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Programs of the Office of the Science Advisor (OSA)

Accomplishments in the EPA Regions and Offices 2017

In 2017, EPA program and regional offices took many approaches to enhance a culture of scientific integrity at EPA. ORD made advances in the public release of large data sets, dashboards, and other mechanisms that led to greater transparency and accessibility of Agency science. Other offices revised their procedures to assure the quality of Agency science, such as those for reviewing and approving scientific products and for conducting peer review. The following are examples of scientific integrity accomplishments across the Agency in FY2017.
 
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 FY2017, several new initiatives were introduced that demonstrate EPA’s commitment to evidence, objectivity, and the quality of scientific information.
 
Training
The Policy is most effective when agency employees are aware of its existence, its significance, and how they can uphold EPA’s proud tradition of scientific integrity. In FY2017, the importance of scientific integrity was promoted in training sessions for EPA programs, offices, and regions.
 
  • Office of Research and Development (ORD)
    • The National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) empowered senior managers, scientists, and staff to teach and mentor new employees on the tenets of scientific integrity and ethics, and to also make management aware of any questionable practices or results. NRMRL staff met with their Deputy Ethics Official (DEO) and took annual ethical standards training that complemented the scientific integrity training.
  • Region 3
    • Region 3 provided mandatory communications training on how to communicate scientific information internally and to the public.
  • Region 9
    • All Region 9 laboratory staff were provided annual training on data integrity, ethical practices, and policies.
Data Management
EPA’s ability to protect human health and the environment is heavily dependent on its data. In FY2017, ethics and data integrity training was provided to EPA employees.
  • Office of Research and Development (ORD)
    • The Office of Science Information Management (OSIM) worked with other ORD Assessable Units (AUs) to implement its newly promulgated ORD Scientific Data Management policy and continued to improve the related ScienceHub portal, a system that helps manage ORD’s research data throughout the life of a research project.
  • Region 7
    • The Environmental Sciences and Technology Division developed and provided web based training to all chemists that perform data analysis to ensure the integrity of the data is maintained. The Data Integrity Training is a yearly requirement for all chemists.
Clearance Procedures
Clearance procedures increase transparency in the release of research results, ensure timely review, and discourage unreasonable delays. They also ensure that scientific products are reviewed by the appropriate supervisors and technical managers before being released to the public. Several regional and program offices have developed their own clearance procedures for scientific research.
  • Office of Research and Development (ORD)
    • All ORD manuscripts and presentations were cleared in the Scientific & Technical Information Clearance System (STICS), the electronic clearance system used by ORD, and data were deposited in ScienceHub prior to journal submission.
    • The National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) utilized STICS to conduct management review and clearance of all NCEA products. NCEA’s robust clearance process includes up to seven approvers. NCEA management has included detailed descriptions of these processes in its employee handbook.
Quality Assurance
A variety of mechanisms work to ensure the quality and integrity of EPA scientific products, in addition to those mentioned above. Quality Management Programs (QMPs) play a large role in the quality assurance of scientific information. Collectively, these programs contribute to a culture that emphasizes the validity of scientific information.
  • Office of Research and Development (ORD)
    • The National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) developed and revised guidance for implementing the clearance process (including guidance on the role of internal and external peer review) to ensure that scientific and/or technical work products follow current requirements and ensure high quality and sound science is being used and released by the Agency.
  • Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA)
    • National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC) had several internal and external assessments and audits of the integrated quality, safety and health, and environmental management systems. These audits identified a few non-conformities with ISO/IEC 17025 and other requirements. All non-conformities were addressed through NEIC’s robust corrective/remedial action process. Additionally, identified areas of potential concern (but not a non-conformity) or potential quality-related improvements were also tracked and addressed, when possible, including those identified through the annual management system reviews. Two actions were still “in-process” as of June 2017; all others were completed and the incorporated corrections were actively tracked for their effectiveness.
  • Office of Environmental Information (OEI)
    • The Office of Enterprise Information Program (OEIP) hosted monthly conferences with the EPA Quality Assurance Community consisting of the National Program Offices and Regions. During these meetings, OEIP addressed topics about quality processes and scientific expectations for the data and information used to support Agency decisions.
  • Region 2
    • Region 2 submitted its Quality Assurance Annual Report and Work Plan (QAARWP) Bridge Report. This report contributed to scientific integrity and included QA Training, QA Succession Planning, QA Assessments conducted on each organization, and EPA Laboratory Competency Activities.
  • Region 3
    • Region 3’s Hazardous Site Cleanup Division (HSCD) previously identified that a full-time, dedicated data and quality manager was needed to best implement the division’s quality and data management programs. In FY2017, Region 3’s HSCD allocated the resources to hire a full-time data and quality manager. This person is responsible for the implementation of the division’s quality program including tracking, auditing, and implementing quality programs, along with training and program improvements. The data and quality manager will also be responsible for helping to develop and implement a Remedial Data Management Plan. He/she will also work to ensure that all remedial site data is readily available in an easy to access database.
  • Region 9
    • Region 9’s Enforcement Division continued to implement and audit a new standard operating procedure for inspection reports. The reports follow a standard template, are subject to peer and supervisory quality reviews, and generally are required to be completed within 60 days of the field inspection. On a quarterly basis, the Enforcement Division reviewed and evaluated compliance with the 60-day inspection report completion goal, addressed any issues, and improved the quality and timeliness of the inspection reports. The Enforcement Division participated in an audit of the division’s Quality Assurance Field Assessment Procedures (QAFAP) to ensure national consistency and adherence to division standard operating procedures for field activities.
    • The Region 9 Air Division completed five technical system audits (TSAs) of state, local, and tribal ambient air monitoring agencies. TSAs consist of an in-depth program review of all aspects of data collection, quality control/quality assurance, data validation, documentation, network design, and general program structure. All other monitoring agencies are on target for TSAs as required by regulation.
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 that 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.
 
