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Policy

Scientific Integrity

Survey finds that EPA scientists experience political interference

by Cheryl Hogue
April 28, 2008 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 86, ISSUE 17

Hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency scientists have personally experienced political interference in their work during the past five years, according to a survey released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

"Our investigation found an agency in crisis," said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program. Sixty percent of the 1,586 EPA scientists responding to the survey reported political interference in their scientific work. UCS says this interference ranges from censorship and suppression of federal science to manipulation of scientific advice.

This influence was most pronounced in the parts of EPA that write regulations and in a research program that compiles risk assessments on chemicals, according to the survey.

The survey also found that 49% of the respondents knew of some cases in which political appointees at other federal agencies inappropriately involved themselves in EPA scientific decisions.

"We deal with decisions that are easy to disagree with," EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar tells C&EN. Some scientists who do not agree with EPA policy choices may perceive those decisions as political influence in science, he says.

UCS says the results show the need for reforms to protect EPA scientists and make the agency's decision-making processes more open to public scrutiny.

In light of the survey, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, says he will question EPA officials about political interference with the agency's scientific work at a hearing in May.

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