03-04-13 Report Reveals Scientific Misconduct at Department of the Interior

03-04-2013 Advocates for Government Accountability, Cause of Action, sent to members of Congress and released to the public a 36 page investigative report:

 

Cause of Action Report Reveals Scientific Misconduct at

Department of the Interior

How the Department of the Interior Use Flawed Science to Foreclose the American Dream

WASHINGTON – Cause of Action (CoA), a government accountability organization, today released  “Keeping Entrepreneurship at Bay: How the Department of the Interior Uses Flawed Science to Foreclose the American Dream,” an investigative report on the systemic manipulation of scientific data within the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC), the National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Department of the Interior (DOI).  The misrepresentation of data influenced a Cabinet member’s decisions, was quoted in a Department of Justice filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and is negatively affecting multiple businesses in the United States.

Cause of Action’s Executive Director Dan Epstein explained the consequences of the scientific misconduct:

Cause of Action has exposed a culture of corruption and disregard for scientific integrity perpetrated by the government on the taxpayers’ dime. The Interior Department’s opaque reliance on misrepresented data demands immediate reform of the Agency, its departments, and its Office of Inspector General as well as a complete revision of NPS environmental impact statements. 

 

Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar’s November 29, 2012 decision to deny a Special Use Permit (SUP) for land belonging to NPS to Drakes Bay Oyster Company (DBOC), a small, family-run, environmentally sustainable farm located inside the Point Reyes National Seashore, was largely affected by misrepresented data, a perpetuation of false information, a disregard for the law by multiple federal government offices, and political taint. This business is now embroiled in a legal battle that has produced temporary relief from the Ninth Circuit that will allow DBOC to remain open until another hearing in May 2013, but does not guarantee that the business will escape a full shut down.

“How the Department of the Interior Uses Flawed Science to Foreclose the American Dream,” reveals that the data used by multiple agencies within the federal government were out of date, inapplicable, and brazenly false in their representation of the impact of DBOC on the environment:

  • The Department of Interior (DOI) Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) February 2013 Report Ignored Data and Used a Flawed Methodology.
  • The Investigation by DOI Solicitor Gavin Frost Lacked Objectivity and Independence. It Improperly Dismissed Scientific Misconduct by Labeling It “Administrative Misconduct.”
  • Federal Agencies Misrepresented Scientific Findings to Support a False Narrative.
  • The National Park Service (NPS) Prioritizes Politics Over Scientific Integrity by Refusing to Withdraw and Correct Flawed Science, Impacting Businesses Both Nationally and Worldwide.
  • DOI OIG Misled the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (Energy Committee) During the Confirmation of NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis.
  • The Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) Cannot Effectively Function Without an Independent Inspector General (IG).

Click here to read a copy of the full report.

Click here to ready a copy of Cause of Action’s Data Quality Act complaint against NPS.

About Cause of Action:

Cause of Action is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that uses investigative, legal, and communications tools to educate the public on how government accountability and transparency protects taxpayer interests and economic opportunity. For more information, visit www.causeofaction.org.

To schedule an interview with Cause of Action’s Executive Director Dan Epstein, contact Mary Beth Hutchins, mary.beth.hutchins@causeofaction.org or Jamie Morris, jamie.morris@causeofaction.org.

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Posted by in Press, Press Releases & Statements on March 4, 2013 11:09 am / no comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                 CONTACT:      

MARCH 4, 2013                                                                                     Mary Beth Hutchins, 202-400-2721

Jamie Morris, 202-499-2425

04-11-12 Greenwire “Battle escalates over allegations of NPS misconduct

‘Good enough for government work’
To PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, the debate over the noise data is irrelevant. Even if NPS made mistakes in presenting the data — by not clearly marking the sound levels as estimates — it falls short of scientific misconduct, he said.

The Park Service has limited funds and limited time. The draft EIS is “good enough for government work,” he said.

“It’s a minor mistake. It doesn’t invalidate the larger product,” he said. “This is a game of academic gotcha that misses the broader point.”
Greenwire
3. INTERIOR:
Battle escalates over allegations of NPS misconduct
Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Environmental groups are pushing back against allegations that the National Park Service falsified data in an effort to oust a California oyster farm from a wilderness area.

The Interior Department — which houses NPS — is looking into allegations that officials purposely misled the public by using 1995 data from New Jersey police boats to represent the noise coming from Drakes Bay Oyster Co. A table in the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) appears to imply the data were collected at the farm, and it misled a scientist who reviewed the document as part of a peer review Interior commissioned (Greenwire, March 27).

The controversy is the latest in a string of headaches for Interior over NPS research on Drakes Bay Oyster Co., which is fighting to renew its lease in a national wilderness area. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who has closely followed the controversy, has since accused the service of building a “deceptive and potentially fraudulent” case against the company (E&ENews PM, March 29).

But Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin say the charges are overblown. They point to the fact that the EIS fully cites the sources of the noise data in its references, even if such clear citations are not on the table itself.

In a recent letter to Interior Scientific Integrity Officer Ralph Morgenweck, EAC executive director Amy Trainer calls the allegations “unfounded.”

