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Science Advisor Programs

Accomplishments in the EPA Regions and Offices 2016

In this section, EPA regions and programs highlight their accomplishments in promoting a culture of scientific integrity by increasing transparency, supporting robust science, and encouraging professional development for employees.

Promoting a Culture of Scientific Integrity

A culture of scientific integrity promotes the quality, collection, processing, and communication of scientific information. Many quality assurance systems are already in place to ensure the integrity of the scientific research process. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, several new initiatives were introduced to demonstrate EPA’s commitment to evidence, objectivity, and the quality of scientific information.

Training
  • Across the Agency, regions and offices have been conducting in-person scientific integrity training sessions.
Data Management
  • Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds (OWOW) is using Success Stories to describe the achievements of the Clean Water Act Section 319 program. Invested in improving the data management and interface of the Section 319 Grants Reporting and Tracking System (GRTS) and moving toward building Section 319 success stories within the GRTS system (vs. manually), which will improve efficiency and reduce errors.
  • Region 3’s Air Protection Division (APD) developed and completed beta testing of the Air Data Spreadsheet tool that imports and formats data downloaded from the Air Quality System (AQS) 504 report. Currently, monitoring staff manually processes the downloaded data into the format needed. This tool will reduce the time needed to manually process the data.
Clearance Procedures
  • The Office of Science Coordination and Policy (OSCP) facilitated the development of a systematic review framework for the entire Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP).
  • The Office of Research and Development (ORD)/National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) is developing revised guidance relating to implementing the clearance process (including guidance on the role of internal and external peer review) to ensure scientific and/ or technical work products follow current requirements and ensure high quality and sound science is being used and released by the laboratory.
  • The Office of Water’s (OW’s) Office of Science and Technology developed a form for clearing journal articles, technical posters, and presentations, and this clearance form is available for use by other OW offices. Scientists can use this form to track the progress of clearance and detect delays if they exist.
Quality Assurance
  • OSCP developed and implemented performance-based validation approaches for high throughput testing and screening of chemicals for endocrine bioactivity
  • Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) provided the new Chemical Safety Advisory Committee with an overview of risk assessment practices and methodologies in April 2016, and had a Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Work Plan Chemical Risk Assessment developed and peer reviewed by the committee in May 2016.
  • OPPT’s Risk Assessment Division (RAD) conducted a QA (Quality Assurance) Audit in the 2nd quarter of FY 2016, thereby complying with the OPPT-wide Quality Management Plan (QMP) and completing a corrective action identified in a 2014 Office of Inspector General report regarding the division’s compliance with OPPT’s QMP.
  • NERL added three new Quality Assurance Managers (QAMs) in FY15/16. The new QA staff were trained in QA processes during daily conference calls and, to calibrate with the existing members of the NERL QA Team, during a QA Training conference in Research Triangle Park (RTP), NC.
  • OW prepared a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for the Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) Toolkit. The LC/MS Toolkit QAPP provides information regarding quality assurance (QA)/quality control (QC) activities that were performed prior to and during data collection, assessment, and reporting. The QAPP also provides information regarding QA/QC that will be applied in support of preparing the Toolkit for publication.
  • Region 2 is advertising and filling a position entitled Region 2 Scientific Integrity Manager, whose duties will include Regional QA Manager duties and Peer Review Coordinator duties.
  • Region 3’s Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership, with support from the Chesapeake Bay Program Office, applied its Protocol for the Development, Review, and Approval of Loading and Effectiveness Estimates for Nutrient and Sediment Controls in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model to direct the work of over 20 different Best Management Practices (BMP) expert panels. This involved the work of hundreds of recognized experts from around the six-state watershed and across the country. EPA reviewed and approved the first set of state-specific BMP verification program quality assurance (QA) plans for each of the six watershed states and the District of Columbia, based on the expectation that all of the thousands of practices submitted annually for pollutant load reduction credit would be verified starting in 2018.
  • Office of Environmental Information (OEI) conducted a Quality System Assessment of Region 3, and the Air Protection Division was cited as having best practices in place for managing the QA aspect of the air monitoring program.
  • Region 3’s Hazardous Site Cleanup Division (HSCD) Divisional Quality Management Plan (QMP) was finalized and uploaded to the Regional Quality Webpage; the plan is in effect for five years.
  • Region 4’s Water Protection Division completed the drafting of an update to the Water Efficiency Guidelines (WEGs) to reflect changes in auditing tools and quantitative methods used for water supply optimization and assessment, after submitting the previous version for peer review.
  • Region 8 established a Science Council of management and staff to promote scientific and technical excellence in the decision-making process.
  • Region 8 Field Operations has implemented a field quality management system that incorporates all ten QA “Field Activities Procedure” (QAFAP) requirements into programs that are involved in field activities.
  • Region 8 established a Field Activities Implementation Team (FIT) to strengthen integration of the QAFAP standards into field activities that are conducted by EPA Region 8 personnel. The FIT team conducted internal audits of Region 8.
  • Region 10 implemented a reorganization to address areas of improvement that arose from 300 comments submitted by Region 10 staff and management. One significant change coming out of this effort was to strengthen the Region’s science office.

Release of Information to the Public

EPA encourages the transparency of Agency activities through communications tools such as online blogs, newsletters, news releases, and official publications. EPA also maintains several online databases to provide open access to Agency information. Special user interfaces allow the public to navigate EPA databases easily. Online tools such as dashboards and calculators allow users to access a variety of datasets, input their own data, and model personalized scenarios.

  • The Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) provided maintenance and provision of the leading technical clearinghouse of information for site cleanup (the Hazardous Waste Cleanup Information or CLUIN website). The clearinghouse tops two million visits per year and is the platform for 120+ live Internet seminars each year, reaching approximately 20,000 participants annually.
  • ORD Office of Science Information Management (OSIM) worked with other ORD Assessable Units (AUs) to develop and review an ORD Scientific Data Management policy to craft a useful process to promote the transparency of and easy access to ORD’s scientific data used in published articles and documents, and an accompanying guidance web site for use by ORD researchers and managers.
  • ORD National Center for Computational Toxicology (NCCT) continued to provide full access to all of the generated chemical data, models, and software packages on the EPA Computational Toxicology Data download website.

Peer Review and Federal Advisory Committees

Scientific Integrity ensures the quality of scientific and technical products by promoting adherence to proper scientific procedures. In FY 2016, EPA continued its efforts to promote peer review as an essential component of quality scientific research products.

  • OAR scientific products are subjected to appropriate peer review performed by qualified experts and established entities, including the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC).  A number of significant OAR scientific products have gone through both SAB and CASAC review this past year, including the scientific analyses underpinning both the particulate matter (PM) and Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) secondary National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Professional Development

EPA encourages professional development activities so that EPA’s scientists and engineers can maintain their expertise, be active members of their scientific communities, and become leaders in their fields. Training activities include online courses, webinars, in-person workshops, and conferences. EPA provides numerous professional development opportunities for employees and encourages their participation in professional societies.

  • OAR hosted two large conferences, including the 3rd Vehicle Technology Showcase and the biennial National Monitoring Conference.
  • OLEM advanced training opportunities related to scientific and technical information to Superfund staff and project managers on capabilities of waste management technologies and best practices (online and classroom).
  • OLEM’s delivery of the National Association of Remedial Project Managers (NARPM) national training event provided over 50 courses and opportunities for project managers and technical staff to interact and share information on new technologies.
  • OW held a Certification Officer Online Training Course for Cryptosporidium on Jan 13- Feb 6, 2015 for attendees from States and Regions.
  • Region 3’s Air Protection Division hosted the Integrated Compliance Information System (ICIS)-Air/High Priority Violators (HPV) Training.
  • Region 5 developed new training to complement the Agency’s introductory Field Operations course. All R5 field staff were trained.
  • Region 6’s Houston Laboratory staff continue to give the annual laboratory ethics training, which includes discussion of the EPA Scientific Integrity Policy.
  • Regions 8, 9, 10, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards (OAQPS) and ORD’s air scientists led the efforts in developing an internal EPA, virtual Western Regions Air Research Workshop.