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Federal Lab Refuses To Reveal Who Manipulated Environmental Data For Two Decades

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) officials refuse to reveal who, if anyone, has been punished for nearly two decades of “disturbing” data manipulation.

Someone in the inorganic section of a USGS lab in Lakewood, Colorado manipulated data – some of which related to the environment – from 1996 to 2014, with “serious and far ranging” effects, the Department of the Interior (DOI) Inspector General (IG) recently reported.

The Energy Resources Program lab closed March 1, 2016 as a result of the bad data, but now agency officials won’t say who’s been punished or even if anybody has or will be.

“Due to the confidential nature of personnel actions, we cannot disclose any specific actions that have been taken,” USGS spokeswoman Anne-Berry Wade told The Daily Caller News Foundation. She also cited privacy laws and refused to name the officials involved.

The first data manipulation issue began in 1996 – just one year after the USGS program was created – and lasted until 2008.

“Science center officials initiated an investigation, but the employee resigned before the investigation concluded,” a May 2015 IG report said.

A House Natural Resources subcommittee has held two hearings since May scrutinizing DOI employees who escaped punishment for misconduct, or were even promoted. (RELATED: Park Service Execs Commit Ethical Misconduct, Get ‘Punished’ With Promotions)

The second instance began later in 2008 and lasted until 2014, when USGS halted all work at the lab before closing it two years later. The manipulation affected $108 million worth of projects, according to the IG.

“USGS is pursuing disciplinary actions for the responsible staff,” the IG reported in June 2016.

But Wade wouldn’t reveal additional details, including whether any managers that supervised the analyst who manipulated the data would face punishment. She also told TheDCNF to ask the IG whether anyone was referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

“We conducted a limited scope inspection and, as a result, we had no material that gave us a reason to consult with a U.S. Attorney’s office,” Assistant IG for Investigations Matthew Elliott told TheDCNF.

Regardless, there’s no guarantee the Department of Justice would have prosecuted anyone, given that the agency declined 17 of 29 referrals from the IG.

The Department of Justice refused to attend the Natural Resources Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee’s hearings on lawbreaking DOI employees and explain why it declines prosecutions so often.

The effects of the data manipulation “are not yet known but, nevertheless, they will be serious and far ranging,” the June IG report said.

The research topics manipulated – including uranium in the environment and U.S. coal resources and reservers – were “disturbing,” Arkansas Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman said at the subcommittee’s June hearing.

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