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Scientific Integrity and Misconduct Issues

Scientific integrity at the EPA helps ensure that the development and use of science in the Agency’s decision-making is of the highest quality. The EPA issued its Scientific Integrity Policy in February 2012. The policy conveys the expectation that all EPA employees, contractors, and grantees will adhere to the terms of the policy, including reporting policy breaches. The policy also recognizes the EPA OIG’s responsibility to adjudicate allegations of scientific misconduct.

“Science is the backbone of the EPA’s decision-making. The Agency’s ability to pursue its mission to protect human health and the environment depends upon the integrity of the science on which it relies. The environmental policies, decisions, guidance, and regulations that impact the lives of all Americans every day must be grounded, at a most fundamental level, in sound, high quality science.”
EPA Scientific Integrity Policy, Section II

"Today, I am reaffirming scientific integrity as a core value at EPA and outlining concrete steps to reinforce the agency’s commitment to science.”
Administrator Michael Regan Message to EPA Employees on Scientific Integrity, March 23, 2021.

The EPA OIG has a critical role in protecting the Agency’s scientific integrity. As an independent office, the OIG can receive complaints of mismanagement, misconduct, abuse of authority, or censorship, including those related to scientific or research misconduct, without fear of improper influence. And, through its statutory mandate, the OIG can investigate these allegations. In addition, whistleblowers can assist the OIG in identifying any potential systemic scientific integrity issues and then the OIG can initiate audits or evaluations that result in recommendations to correct the root causes of these issues. The OIG will not disclose the identity of any complainant reporting allegations of scientific or research misconduct, including allegations of censorship related to research, analysis, or technical information, unless the complainant consents to disclosure or the inspector general determines that such disclosure is unavoidable during the course of an investigation.

“‘[C]ensorship related to research, analysis, or technical information’ means any effort to distort, misrepresent, or suppress research, analysis, or technical information.”
Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, Pub. L. No. 112-119, § 110.

Scientific or Research Misconduct Allegations

Research misconduct—also referred to as scientific misconduct in the EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy—is the fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research or in reporting research results; or ordering, advising, or suggesting that subordinates engage in these activities. Examples of misconduct include manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.

EPA policy states that supervisors, employees, and assistance recipients are responsible for promptly reporting allegations of wrongdoing or irregularities, including those involving scientific misconduct, to the OIG. Furthermore, anyone who becomes aware of alleged research misconduct from or by research institutions—such as assistance agreement recipients and contractors or their employees—should promptly report allegations to the OIG, even if an external entity conducts its own inquiry.

You should immediately notify the OIG via the OIG Hotline of any allegation that involves any of the following:

  • Risk to public health or safety.
  • Threats to Agency resources or interests.
  • Circumstances where research activities should be suspended.
  • A reasonable indication of possible violations of civil or criminal law.
  • Instances where Federal action is required to protect the interests of those involved in the investigation.
  • Situations where the research entity believes that the inquiry or investigation may be made public prematurely so that appropriate steps can be taken to safeguard evidence and protect the rights of those involved.
  • Circumstances where the research community or public should be informed.

The EPA’s Scientific Integrity Policy directs the EPA’s scientific integrity official to coordinate with the OIG on issues of scientific misconduct. As part of this coordination, the SIO is required to report a misconduct allegation to the OIG within seven days of receiving the allegation, and the OIG will report an allegation within seven days to the SIO as appropriate.

Examples of OIG Scientific Integrity-Related Reports

EPA Deviated from Typical Procedures in Its 2018 Dicamba Pesticide Registration Decision, Report No. 21-E-0146, issued May 24, 2021.

Further Efforts Needed to Uphold Scientific Integrity Policy at EPA, Report No. 20-P-0173, issued May 20, 2020.

EPA Employees Did Not Act Consistently With Agency Policy in Assisting an EPA Grantee, Report No. 14-P-0247, issued May 9, 2014.

Quick Reaction Report: EPA Must Take Steps to Implement Requirements of Its Scientific Integrity Policy, Report No. 13-P-0364, issued August 28, 2013.

Office of Research and Development Should Increase Awareness of Scientific Integrity Policies, Report No. 11-P-0386, issued July 22, 2011.