Fed Bosses Allowed Data Manipulation For Years, But Were They Punished?

Ethan Barton | Deputy Editor

A spokesman refused Wednesday to say if managers at a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) lab were disciplined or fired after it was learned employees under their supervision had falsified data for nearly two decades.

“I can’t offer any additional personnel information due to privacy issues,” USGS Spokesman A.B. Wade told The Daily Caller News Foundation Investigative Group (DCNF). (RELATED: Federal Lab Refuses To Reveal Who Manipulated Environmental Data

Data was manipulated by USGS employees at the USGS lab in Lakewood, Colo., for nearly it’s entire existence, starting in 1996 — just a year after the facility opened — until 2014. The lab stopped taking new work then and was permanently closed in March 2016. The USGS is part of the Department of the Interior.

The lab analyzed a variety of energy-related topics such as uranium deposits and coal reserves. The data was relied upon by decision-makers and analysts in the energy and financial industries, among others. Officials said projects affected by the data involved $108 million in funding.

Two scientists manipulated the data over separate, yet nearly continuous time spans, but internal reports show managers’ ineffectiveness allowed the falsification to go unnoticed, if not ignored.

The lab suffered from “chronic mismanagement,” including “[w]illful supervisory neglect,” said a highly critical October 2015 USGS memo obtained by TheDCNF. “There was no clear evidence of active oversight.” (RELATED: Feds See No ‘Loss Of Confidence’ In Closing Lab That Manipulated Data For Decades)

The memo also show managers allowed “toxic work conditions” to continue for years. The managers may have been reassigned to other USGS labs after the Colorado facility closed.

“There is still lots to do to finalize closure, such as reassigning employees with new duties,” Chuck Blome, a USGS director, wrote in a Feb. 29, 2016 email obtained by TheDCNF.

It’s unclear where lab employees were sent or if managers were among those reassigned. It’s also unclear what actions USGS took to ensure the managers don’t recreate the same toxic environments and disregard for scientific integrity if they retain supervisory responsibilities.

The October 2015 memo also showed other problems stemming from the management level.

The scientist caught manipulating data in the second instance, for example, was hired, despite lacking critical qualifications, such as basic Microsoft Excel skills, the memo showed.

Wade refused to explain how USGS would ensure that its scientists were adequately qualified.

Instead, she provided USGS Deputy Director William Werkheiser’s vague testimony during a December 2015 House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing, which said a USGS committee would would “assess laboratory assets that represent significant investments in personnel.”

Additionally, at least one employee was friends with the scientist caught in the second instance, though its unclear if he was a manager due to redactions. He said he was unaware of the manipulation.

A science review panel “found this claim disingenuous given the line-chemist and [redacted] close personal and professional interrelationship, which dates back many years — to their time as coworkers at the USGS laboratory in Florida,” the October 2015 memo said.

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Tags : investigative group u s geological survey
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