Scientific integrity at EPA speeds up
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September 20, 2013
Scientific integrity at EPA speeds up

Given the criticisms Republican lawmakers have leveled at EPA’s performance in practicing sound science, the Agency has been slow in meeting President Obama’s March 2009 memo directing federal agencies to reinforce their approach to scientific integrity.

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That’s one conclusion reached by EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which reviewed the Agency’s implementation of its own February 2012 Scientific Integrity Policy.  However, in a “quick reaction” report, the OIG notes that EPA’s “new interim scientific official” appears to have speeded up implementation of key measures, with two major actions scheduled for completion in 2013.

Two deliverables

In response to the president’s memo, in December 2010, the Office of Science and Technology issued guidance to all executive agencies to develop policies to ensure the culture of scientific integrity, strengthen the actual and perceived credibility of government research, and improve the exchange of information, including conveying information to the public.  The EPA responded in February 2012 with its Scientific Integrity Policy, which established a Scientific Integrity Committee that had two main responsibilities: overseeing training on scientific integrity training for EPA employees and generating a publicly available annual report on the status of scientific integrity within the Agency. 

Training

Based on interviews with EPA’s former interim scientific integrity official, the OIG reported in March 2013 that the EPA had not implemented agencywide training.  The former official indicated that part of the delay related to the EPA employee union, which had been invited to participate in the development/implementation of a training program but had not decided whether and how it wanted to participate. 

However, in June 2013, the new official informed the OIG that the Scientific Integrity Committee planned to finalize a scientific integrity training module by December 21, 2013, and make it available through Skillport, EPA’s e-learning training portal. 

Annual report

According to the OIG, the annual report must be developed by the committee and highlight scientific integrity successes, identify areas for improvement, and develop a plan for addressing critical weaknesses, if any, in the agency’s program and regional offices.  EPA’s policy indicates that the annual report must be preceded by an agencywide annual meeting on scientific integrity, which must include participation of EPA’s senior leadership, consider reports from offices and programs, and provide an opportunity for input from the EPA scientific community. 

As of March 2013, the OIG found that the former official could not provide a time frame for when the committee would complete the first annual report.  According to the OIG, this official stated that the committee would have to develop and implement training on the Scientific Integrity Policy for EPA employees before they can complete the annual reporting requirement.  However, following communication with the new interim official, the OIG reported that the committee has received input on an outline for the annual scientific integrity report and plans to finalize it by September 30, 2013. 

EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy

OIG’s report

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