  • Agency-wide
    • The cross-Agency Forum on Increasing Public Access to EPA Research, is currently in the process of implementing the “Plan to Increase Access to Results of EPA-Funded Scientific Research” (the Plan). The Plan was developed in response to the February 2013, White House memorandum, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research.” The memorandum directs Federal agencies that spend over $100 million on research and development annually to make all peer-reviewed, scientific research publications and the underlying data available to the public.Further information on activities of the Forum on Increasing Public Access to EPA Research can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/open/plan-increase-access-results-epa-funded-scientific-research    
  • Office of Research and Development (ORD)
    • ORD’s data, metadata, and publications were made publicly available in accordance with EPA’s Public Access Plan through ScienceHub.
  • Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP)
    • On June 22, 2017, EPA codified the Procedures for Prioritization of Chemicals for Risk Evaluation Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (Prioritization Rule) (https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/federal-register-notice-procedures-prioritization). The Prioritization Rule requires EPA to solicit public comments on chemicals once the process is underway, prior to proposing a designation, and after the proposed designation as either a high- or low-priority substance. EPA must also consider the public comments prior to issuing the Final Designation. The designation of chemicals as high-priority for further risk evaluation or low-priority is based on reasonably available information screened with respect to certain criteria such as hazard, exposure, conditions of use, persistence, and bioaccumulation, etc. The Risk Evaluation Rule requires all risk evaluations (both the scoping documents and draft risk assessments) to undergo public comment. Additionally, Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics (OPPT) released Guidance to assist interested persons in developing and submitting draft risk evaluations under the Toxic Substances Control Act (https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/guidance-assist-interested-persons-developing-and-0). TSCA also requires EPA to publish an annual report on the plan for risk evaluations at the beginning of each calendar year; the first of these was published in February 2017 (https://www.epa.gov/assessing-and-managing-chemicals-under-tsca/2017-annual-report-risk-evaluations). EPA’s highly acclaimed ChemView website makes chemical health and ecological hazard safety documents and data accessible in integrated formats for use by decisionmakers.
  • Region 3
    • Region 3’s Office of Communications and Government Relations (OCGR) played an integral role in communicating scientific information to the public. OCGR worked with the Region’s Divisions and Program Offices to inform the public that scientific reports and information were available, as well as significant public health-based decisions rooted in scientific research and findings. In 2017, OCGR worked closely with Region 3’s Hazardous Site Cleanup Division (HSCD), Water Protection Division (WPD), Land and Chemicals Division (LCD), as well as the offices and programs at EPA’s headquarters and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Through these partnerships, Region 3 can effectively communicate to numerous communities and the media about public health risks associated with the contaminants lead and perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in drinking water.
Peer Review and Federal Advisory Committees
Scientific integrity ensures the quality of scientific and technical products by promoting adherence to proper scientific procedures. In FY2017, EPA continued its efforts to promote peer review as an essential component of quality scientific research products.
 
