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Environment
10:46 am
Mon August 13, 2012

Feds Conclude Probe Of Polar Bear Scientists

Originally published on Mon August 13, 2012 11:46 am

A federal investigation into two researchers who wrote a famous report on drowned polar bears is finally over, according to their lawyer.

But the scientists still haven't been allowed to see a copy of the investigation report or its conclusions, says attorney Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Critics have charged that the two-year investigation was a witch hunt into researchers whose work had political implications.

Charles Monnett and Jeffrey Gleason are two wildlife biologists with the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Back in 2004, while flying over the Arctic to do a routine survey of whales, they saw polar bears that had apparently drowned.

Their report on the dead bears became a potent symbol of the threat of climate change and melting ice. Al Gore mentioned the drowned bears in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

But in March 2010, the Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General received what it called "credible allegations" that "acts of scientific misconduct may have been committed by one or more DOI employees." Federal investigators repeatedly interviewed the researchers. Many of their questions centered on the observations of the dead bears and how the report was written.

At one point, the investigation veered into questions about whether Monnett had followed rules about managing government contracts. He was placed on administrative leave, then later re-instated but relieved of his grant-management responsibilities. His lawyer says he did nothing improper.

Ruch says the final report on the investigation's findings was submitted to BOEM on June 27 and that it recommends that the agency take some sort of administrative action. It's not clear whether that means disciplinary actions against the scientists or simply some changes in agency procedures. Ruch has requested to see the report, but the Office of Inspector General responded that it is still in "open" and unreleased status until BOEM responds.

A spokesperson for BOEM contacted by NPR said the agency does not comment on personnel matters.

Ruch says the inspector general's office has asked BOEM to make a decision within 90 days, but the agency could potentially ask for an extension or choose not to respond at all.

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