A recent survey of scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency showed that hundreds of scientists are complaining about outside political interference and pressure from superiors who want to skew their scientific research. More than half of the scientists at the EPA who responded to the survey revealed they have experienced political interference in their work. The survey, by the Union of Concerned Scientists, shows “an agency under siege from political pressures.” The report was sent to EPA Administrator Steve Johnson. It’s widely known that the Bush Administration has played fast and loose with the truth when it comes to issues involving the scientific community. Putting political pressure on scientists who have the responsibility of protecting the public on health and safety issues can’t be tolerated. The highest number of complaints came from scientists who are directly involved in writing regulations and those who conduct risk assessments on substances that may pose health risks to humans.
During much of the Bush Administration, there have been reports of the White House watering down documents regarding climate change, industry language inserted into EPA power-plant regulations and scientific advisory panels’ conclusions about toxic chemicals going unheeded. Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program for the Washington-based nonprofit group, said the survey documents the widespread nature of the problem at EPA. She acknowledged that scientists who are frustrated and upset might have been more likely than those who are satisfied to respond to her organization’s survey, but added: “Nearly 900 EPA scientists reported political interference in their scientific work. That’s 900 too many.” I agree with that assessment and believe strongly that political influence and pressure should have no place at the EPA.
The survey respondents were split over the effect of political interference on regulations. According to the report, 48% believed that EPA’s actions are “frequently or always” consistent with scientific findings, while 47% believed that agency policy “occasionally, seldom or never” made use of its scientific judgments. In optional essays, scientists repeatedly singled out the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the White House, accusing officials there of inserting themselves into decision-making at early stages in a way that shaped the outcome of their inquiries. The Bush Administration has used OMB to get its way in the regulatory affairs of a number of federal regulatory agencies, including the EPA. That sort of thing must be dealt with and curtailed during the next Administration.
EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar attributed some of the discontent voiced by the survey respondents to the “passion” that scientists have toward their work. However, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, in a letter sent to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, called the results disturbing and said they “suggest a pattern of ignoring and manipulating science.” Rep. Waxman also said that he planned to pursue the matter further in hearings by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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