“We are particularly concerned about the recent claims both because of the manner in which they have been politicized by Senator Feinstein, and, like previous ones, are baseless, unscientific, and distract from the real issue facing Secretary Salazar: whether to uphold long-standing national park laws and policies, or roll them back to allow private industry to commercialize the heart of a national park,” she wrote.

A Feinstein spokesman did not return a request for comment. But in her letter to Salazar last month, Feinstein referenced the repeated problems found with NPS research on the farm; that includes a 2011 report from Interior’s solicitor’s office that found park scientists mishandled evidence and acted improperly (Greenwire, March 23, 2011).

Guessing game
The mystery over how NPS came to its estimates lingers. Interior is refusing to detail how NPS extrapolated the sound levels of the farm’s equipment from the 1995 New Jersey study and a 2006 “Construction Noise Users Guide” from the Federal Highway Administration.

Most puzzling is the sound level for the farm’s oyster tumbler. Five items in the 2006 guide match the sound level attributed to the tumbler in the draft EIS: a concrete-mixer truck, a drill-rig truck, a front-end loader, a rivet buster and a ventilation fan.

None come close to the tumbler, a piece of equipment that uses a small electric motor to sort oysters. In her letter to Interior, Trainer suggests that a concrete mixer is the most likely substitute.

But she also presents a seemingly random hypothesis. NPS, she writes, could have taken the 85 decibels attributed to “all other equipment” in the 2006 users guide and then “conservatively decided to reduce the loudness attributed to the oyster tumbler” to get the 79 decibels cited in the draft EIS.

Trainer uses similar logic in her defense of the 71 decibels the draft EIS attributes to the oyster farm’s motorboats, the loudest of which has a 40 horsepower engine. The only number that matches in the New Jersey study — which is cited in the EIS as the source — is the sound level for a 1995 Kawasaki Jet Ski.

But in her letter, Trainer hypothesizes the Park Service instead based the loudness of the farm’s motorboats on the sound level for a boat with a 175 horsepower engine. That engine is far louder than those of the farm’s boats, and the New Jersey study measured its sound level at 81 decibels.

Trainer contends that NPS just took off 10 decibels to reach the 71 decibels that is attributed to the farm’s boats in the EIS.

When asked how she came to these calculations, Trainer said her group “took an objective, reasonable approach to consider what equipment the NPS was likely comparing to like.”

But Interior is keeping silent on how NPS actually came to its numbers, which are used in the EIS to make a variety of assertions. Among them is that the farm’s motorboats can be heard more than 1.3 miles away. The draft EIS also contends that the oyster tumbler — which sorts the shellfish with a far quieter engine than that of the boats — can be heard 2.3 miles away.

‘Good enough for government work’
To PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, the debate over the noise data is irrelevant. Even if NPS made mistakes in presenting the data — by not clearly marking the sound levels as estimates — it falls short of scientific misconduct, he said.

The Park Service has limited funds and limited time. The draft EIS is “good enough for government work,” he said.

“It’s a minor mistake. It doesn’t invalidate the larger product,” he said. “This is a game of academic gotcha that misses the broader point.”

That point, to environmental groups, is that the oyster farm sits in an area that Congress designated as wilderness decades ago. If Interior allows the company to stay, they contend that it would go against policy and set a precedent that could endanger wilderness areas throughout the country.

Indeed, the Park Service was poised to kick out the farm before Feinstein intervened in 2009, inserting language in the fiscal 2010 spending bill that explicitly allowed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to grant the farm a 10-year renewal. The EIS process began after that.

Feinstein, Ruch said, “appears to be upset by the process her own legislation created.”

“This is not rocket science — motor boats and machinery make noise and this location, Drakes Estero, is supposed to be wilderness,” he said. “Senator Feinstein’s repeated personal interventions for this one company have become the very epitome of political interference with science to which she claims to be objecting.”

Ruch and Trainer have taken particular aim at Corey Goodman, a scientist who has long criticized NPS for its research on the oyster farm. Goodman became involved in the controversy when he gave expert testimony to the Marin County Board of Supervisors in 2007; since then, he has spent countless hours scrutinizing the Park Service’s research.

Goodman publicized the noise data issues last month, sending a letter to Salazar that requested an investigation into possible scientific misconduct.

In a recent interview, Goodman said Trainer’s letter responding to his allegations raised more questions than answers. The assertion that the sound levels in the EIS were the result of random calculations would be a more serious problem than his assumption that NPS based them off louder equipment.

“Whatever it is, it was a completely inappropriate number to pick that completely misrepresented what the engine sounds like and it clearly bamboozled the peer reviewer,” Goodman said.

Interior spokesman Adam Fetcher said the department is conducting a review of the allegations. The agency’s scientific integrity policy requires Interior to launch a preliminary review to determine whether such allegations are substantiated and thus necessitate a larger investigation.

But all sides of the controversial issue seem to agree to one thing: NPS should make it clear how they calculated the noise levels of the farm’s equipment.

“I do think it would help in the final EIS to list all of their assumptions and specify how these numbers came about,” Trainer said. “There’s room for improvement.”

 

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