Former employee settles scuffle with agency over firing complaint

December 4, 2012 | By | Add a Comment


Former employee settles scuffle with agency over firing complaint

Emily Yehle, E&E reporter

Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A former scientific integrity officer has come to an agreement with the Interior Department over his allegation that the agency fired him for pointing out political spin.

Paul Houser, a hydrometeorologist, joined the Bureau of Reclamation in April 2011. He was fired less than a year later, prompting his complaint accusing the agency of retribution over his criticism of a 2011 news release on the removal of Klamath River Basin dams (Greenwire, Aug. 8).

The dams — located along the California-Oregon line — are poised for removal as part of a multiparty settlement that aims to put to rest a years-long debate over how best to manage water in the basin. Houser said that in its eagerness to approve the settlement, Interior misrepresented the science, including painting an overly rosy picture of how the removal of the dams would affect salmon.

Those allegations still stand in a pending scientific integrity complaint. But Houser has settled his complaint over his firing, according to a joint statement from the Bureau of Reclamation and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“Dr. Houser and the Bureau of Reclamation have jointly agreed to resolve his complaint filed under the Whistleblower Protection Act through the U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s Alternative Dispute Mediation Program to the mutual satisfaction and the best interest of both parties,” they said.

PEER is legally representing Houser, and Executive Director Jeff Ruch said today that the group cannot comment on the details of the agreement. But he added that PEER believes it is the first resolution of a whistle-blower complaint that claimed a violation of Interior’s new scientific integrity policy.

Now the group is waiting for Interior to investigate Houser’s scientific integrity complaint, which accuses the agency of misrepresenting research in a summary of the “key conclusions” of a draft environmental impact statement. For example, the summary projects an 81.4 percent recovery of chinook salmon after the dams’ removal without mentioning that such a result depends on a number of contingencies such as reduction in disease and improved water quality.

Ruch said the agency has hired a consultant to work on the case but has not moved beyond that.

In the meantime, Interior is waiting on Congress to approve the settlement for the basin. Until it does, Interior cannot make a “secretarial determination” on whether to remove the dams or require PacifiCorp to continue its application for a new hydropower license.

Filed in: Klamath

Dr. Paul R. Houser

About the Author (Author Profile)

Dr. Houser in an internationally recognized expert in local to global land surface-atmospheric remote sensing, in-situ observation and numerical simulation, development and application of hydrologic data assimilation methods, scientific integrity and policy, and global water and energy cycling. He received his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Hydrology and Water Resources from the University of Arizona in 1992 and 1996 respectively. Dr. Houser's previous experience includes internships at the U.S. Geological Survey and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dr. Houser joined the NASA-GSFC Hydrological Sciences Branch and the Data Assimilation Office (DAO/GMAO) in 1997, served as manager of NASA’s Land Surface Hydrology Program, and served as branch head of the Hydrological Science Branch. In 2005, he joined the George Mason University Climate Dynamics Program and the Geography and Geoinformation Sciences Department as Professor of Global Hydrology, and formed CREW (the Center for Research for Environment and Water). Dr. Houser has also teamed with groundwater development and exploration companies (EarthWater Global and Geovesi) and has served as Science Advisor to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Dr. Houser has led numerous scientific contributions, including the development of Land Data Assimilation Systems (LDAS), the Hydrospheric States Mission (Hydros/SMAP), the Land Information System (LIS), the NASA Energy and Water cycle Study (NEWS), and the Water Cycle Solutions Network (WaterNet).

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