December 6, 2016
Today, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held an oversight hearing to examine decades of data manipulation at the United States Geological Survey (USGS), generally recognized as a preeminent scientific organization of the federal government.
The Department of the Interior Inspector General and a Scientific Integrity Review Panel both found a chronic pattern of scientific misconduct dating back to 1996 at the Inorganic Section of the USGS Energy Resources Program Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colorado. These pervasive problems damaged the lab’s credibility and resulted in its permanent closure in 2016.
“More than the millions of dollars in lost projects, the USGS has sustained a black eye that may not quickly heal. As much as I’d like to dismiss this issue, I simply cannot. As the facts come out, it seems to just open up more questions,” Subcommittee Chairman Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said.
Despite audits and internal investigations, the overall impact and the rationale behind the data manipulation are not known and USGS Deputy Director William Werkheiser could not provide any further insight.
“When you’ve got decades of falsified, manipulated data, we all recognize it’s inexcusable. It’s phenomenal that something like that can take place for so long and not be checked,” Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA) stated.
One of the chemists who intentionally manipulated data was recognized for their 30 years of service this year. Performance reviews, information on any disciplinary action and other records requested in September by the Committee have not yet been shared, but Mr. Werkheiser committed to a two week timeline to finally provide these documents to the Committee.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) was left “at a loss for words” when he asked if “any data derived from the lab during this period affect[ed] any federal or state regulations? If you don’t know what projects were done, obviously there’s no way to determine if the research affected any state or federal regulations.”
“I cannot address that with any certainty. That is true,” Werkheiser responded.
In addition to intentional data manipulation, an investigation of the lab found “overall toxic work conditions” and reports of harassment provided by “junior female staff.” Mr. Werkheiser admitted to management failures within USGS.
“It sounds like there is a lot more work that needs to be done,” Gohmert said.
“I would certainly agree,” Werkheiser answered.
Click here to view full witness testimony.