Scientific research and calculations done by the Environmental Protection Agency may not be accurate because its employees have trouble doing science, according to a report from the agency’s internal watchdog that says the situation requires quick action to fix.
“The EPA has not developed or implemented a program to instruct the EPA’s employees on the requirements and standards of scientific inquiry,” says the report by the agency’s inspector general.
That means EPA officials can’t ensure employees are following the agency’s latest “Scientific Integrity Policy” implemented in February 2012.
And while investigators didn’t cite any specific calculations or research from the EPA as inaccurate, they said that scientific principles need to be followed to maintain the reliability of reports and conclusions reached by the agency.
The IG recommends that the EPA start agencywide training on its scientific integrity guidelines, as well as issuing annual reports on the status of scientific integrity at the agency.
Investigators had first expressed concern in 2011 that employees might not be familiar with the agency’s scientific integrity guidelines. But following the most recent report — given to the agency in June and made public in August — investigators said the EPA has taken action to correct the problems.
The acting EPA scientific integrity officer, Glenn Paulson, agrees that there needs to be better guidance on the 2012 policy, but said he was surprised by the urgent tone of the IG’s report since he had been working with investigators for several months to fix the problems.
The newest scientific integrity policy is the latest addition to “our long history of scientific safeguards to further ensure that sound science drives agency decision-making,” he said.
“The EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission to safeguard human health and protect the environment depends on sound scientific analyses, and the agency remains committed to scientific integrity,” Mr. Paulson said.
The EPA’s latest issuance of scientific guidelines followed a 2009 memo from President Obama.
“The President instructed each agency to implement rules and procedures for ensuring the integrity of the scientific process within their agency,” including strengthening “the actual and perceived credibility of government research” and “conveying scientific and technological information to the public,” the IG said.
At the time, EPA officials said the president’s memo “provides the agency with a unique opportunity to further demonstrate a deep commitment to scientific integrity in the pursuit of the agency’s vital mission of protecting human health and the environment.”