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Daily News Blog

29
May

EPA Office of Inspector General Finds 400 Agency Employees Did Not Report Potential Scientific Integrity Policy Violations Since 2012

(Beyond Pesticides, May 29, 2020) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently released a report highlighting employee discontent with scientific integrity (SI) within the agency. While the number of official complaints about scientific integrity have been fairly minimal over the 8 years that the 2012 policy has been in place—only 85 complaints were filed—the new survey found 400 EPA employees had experienced, but did not report, potential violations of EPA’s scientific integrity policy. Further, according to OIG’s findings, dissatisfaction regarding scientific integrity abounds within the agency.

EPA’s 2012 Scientific Integrity (SI) Policy was instated to “ensure scientific integrity throughout EPA and promote scientific and ethical standards, including quality standards; communications with the public; the use of peer review and advisory committees; and professional development.” EPA’s policy defines scientific integrity as “the adherence to professional values and practices when conducting, supervising, communicating and utilizing the results of science and scholarship.” OIG’s performance audit took place from September 2018 to February 2019 and included a survey given between November and December of 2018. OIG’s report states, “The survey was structured to examine (1) awareness of and familiarity with the SI Policy, (2) experience with the four focus areas of the SI Policy shown previously in Table 1, and (3) awareness and experience with the process for reporting potential SI violations, as well as reasons for not reporting.”

51% of survey respondents “with a basis to judge” said they disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “senior leadership makes the basis for any policy decision accessible and transparent.” Additionally, close to 60% of respondents reported dissatisfaction with EPA’s culture of scientific integrity and release of scientific information to the public.

Fear of retaliation, belief that reporting wouldn’t make a difference, and perceived suppression or interference by leadership or management were common reasons employees did not report violations.

Comments by employees noted discontent with “support for or understanding of” scientific integrity by senior leadership, as well as views that political appointees “do not value or adequately consider science in policy, rulemaking, or enforcement decisions.” Employees also expressed concern that leadership is “greatly influenced by political, industry, state, or regulated groups.”

In an official response to the OIG report, EPA responded that, “The EPA Deputy Administrator, in cooperation with the EPA Science Advisor, will work with the Administrator to devise an action plan to address this Recommendation.” They said that officials will “analyze the OIG scientific integrity survey, together with previous surveys… and reports of alleged violations of the EPA Scientific Integrity Policy to inform this plan.” However, the report also names an issue with enforcement regarding violations as adjudication procedures have not been finalized and EPA has pushed back their due date for completion to September 30, 2020.

While EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento responded in a memo that, “We are confident that the work conducted at the Agency everyday rests upon a strong foundation of science,” there is much evidence to the contrary. The Hill reports, “Last year, former Interior Department employees told lawmakers that they faced retaliation for the science work, and in the past, lawmakers have called for investigations into an employee’s claim that he was reassigned based on his work on climate change.”

Beyond Pesticides acts as watchdog for scientific integrity, and has noted significant failings including EPA’s proposal to increase the amount of the weed killer atrazine allowed in U.S. waterways by 50% during the chemical’s registration review—a stark reversal of previous proposals to significantly reduce atrazine levels in the environment. EPA also put forth a proposal to further weaken protections regarding 23 pyrethroid insecticides that have been repeatedly linked by peer-reviewed studies to neurological issues such as learning disabilities in children

State governments, too, are standing up and taking notice: A coalition of eight attorney generals (AGs) from different states recently came together to criticize a draft risk assessment of the soil fumigant 1,3-D in which EPA proposed downgrading the cancer risk rating from “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” to “suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential.” The AGs contend this motion is capricious and excludes entire categories of scientific evidence, stating in their public comment, “EPA’s new cancer risk classification dangerously ignores science and downplays the risks individuals face when they are exposed to 1,3-D.” Standing out above the many examples cited, the singular study EPA referenced in its assessment regarding mutagenicity based its “statistical significance” on a sample size of only five rats.

Standing up for scientific integrity is more critical than ever. Ask Congress to request an investigation into whether EPA is ignoring its statutory duty and regulatory requirements to use science in its proposals. Keep track and fight back with more actions through Beyond Pesticides’ Action of the Week.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Hill

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  • Archives

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