payments as well as punishment for responsible Reclamation officials."

More documents from PEER: