Annual Activities 2017
The annual activities described in this section provided ongoing support for the evolving scientific integrity activities at EPA.
The Scientific Integrity Committee
The Scientific Integrity Policy established a Scientific Integrity Committee, chaired by the Scientific Integrity Official (ScIO). The Committee meets quarterly and consists of senior program office and regional officials who are designated as Deputy Scientific Integrity Officials (DScIOs). They provide leadership for the Agency on scientific integrity, jointly assist in the implementation of the Policy, and promote Agency compliance with the Policy. The ScIO regularly communicates with Committee members to discuss potential approaches to emerging issues and work together to resolve allegations. The participation of the Committee ensures that a variety of experiences and viewpoints are considered. The members, their offices, and email addresses are listed here.
Annual Conversation with the Scientific Integrity Official
The Annual Conversation with the ScIO provides an opportunity for EPA employees to learn about scientific integrity at EPA and ask questions. The Backup to the ScIO, Dr. Kevin Teichman, presented to a live audience at Headquarters and to the rest of the Agency through a well-attended webinar in September 2017. In response to the record-high attendance, Dr. Vincent Cogliano, the Deputy to the Scientific Integrity Official, presented an encore of the Annual Conversation on Scientific Integrity, which included increased phoneline capacity. These conversations improved the visibility of the Scientific Integrity Policy and increased awareness among EPA employees. The sessions emphasized the broad applications of the Policy across EPA and encouraged employees to recognize and bring forward any concerns that they might have.
The annual stakeholder meeting is an opportunity for stakeholders to hear from the ScIO and to comment on, or ask questions about, Scientific Integrity at the Agency. In 2017, the Scientific Integrity Program initially sent invitations for the stakeholder meeting in the same manner as it had in previous years. The Union of Concerned Scientists provided the names of non-governmental organizations and the American Chemistry Council invited regulated industry. EPA also sent invitations directly to groups representing state government and the regulated community. However, the meeting was later cancelled because the ScIO was on extended medical leave and unavailable.
Contractor-Managed Peer Review
EPA strengthened the Agency’s oversight of contractor-led peer review panels in FY2013 by developing a Conflict-of-Interest Review Process for Contractor-Managed Peer Reviews. This process includes two opportunities for public involvement for identifying and selecting panel members. The process is designed to enhance the transparency of contractor-led peer reviews, increase internal oversight of these peer reviews, and reduce the potential for organizational or personal conflict-of-interest concerns through greater public participation and more rigorous internal review. The Conflict-of-Interest Peer Review Process for Contractor-Managed Peer Reviews was used twice in FY2017.
Quarterly Coordination Meetings with the Office of Inspector General and the Office of General Counsel
The ScIO maintains regular communication with both the Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the Office of General Counsel (OGC) through quarterly meetings. During these meetings, the status of current allegations of a loss of scientific integrity under review and the anticipated courses of action are discussed. Information that could identify the submitter of the allegation is only shared on a need-to-know basis. Coordination between these offices exemplifies the Agency-wide nature of the Scientific Integrity Policy implementation.
The handling of scientific misconduct, which includes fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or misrepresentation in proposing, performing, or reviewing scientific or research activities, is governed by EPA’s Scientific Misconduct Policy and is overseen by the OIG. In FY2017, six allegations were received through the OIG hotline and referred to the ScIO. Also in FY2017, the ScIO referred three allegations (two that concerned suppressing/delaying a report or information and one that related to a conflict of interest) to the OIG.
Promoting a Culture of Scientific Integrity Online
In FY2017, the scientific integrity home page on the intranet was visited 1,138 times. This nearly doubled the 611 hits in FY2016. The Policies section was the most visited on the intranet. This page received 414 views in FY2017, a significant increase from 135 in FY2016. In FY2017, 340 learned about scientific integrity by visiting the What is Scientific Integrity page on EPA’s intranet site. The number of visits in FY2017 to this page more than tripled from FY2016. Interest in learning more about the best practices for authorship also climbed in FY2017 with 227 visits. This was an increase of 78 from FY16. On the internet, the scientific integrity section on EPA.gov was accessed 8,184 times. This was a significant increase from the 2,371 visits in the previous fiscal year.
Certifying Compliance with the Scientific Integrity Policy
The Federal Managers Financial Integrity Act requires that federal agencies assess the effectiveness of programmatic and financial internal controls. EPA Assistant Administrators (AAs) and Regional Administrators (RAs) must certify that their programs comply each year through an assurance letter to the EPA Administrator, who delivers an overall statement of assurance to the President and Congress. FY2017 marked the fourth year that AAs and RAs were required to submit an attachment certifying internal controls for scientific integrity. Based on the requirements that are outlined in the Scientific Integrity Policy, programs, offices, and regions were asked to report their accomplishments, potential weaknesses, and overall progress in implementing the Agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy.
The FY2017 FMFIA process provided a structured assessment of EPA’s scientific integrity activities across the Agency. On behalf of their offices, programs, or regions, respondents highlighted their accomplishments, showcased their innovations in the culture of scientific integrity, detailed problems or challenges related to scientific integrity, provided issues that they would like for the Scientific Integrity Committee to address, and discussed any vulnerabilities or weaknesses related to scientific integrity within their organizations or within the Agency.