- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

The General Accounting Office reported yesterday that government scientists knew they should not have submitted falsely labled samples into a national lynx survey and that some supervisors were aware but took no action.
"They all admitted they knew it wasn't in the protocol, they weren't allowed to do this," said Ronald Malfi, acting managing director of the GAO office of special investigations.
The investigation also found Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service biologists discussed what they were doing, contrary to an initial investigation in which employees said the unauthorized samples were submitted without knowledge of each other's actions, Mr. Malfi said.
Additionally, employees from both agencies worked together to collect fur samples from captive lynx, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Mr. Malfi said.
The employees were orally reprimanded for the actions, but later received bonuses for their work. Dr. Steven A. Williams, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) director, said he is considering further disciplinary action.
The names of the four federal biologists involved were released yesterday: Ray Scharpf, the whistleblower who informed his supervisor of the unauthorized submission before retiring from the Forest Service; Mitch Wainright at the Forest Service; and Sarah LaMarr and Tim McCracken at the FWS.
The biologists maintain they submitted three samples of lynx fur they falsely labeled as having been collected in two Washington state national forests to test the lab's ability to analyze lynx DNA.
"They all knew they had no authorization to do this nor did they have a technical order to actually test the laboratory," Mr. Malfi said.
Some scientists could not explain why they sent in the samples and were "very guarded" in their comments, Mr. Malfi said.
Additionally, a Washington state employee submitted a fur sample into the survey taken from a bobcat pelt, Mr. Malfi said.
Neither the GAO investigation nor a separate review by the Interior Department's inspector general has shed light on the motivation of the employees.
"We did not uncover what the motivation was, we just looked at the facts and evidence to see what happened," Mr. Malfi said.
This angered some lawmakers, who said they remain convinced it was an attempt to rig the study to restrict recreational activities on public land.
"The employees thought the lynx were out there and they may have hoped to expand or extend the study to find more lynx or plant more samples," said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Resources Committee subcommittee on forests and forest health.
If the biologists were testing the lab, "it shows a fundamental mistrust that these scientists have for the very science they are using. This is very, very troubling," said Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican and committee chairman.
When asked by a committee member why the supervisors did not take action to stop the false sample submission, Mr. McInnis said "they did take action; they gave them bonuses."
Mark Rey, Agriculture Department undersecretary for natural resources and environment, said a third investigation by his department is looking specifically at the employees' motivation a question that remains "sufficiently murky," he said.
Mr. Rey, who kept his remarks brief "so as not to unnecessarily delay the expected horsewhipping," said "we don't think this is a harmless error."
However, Mr. Rey said he did not believe the employees were maliciously trying to affect the survey's outcome but added that "it is not their responsibility to make it up as they go along."
Mr. Rey said he did not believe the actions are a widespread problem in the Forest Service, but is a "widely held preception about the agency and we are most interested in changing that."
The samples were submitted as part of a three-year survey to determine Canadian lynx habitat in 16 states and 57 national forests.
Mr. Malfi said had the false samples not been uncovered, "it would have been part of the national survey," leading to additional surveys and studies, but the "integrity of the study is intact."


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