As someone who has devoted her career to the advancement of strong, independent science, I am thrilled to announce the release of EPA’s Fiscal Year 2014 Scientific Integrity Annual Report. In the report, we highlight accomplishments and identify areas for improvement and action, exemplifying the Agency’s unwavering commitment to setting and upholding the highest standards of scientific integrity in an open, transparent way.
The Scientific Integrity Annual Report we just released is the latest example of our efforts to continually monitor and share our performance, and take swift action when needed. Because research provides the foundation for every action the Agency takes to meet our mission to protect human health and safeguard the environment, we are actively cultivating a culture across the Agency and beyond that embraces scientific integrity at all levels. We are working to ensure that every scientist and engineer who works for or in partnership with the Agency conducts investigation that are at once free from conflicts of interest, unburdened by bias or interference, transparent, and present results in fair, accurate, and accessible ways.
In fiscal year 2014 we advanced ongoing activities such as holding quarterly meetings of the Scientific Integrity Committee and the Union Working Group on Scientific Integrity, and initiated new efforts such as creating procedures for reporting and resolving allegations of lapses in scientific integrity. We also increased outreach across the Agency so that everyone who works here is aware of our shared responsibility for scientific integrity. For example, as the Agency’s Chief Scientific Integrity Officer, I gave 26 talks on scientific integrity to bring awareness of EPA’s scientific integrity policy and share ways that all employees can ensure scientific integrity is an integral part of conducting, communicating, supervising, and utilizing science at EPA. In addition, my colleagues and I created and distributed a brochure and poster highlighting the importance of this issue and making it clear to employees and contractors across the Agency how to report issues of concern.
Through actions like these, we identified opportunities for reducing and resolving allegations, defining timely release of Agency science and scientific products, and making other improvements. We also uncovered important areas for future investments, such as increasing our transparency even further and nurturing a culture of robust scientific discourse. As the annual reports illustrates, we did report allegations of lapses in scientific integrity that came to our attention. While I am happy to report that this represented less than 0.3% of EPA employees, we take each and every one seriously.
The small percentage of allegations we received shows that we have a clear and effective process for reporting allegations. It also shows that we have the processes in place to resolve concerns in a transparent yet confidential manner and allow for resolution in a fair and consistent fashion. In short – we take the reported allegations seriously but they in sum are not so serious as to undermine the work we do. Going forward, we will work on creating an Agency framework for the many different kinds of scientific products and communications we release, and create a best practices document from which the entire Agency can develop written clearance procedures with clear steps and timelines. Another important task we are now poised to tackle is drafting a policy to address differing scientific opinions. To achieve that, the EPA Scientific Integrity Committee and the Union Working Group will consult with other federal agencies that already have such policies in place so that we can then focus our attention on how to govern differing opinions here at EPA.
While we need to remain vigilant, our Scientific Integrity Annual Report shows real progress, and I believe we are now poised to have the procedures and processes in place we need. Thanks to our collective commitment to scientific integrity, EPA and the American people can confidently declare that our science and the science of our grantees, contractors, and other partners is robust and ready to meet the task of guiding our work. I invite you to read our Scientific Integrity Annual Report—FY 2014, and keep an eye on this blog as we share our future progress.
About the Author: Francesca Grifo, Ph.D. is EPA’s Scientific Integrity Officer. She came to the Agency in November of 2013 with more than 30 years of experience in environmental science and scientific integrity, including serving as a senior policy fellow advancing scientific integrity and transparency with the Union of Concerned Scientists.