Interior unveils new scientific integrity policy

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday announced new scientific integrity rules in response to President Obama's 2009 call to end political manipulation of science.

The rules, which take effect immediately, prohibit nonscientists in the department from modifying scientific findings, and spell out criteria for hiring scientists and evaluating their job performance.

The policy is designed to clarify the role of science within Interior's broad and diverse mandate. It defines the responsibilities of all workers -- including contractors and volunteers -- in maintaining scientific integrity, and goes over how to avoid conflicts of interest.

A departmental science integrity officer and science integrity directors at Interior's eight bureaus will lead and support efforts to implement the rules.

Alan Thornhill, science adviser to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said the rules reaffirm Salazar's commitment to making "science a foundation for decision-making" at Interior. They "encourage an environment of rigorous open discussion," Thornhill said, "unfettered by political interference."

Interior has been charged with manipulating scientific data for political ends, including allegations that scientists at the Minerals Management Service -- now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement -- blocked the publication of scientific results that found oil exploration harmed wildlife.

In 2007, Interior's Office of the Inspector General found that Julie MacDonald, a political appointee, had altered the scientific findings of Endangered Species Program reports and pressured field staff to reach specific conclusions in their studies. While the IG found MacDonald's interference was above and beyond the norm, investigators said other officials in similar positions had "made changes to reports to reflect political philosophy."

Interior released a draft of the new rules in August 2010, opening them to public comment. Linda Gundersen, the director for the Office of Science Quality and Integrity at Interior's U.S. Geological Survey, said hundreds of groups responded with feedback. "It helped us address critical issues" with the rules, she said. "It was really wonderful."

Advocacy groups embraced the final rules issued on Tuesday, but called for further refinements.

Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental and scientific ethics watchdog group, called the new policy "lofty and inspiring," but noted it is "still missing a lot of details." UCS, in a press release, expressed concern that the policy's process for evaluating claims of misconduct lacks transparency.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group of federal, state and local environmental employees, said the policy was a "good faith effort." But the group also claimed the rules were ambiguous at times, noting they did not lay out the specifics for whistleblower protections and were vague on when scientists could be barred from discussing work with the media.

Still, Ruch encouraged other federal agencies to implement scientific integrity initiatives of their own. "If Interior can adopt science integrity rules, then surely other agencies such as [the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the Forest Service, have no excuse not to follow suit," he said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.