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Federal Chemist Manipulates Lab Data, Still Gets Award And Two Years Of Pay

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor
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An unnamed U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) chemist was paid for two years and received an award after getting caught manipulating energy-related data for years, according to a congressional subcommittee chairman.

A chemist was caught manipulating data at a USGS lab from 1996 to 2008. A second chemist – who received the award – continued the manipulation from 2008 to 2014. The lab was shut down in March 2016 following several investigations. (RELATED: Federal Lab Forced To Close After ‘Disturbing’ Data Manipulation)

“Disciplinary actions were being pursued,” USGS spokeswoman A.B. Wade told The Daily Caller News Foundation after a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on the matter. “Neither are now employed by the federal government.”

Wade refused to say what those pursued actions were or if they were ever imposed.

The second unnamed chemist was awarded a 30-year retirement pin, but it’s unclear if the worker actually retired or retained his full benefits and pension, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Louie Gohmert told TheDCNF. The first chemist was “replaced” at the lab, but USGS wouldn’t give the committee any additional information.

USGS Deputy Director William Werkheiser repeatedly refused to disclose what disciplinary action was taken, despite intense questioning from Rep. Jody Hice. The Georgia Republican was especially concerned that the second analyst was paid for two years after a stop-work order was issued as a result of the manipulation.

“We – taxpayers – were paying for a guy who manipulated data to justify why he manipulated data. Is that what you’re telling me?” Hice asked Werkheiser. “That sounds to me like it could be done through interrogation rather than giving him two years on the payroll. It sounds to me like a brief slap on the wrist and he continues on the payroll until he’s ready to retire, after he receives an award.”

Werkheiser also refused to disclose the chemists’ names on privacy grounds despite Gohmert promising that he was protected against retaliatory litigation by laws regarding public hearings.

Additionally, the Texas Republican was concerned that lab managers were also involved in the manipulation, given the amount of time it lasted and that it continued across two chemists.

“That’s what’s so deeply troubling,” Gohmert told TheDCNF. “It seems reasonable that management level either had to know or willfully disregarded what was obvious in front of them. They either disregarded it or even participated.”

The subcommittee’s top Democrat agreed.

“Management was asleep at the wheel,” Ranking Member Debbie Dingell said to the committee. “Not only did management fail to catch the problem, one manager looked the other way for a few months.” (RELATED: Federal Lab Ignored Environmental Data Manipulation For YEARS)

The Michigan Democrat noted that the supervisors created a “toxic” work environment. “Offensive language and behavior created an atmosphere that was so intimidating a scientific integrity investigative body concluded that it contributed to the lab’s substandard performance.”

Numerous managers headed the lab, including many who have since retired, according to Wade. The most recent supervisor launched investigations and reported it after discovering the manipulation.

It’s still uncertain why the chemists manipulated the data. (RELATED: Feds Don’t Know Why Lab Analyst Manipulated Energy Data For Years)

“I can’t look into the mind of the person involved,” Werkheiser told the committee. “They thought those manipulations were justified. They were not. I cannot explain exactly why.”

He claimed that there was no pattern to the manipulation and that it would be impossible for the analysts to know what how samples would be used.

Werkheiser recognized the serious nature of the data manipulation, and repeatedly told the panel he was “appalled,” adding that “failures along the way are inexcusable. I need to hold my supervisors accountable, and that needs to trickle down through the organization. I’m confident that this was an isolated example.”

The data manipulated was related to multiple energy topics, including coal reserves and uranium deposits. USGS is still investigating exactly what reports were effected.

Investigations by the subcommittee and TheDCNF have revealed the agency’s slow response to both instances and the related program’s failure to undergo an external audit, despite promises from USGS Deputy Director Suzette Kimball.

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