Leading the Way in Scientific Integrity

David J. Hayes

by David J. Hayes
Deputy Secretary of the Interior

The Department of the Interior (DOI) has a unique role as one of the United States Government's leading creators and consumers of scientific data and research. Ensuring the integrity of scientific research and data relied upon by the Department is critical. Policymakers rely on this science to inform policy decisions. The public counts on DOI for trustworthy scientific data, research, and analysis related to everything from earthquakes and endangered species to the environmental impacts of human activities.

Two years ago, DOI led the way as the first Federal agency to formally respond to the President's call to “restore scientific integrity in government decision making” by establishing a Scientific and Scholarly Integrity Policy. The purpose of that policy: To set clear expectations for how scientific and scholarly information presented by DOI and/or considered in Departmental decisionmaking is handled and used.

In the 2 years since, DOI has continued to lead the way in ensuring that the Administration's public policy decisions are guided by the most accurate and objective scientific advice available and that science presented by DOI is credible, robust, and sound. The Department is committed to this in the following ways:

The DOI has designated a Scientific Integrity Officer (SIO) for every bureau, as well as a Departmental Scientific Integrity Officer to apply the policy and investigate complaints of scientific misconduct or loss of scientific integrity brought under the policy. The SIOs meet several times a year for training and to share best practices.

The DOI has implemented a formal mechanism to receive and assess allegations – whether by staff or by members of the public – about the integrity of science that the Department either created or upon which DOI policymakers relied. Investigations typically involve scientific analysis (at times involving outside experts), multiple fact-gathering interviews and extensive review of relevant documents.

By acting as ombudsman for scientific integrity in their bureaus and making themselves available for informal discussions about staff scientists' concerns, SIO's repeatedly have been able to proactively support scientists' interests in DOI, answer questions about the interface between science and policy, clarify the role of science, and address potential scientific conduct issues before they become contentious.

Because ensuring robust, high-quality science and scholarship is a key value of our agency, DOI has developed and is now beta-testing formal scientific integrity training for both DOI scientists and other Department staff whose work might overlap with the scientists' or involve the release or communication of scientific data or research. This training will be rolled out Department-wide over the next 6-12 months.

As a learning organization, DOI has continued to examine and refine how we ensure the integrity of the science that we create and rely upon. We are nearing completion of a thorough update to our Scientific and Scholarly Integrity Policy. The revised policy will incorporate lessons that our SIOs have learned from our 2 years of experience implementing it, as well as other internal and external feedback.

Finally, because we believe that transparency is critical to ensuring scientific integrity, DOI has created and maintains a content-rich scientific integrity website. Among other things, it provides contact information for all of the Department's Scientific Integrity Officers and contains a searchable database of closed scientific integrity cases.

We have undertaken all of these efforts with one goal in mind: To ensure that the public can trust not only the decisions DOI policymakers make, but also the science they rely on.