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From April 7, 2005

Group Sues EPA For Refusing to Release Results of Employee Surveys
(Beyond Pesticides, April 7, 2005)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is illegally blocking the release of internal surveys of its own scientific staff, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

PEER had requested copies of extensive employee surveys conducted in 1999, 2001 and 2003 within the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD). ORD employees approximately 2000 scientists in its laboratories and research centers, where much of the agency's basic and applied science concerning pollution monitoring, toxicological effects and other public health issues are studied.

According to agency scientists, the EPA surveys covered a range of topics concerning how EPA conducts its science, including questions on scientific integrity and quality, the adequacy of resources and the effects of management practices on employee morale. The three sets of surveys taken over six years would also allow comparisons of scientist perceptions during both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.

The PEER suit, filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contends that EPA has no legal basis for withholding survey results. EPA is even refusing to disclose copies of the questions posed to agency scientists, PEER stated in its press release. "The agency claims that the surveys are part of EPA's 'deliberative process' without offering any justification as to how or why," stated PEER General Counsel Richard Condit, who filed the suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. "It is difficult to imagine what groundbreaking policies the agency might be contemplating based on six-year-old survey data."

In February, the Union of Concerned Scientists and PEER released a survey the two groups conducted among scientists within the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. That survey revealed high reported levels of political intervention to change scientific conclusions as well fear of retaliation for expressing scientific concerns at variance with perceived agency positions. (See Daily News 2/15/05)

"These scientists work within an agency but they work for the public," commented PEER Program Director Rebecca Roose, who filed the FOIA requests with EPA. "The public has a right to know if public agency scientists are being prevented from doing their jobs by politics."