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DOE beefs up scientific integrity policy

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced a new scientific integrity policy designed to protect the research and independence of its scientists and to promote the sharing of scientific information with the public.

Issued on Jan. 12, the memorandum is intended to safeguard a culture of scientific integrity and strengthen "the actual and perceived credibility of the Federal Government and Federal Government sponsored research," the DOE said. It also will enable the free flow of scientific and technical information aligned with privacy and classification standards and laws, regulations and DOE orders and policies, the agency said.

The policy, released days before the confirmation hearing for former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Donald Trump's nominee to head the DOE, builds on a 2009 memorandum issued by President Obama on scientific integrity and a related 2010 memorandum from the Office of Science and Technology Policy. It applies to all federal staff, including the heads of departments, political appointees, federal staff working at the National Nuclear Security Administration and any other personnel dealing with scientific information.

"Given the importance to the nation of the DOE's research portfolio and the breadth of responsibility DOE bears for the Nation's continuing progress in science and technology, DOE is obliged to uphold the highest standards in the sponsorship, management, and conduct of research," the new document stated. "Among these standards is the core value of scientific integrity."

No suppression, intimidation, or coercion

The policy also stated that under "no circumstance may anyone, including a public affairs officer, ask or direct any researcher to alter the record of scientific findings or conclusions," the policy said. "Covered personnel will not suppress or alter scientific or technological findings, or intimidate or coerce any covered personnel, contractors, or others to alter or censor scientific or technological findings or conclusions."

In December 2016, the DOE refused to release the names of employees who have worked on climate change initiatives with the Obama administration, as requested by President-elect Donald Trump. Energy Department spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder confirmed in an email Dec. 13 that the agency will not be "turning over any individual names" to Trump's transition team, but will be "forthcoming with all publicly available information."

Trump's team, in a leaked memo Dec. 9, had asked the Energy Department to draw up a list of employees who worked on President Barack Obama's climate policies. Specifically, the transition team asked for a list of employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate meetings and those who helped to create the U.S. EPA's social cost of carbon metrics, which are used in federal regulations to estimate the damaging consequences of greenhouse gas emissions. The Trump advisers also asked "which programs within DOE are essential to meeting the goals of President Obama's Climate Action Plan."

Burnham-Snyder said the Energy Department received significant feedback from its workforce throughout the agency, including its National Laboratories, after the team's questions were released, some of which left many of the workers there "unsettled."

Outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in an online post that the new standard would preserve the independence of the scientific process for "decades to come."

"Scientists must be free to discover and state the facts," Moniz said. "Our new scientific integrity policy helps ensure that."