On 29 September 2010, the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a Secretarial Order establishing a DOI-wide policy intended to ensure the integrity of the science and scientific products used in departmental decision making and policy development. The directive came less than two weeks after a public comment period closed on a draft scientific integrity policy that was criticized by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS).
In a letter to Secretary Salazar, AIBS expressed support for a strong DOI-wide scientific integrity policy and noted that such a policy could increase public trust in DOI decision making. AIBS also warned that the draft DOI policy failed to establish a system that would protect DOI scientists and scientific findings from political interference or manipulation in service of a policy agenda. Furthermore, AIBS expressed concern that the draft policy was confusing and vague and lacked appropriate employee protections and guidance, failed to provide timelines for implementation, and failed to cover the actions of decision makers.
“The directive issued by Secretary Salazar is an improvement from the draft policy,” said AIBS Executive Director Dr. Richard O’Grady. The final order specifically responds to AIBS’ concern that the policy must apply to all DOI employees. According to the Secretarial Order, the policy applies to all employees “when they engage in, supervise or manage scientific activities, analyze and/or publicly communicate information resulting from scientific activities, or use this information or analysis in making agency policy.” Importantly, the policy also applies to all contractors, volunteers, and permitees.
AIBS also recommended that DOI develop a mechanism that would enable the public to track allegations of scientific misconduct. As stated in Secretary Salazar’s order, “DOI will identify, address, track, and resolve instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may have been compromised.”
Today’s order also articulates a number of principles for scientific integrity that AIBS strongly endorses. Of note, the policy includes language directing that knowledge, credentials and integrity should be core considerations in selecting candidates for scientific and decision making positions.
“It is good to see that the policy clearly states that individuals who report misconduct are covered by whistleblower protections,” said AIBS Director of Public Policy Dr. Robert Gropp. “Reporting misconduct is important and it should not be discouraged. Individuals must know that they will be protected from retaliation if they report misconduct.”
Although the Secretarial Order is a significant improvement from the draft policy, it could be strengthened. “The policy still relies on each bureau to develop its own processes for investigating claims of misconduct,” said Gropp. “It might be more efficient for DOI to provide a standard from which each bureau could develop its processes for investigating claims of misconduct.”
“We look forward to seeing how the policy is implemented across Interior. If done correctly, the public trust will grow in DOI decisions,” said O’Grady.
AIBS comments on the draft scientific integrity policy are available at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100917september2010_1.html. The Secretarial Order for DOI is available at http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Salazar-Issues-Secretarial-Order-to-Ensure-Integrity-of-Scientific-Process-in-Departmental-Decision-Making.cfm.
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