A new survey of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists adds further fuel to the growing firestorm over political interference by the Bush White House on scientific matters. The nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists polled some 1,600 EPA staffers via a written survey while personally interviewing dozens more and analyzing thousands of pages of government documents. Researchers found that "on numerous issues—ranging from mercury pollution to groundwater contamination to climate change—political appointees have edited scientific documents, manipulated scientific assessments, and generally sought to undermine the science behind dozens of EPA regulations." The overall picture, according to UCS, is of "an agency under siege from political pressures."
UCS found that 60 percent of the survey respondents "reported personally experiencing what they viewed as political interference in their work over the last five years." Four in 10 scientists who have worked at EPA for more than a decade said they believe such interference has been more prevalent in the last five years than beforehand.
"The investigation shows researchers are generally continuing to do their work, but their scientific findings are tossed aside when it comes time to write regulations," Francesca Grifo, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists" Scientific Integrity Program, told reporters.
Of course, political interference on science by the Bush administration isn't unique to the EPA. In May 2007 Interior Department official Julie McDonald stepped down after an internal review found that she had violated federal rules by giving government documents to industry lobbyists. McDonald also rewrote scientific documents—although she is not a scientist—to prevent the protection of species due to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department later announced it would revisit all the cases in which McDonald played a role.
While UCS isn't expecting any kind of turnaround on the issue from the now lame duck Bush administration, it would like to see Congress and the next president, as well as the new agency heads, take heed and work to usher in strong reforms to protect government scientists, make decision-making more transparent, and reduce the politicization of the regulatory process.