Integrity Problems at Interior's Science Integrity Program?

April 4, 2012

The Interior Department's Scientific Integrity Program led the pack of federal agencies during the early days after President Obama called on them to draw up integrity policies. The policies are important because they touch on whether reporters are allowed to talk to federal scientists.

But despite issuing its policy before most other agencies, Interior has lately been wandering off the fairway and into the rough when it comes to scientific integrity.

One sign of problems came when Interior's Inspector General office launched what seemed to be a ham-handed investigation into activities of Dr. Charles Monnett, the scientist who sounded the alarm on polar bears losing habitat to global warming. That probe was effectively dropped when it started looking like a political punishment and lost credibility.

Now Interior has fired one of its scientific integrity officers — who is defending himself by saying he was just doing his job.

Eugenie Samuel Reich reported the story for Nature News this week.

“'I thought I was doing the job I was hired to do and was doing the right thing. I was stifled,' says Paul Houser, a hydrologist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, who was appointed as scientific-integrity officer for the DOI’s Bureau of Reclamation in April 2011," Reich's story reports. "Houser was fired on 10 February and filed a complaint under the DOI’s scientific-integrity policy two weeks later."

"Houser alleges that he lost his job because he raised concerns with the DOI about the way it had represented the science behind a plan to remove four hydroelectric dams from a stretch of the Klamath River that straddles the California–Oregon border," writes Reich. "Houser says that his concerns conflicted with the DOI’s desire to build a strong public case for removing the dams."