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February 1, 2011 

Interior Department’s New Scientific Integrity Policy Must Trigger Significant Changes To Be Effective

Statement by Francesca Grifo

WASHINGTON (February 1, 2011) –The policy released today by the Department of the Interior takes steps to establish strong scientific integrity standards at an agency that has been plagued by political interference in science in recent years, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). But for the policy to be effective, the group said, it must trigger additional changes in agency procedure and practice.

UCS urged the agency to use this new policy to establish guidelines that encourage the free flow of information from the agency, create a whistleblower policy that protects staff who report political interference in science, and strengthen rules that disclose and prevent conflicts of interest at the agency. 

Below is a statement by Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program.

“It’s impressive that the Interior Department, which has allowed serious lapses in scientific integrity in recent years, is the first out of the gate with a scientific integrity plan. The new policy clearly reaffirms the president’s principles, and signals the department’s intent to establish strong scientific integrity standards not just for scientists but for political appointees, career employees and contractors as well.

“But no matter how well intentioned the new Interior policy may be, it is sorely lacking in detail and public accountability. While it’s a good starting place, I encourage other agencies and departments to be more specific in their own scientific integrity plans.

“We can only hope that the new policy will trigger several significant and necessary changes that enable the public to hold the department more accountable for its decisions. This is essential, because many loopholes still remain. Scientists at Interior still lack sufficient guidance to feel comfortable sharing their research and scientific analysis with the public and the press. The policy does not protect them from retribution when they report political interference in science. Conflicts of interest within the department, which have been rife, may still go unreported. And the public can still remain in the dark when it comes to what science the department considers when making policy decisions.

“This new policy will help the department address some of its biggest problems, but by itself, it is insufficient. For example, it’s troubling that the new process for evaluating allegations of wrongdoing lacks transparency. Likewise, the department is not required to publicly disclose or confirm cases of misconduct, making accountability nearly impossible.

“We will be monitoring progress to see to what extent the department eliminates these loopholes. While I applaud their lofty goals, I would still give the department a grade of incomplete. The department’s scientists deserve—and need—more.”

 

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.

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