While the science integrity effort of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) started well, the details have been beyond devilish to implement. The failure of OSTP leadership to follow through with guidance doesn’t reflect well on the office, or on the tenure of its Director.
The latest frustrations have been latched onto by Mother Jones. The story, however, isn’t new. It concerns the case of Paul Houser, who was fired by the Interior Department in February 2012, and filed his complaint shortly thereafter. He was the scientific integrity officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, and he alleges a violation of the Department’s scientific integrity policy and retaliation over his complaints on the science behind various dam removal documents. Mother Jones likely caught on due to this press release from Professional Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which has been pursuing scientific integrity complaints against the Interior Department with as much vigor as one can when the processes are vague and under-defined (concerns echoed by Dr. Hauser in his own assessment of the Department’s scientific integrity policy).
The press release from PEER provides some additional information on how the case has progressed since the complaint was filed in February. Apparently the Department has hired an outside firm to conduct the review and investigation connected to the complaint (which is a distinct action from Houser’s whistleblower claims). Since there are two other complaints with the Department that I know about, I have to wonder if similar actions (and corresponding delays) have occurred with those cases. A report is expected to be ready at the end of the month, and it will then be reviewed by the Department’s Scientific Integrity Officer.
It would be a sign of a strong commitment to the scientific integrity push of the Obama Administration if the OSTP would show leadership, or at least concern, on the issue by prodding the Interior Department to clarify how it handles complaints and how it might mitigate the incidence of complaints in the future. But I hold no hope of seeing it happen.