The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog announced Friday that it will review the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy, which is meant to “ensure scientific integrity … and promote scientific and ethical standards.”
The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a notice stating that it will begin “preliminary research” into the policy and investigate whether it is being implemented properly to “assure scientific integrity throughout the EPA.”
It will also seek to determine the level of awareness among employees of the policy, why potential violations may not be reported, as well as the “extent and type of employee concerns, if any, with scientific integrity at the EPA.”
The news comes after a survey was released earlier this month by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which showed that government scientists across 16 agencies and departments have concerns with the degree of political influence over their work.
Specifically, the annual survey for 2018 showed that a third of the nearly 449 EPA respondents worry about the “influence” of political appointees or White House officials over “science-based” decisions. Less than 30 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “My agency adheres to its scientific integrity policy.”
In addition, roughly a third of EPA respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they had either been asked directly to omit or independently decided to avoid the use of the term “climate change” in their work.
While the survey was distributed to all EPA employees, just 3 percent answered it. However, some suspect the low response rate partly stems from fear of retaliation as well as the fact that the survey request email to EPA staff was marked as spam.
Last year, former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt was also accused of potentially violating this policy in his statements about climate change science. Environmental group the Sierra Club complained that Pruitt’s claim that carbon dioxide is not the main cause of climate change was at odds with his own agency’s scientific conclusions.
Ultimately, a review panel cleared Pruitt of the alleged violation, saying that “expressing an opinion about science is not a violation of the EPA Scientific Integrity Policy.”
The OIG said that the policy review was”self-initiated as part of OIG’s planning process.” It’s not clear when the review will be concluded but it’s likely it could last into 2019.