  • Office of Research and Development (ORD)
    • NCEA utilized federal advisory committees for all high profile, influential assessments. Products that were not considered influential were externally peer reviewed by independent experts outside of EPA by using the Agency contract that was established to obtain external peer review of Agency products.
    • The National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC) conducted a thorough and transparent technical and peer review program for scientific products where reviewers from outside of the organization were sought and review comments and staff responses were documented.
    • The Office of Science Policy managed the Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), which was organized under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), and ensured that the BOSC’s processes strictly adhered to all FACA requirements. Nominations for the BOSC Executive Committee and subcommittees were sought in an open and transparent manner. Members were selected based on their expertise, knowledge, and contribution to the relevant area, while also ensuring a balanced and diverse committee. Reports produced by the BOSC were recognized as products of the Committee and were not revised by ORD.
  • Office of Water (OW)
    • Scientists in the Health and Ecological Division co-authored six papers in peer reviewed journals on topics related to nutrients and microbial pathogens.
  • Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP)
    • The Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (https://www.epa.gov/tsca-peer-review), a FACA committee, was chartered and panelists seated to provide independent scientific advice and recommendations to EPA under the authority of TSCA.
  • Region 2
    • The Region 2 Deputy Scientific Integrity Official announced in February that two Peer Review training modules were available on EPA’s e-Learning Portal: Peer Review at EPA: Essentials, a short course geared towards EPA managers, and Peer Review at EPA: Using the Agency handbook, geared towards peer review coordinators, project managers, and others involved in or supporting peer review processes at the Agency. Although the training is not mandatory, participation is highly encouraged and its availability is announced quarterly.
  • Region 3
    • Region 3’s The Chesapeake Bay Program Office (CBPO) supported multiple independent scientific peer reviews and scientific focused workshops through the Chesapeake Bay Program partnership's (Partnership) Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. These reviews and workshops followed EPA's Peer Review Policy and National Academy of Science's (NAS) program review guidelines. These peer reviews and technical workshops were designed to support the work of the Partnership on the 2017 Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Midpoint Assessment, the 2018 Jurisdictional development of their Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans, and other goals and outcomes of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
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 may include online courses, webinars, in-person workshops, or conferences. EPA provides several professional development opportunities for employees and encourages their participation in professional societies.
 
  • Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA)
    • NEIC provided legal and testimony training for its staff who may potentially testify. The legal and testimony training was performed by OCEFT’s Legal Counsel Division. Required NEIC staff completed OGE 450 reports to ensure that potential conflicts of interest were identified.
  • Office of Air and Radiation (OAR)
    • Professional development of OAR personnel, including scientists, was strongly encouraged and accomplished through internal webinars and other EPA-sponsored training, funded off-site training, and by supporting staff participation in scientific conferences and workshops.
  • Office of Water (OW)
    • The Office of Science and Technology (OST) encouraged technical staff to actively participate in professional development efforts such as co-authoring professional papers with ORD scientists titled “A Framework to Quantify the Strength of Ecological Links between an Environmental Stressor and Final Ecosystem Services” and “Diatoms to Human Uses: Linking Nitrogen Deposition, Aquatic Eutrophication, and Ecosystem Services.” Both papers were published in Ecosphere.
    • The Engineering and Analysis Division (EAD) staff in OST attended multiple technical conferences including Water Environment Federation’s Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC), the American Council of Independent Laboratories, PITTCON 2017 Conference and Symposium, the 2017 Water Quality Technology Conference, and the 2017 National Environmental Monitoring Conference.
  • Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM)
    • OLEM hosted national training events that provided over 50 courses and opportunities for remedial project managers and technical staff to interact and share information on new technologies.
  • Region 5
    • The Region 5 Science Council selected "science communication" as a high priority training need for FY2017. The Council used its annual training budget to sponsor science communication sessions in October 2016 and April 2017, each consisting of a plenary and a workshop, to allow the greatest possible number of regional managers and staff to participate. Participants learned techniques for presenting technical information clearly and in ways that meet the needs of various audiences including the public and the media.
  • Region 8
    • Region 8’s Professional Society Participation (PSP) Committee supported regional staff efforts to track and maintain professional society memberships and participation for career development. FY2017 highlights included designing the PSP elements of the regional science survey, outreach to training coordinators, programs to compile an inventory of PSP for regional staff, and work with the technical training committee to identify PSP training requirements.