Suspended USDA researcher alleges agency tried to block his

Suspended USDA researcher alleges agency tried to block his

Postby admin » Fri Jan 15, 2016 9:43 pm

Suspended USDA researcher alleges agency tried to block his research into harmful effects of pesticides on bees, butterflies
By Steve Volk
October 28, 2015

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A prominent Agriculture Department scientist is alleging that he was suspended after complaining that the agency was blocking his research into the harmful effects of pesticides on pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.

Image
Jonathan Lundgren (USDA) Jonathan Lundgren (USDA)

In a whistleblower complaint filed Wednesday, Jonathan Lund­gren, an entomologist and 11-year veteran of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, says his supervisors retaliated against him by suspending him initially for 30 days before reducing it to 14 days.

The complaint, filed with the federal Merit Systems Protection Board, says his superiors began to “impede or deter his research and resultant publications” more than a year ago. Lundgren has also previously alleged that the agency tried to prevent him from speaking about his findings for political reasons and interfered with his ability to review the research of other scientists.

The trouble began after he published research and gave interviews about the effect that certain common pesticides were having on pollinators, according to a statement by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which filed the complaint on his behalf. The whistleblower complaint says that Lundgren’s “work showed the adverse effects of certain widely used pesticides, findings which have drawn national attention as well as the ire of the agricultural industry.”

Over the past decade, there have been dramatic declines in the population of honeybees, which play an essential role in pollinating about one-third of the food Americans eat.

Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for the Agricultural Research Service, declined to discuss the specifics of Lundgren’s case but said the agency is committed to maintaining scientific integrity.

“We take the integrity of our scientists seriously, and we recognize how critical that is to maintaining widespread confidence in our research among the scientific community, policymakers and the general public,” Bentley said in a statement.

In suspending Lundgren, PEER says USDA cited two infractions: He provided some of his research to a scientific journal without proper approval, and he violated official travel policies in connection with lectures he delivered in Philadelphia and Washington.

In his complaint and related documents released by PEER, Lundgren says the submission of the journal article — which concerned the non-target effects of clothianidin, a widely used nicotine-based pesticide, on monarch butterflies — was not inappropriate. He calls the travel violations an inadvertent paperwork error.

Lundgren has published work suggesting that soybean seeds pretreated with neonicotinoid pesticide produce no yield benefit to farmers, who pay extra for the seeds. He wrote a paper on the potential hazards of “gene silencing” pesticides, which he said require further study to determine whether they could harm other organisms. He also peer-reviewed a report published by the Center for Food Safety called “Heavy Costs,” which was critical of neonicotinoid pesticides for providing little to no benefit to farmers and adversely affecting bees.


Lundgren, a 2011 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, has given interviews on aspects of his research, including a widely distributed interview with Minnesota Public Radio, and spoke before the National Academy of Sciences. According to the complaint, his suspension was based in part on the paperwork associated with that trip.

“Having research published in prestigious journals and being invited to present before the National Academy of Sciences should be sources of official pride, not punishment,” PEER staff counsel Laura Dumais said. “Politics inside USDA have made entomology into a most dangerous discipline.”

The whistleblower filing culminates months of speculation about Lundgren in the small community of commercial beekeepers and researchers studying their decline. Earlier this year, Lundgren’s dispute with his superiors became evident in a scientific journal.

A paper published in Environmental Science & Policy, with the sole listed author Scott W. Fausti, includes the following footnote: “I would like to acknowledge Dr. Jonathan G. Lundgren’s contribution to this manuscript. Dr. Lund­gren is an entomologist employed by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). However, the ARS has required Dr. Lund­gren to remove his name as joint first author from this article. I believe this action raises a serious question concerning policy neutrality toward scientific inquiry.”

That paper suggests that the combination of federal mandates for corn ethanol production and the advent of genetically modified corn crops have produced a host of unintended adverse consequences, including rising environmental pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, stronger pest resistance and inflated corn prices.

Increasing pest resistance is of particular concern for beekeepers, whose bee populations have been declining at rates deemed “unsustainable” by Darren Cox, president of the American Honey Producers Association. Increased resistance creates a need for stronger pesticides, bringing potential harm to bees. “Beekeepers have been heavily involved in ensuring that all scientists are free to conduct unfettered research,” Cox says.

In the statement, ARS spokesman Bentley said: “As one of the world’s leading promoters of agriculture and natural resources science and research, USDA has implemented a strong scientific integrity policy to promote a culture of excellence and transparency. That includes procedures for staff to report any perceived interference with their work, seek resolution and receive protection from recourse for doing so.”

But Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said Lundgren’s whistleblower complaint adds to the debate about scientific freedom. He said USDA is essentially saying: “ ‘You can do whatever science you want, as long as it has no real-world applications.’ The rules allow for scientists to be silenced based on the content of their science.”

Volk is a freelance writer.
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Re: Suspended USDA researcher alleges agency tried to block

Postby admin » Fri Jan 15, 2016 9:59 pm

Whistleblower Retaliation Narrative
by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
2000 P Street, NW, Suite 240, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: (202) 265-PEER; Fax: (202) 265-4192
Email: info@peer.org; Web: http://www.peer.org

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Dr. Jonathan Lundgren, Senior Research Entomologist, USDA-ARS

Background


Dr. Lundgren is a Senior Research Entomologist GS-14 (Lead Scientist and Lab Supervisor) for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service (USDA-ARS). Dr. Lundgren’s cutting-edge research has drawn national attention for his findings that certain widely-used pesticides (neonicotinoid insecticides or "neonics") adversely affect pollinators, and that industrialized agriculture practices, such as the use of genetically modified crops, harm soils and beneficial insects. His research and numerous peer-reviewed publications have implications for the agribusiness industry that the USDA must often regulate.

He has worked for USDA ARS for eleven years with great success—until recently.

Summary

On August 3, 2015, the USDA imposed a 14-day suspension on Dr. Lundgren in a decision issued by Plains Area Associate Director Dr. John McMurtry. This was a reduction of the 30-day suspension originally proposed by Dr. Lundgren’s direct supervisor, Dr. Sharon Papiernik, on May 7, 2015. This reduction had the effect of denying Dr. Lundgren immediate access to the Merit Systems Protection Board as it fell one day short of the MSPB direct jurisdiction limits.

The suspension was imposed in connection with two events:

A. Submission of manuscript by Dr. Lundgren on the non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies to the scientific peer-reviewed journal The Science of Nature (DOI 10.1007/s00114-015-1270-y).

B. A paperwork error in Dr. Lundgren’s travel authorization for his invited presentation about his research to a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as to a USDA stakeholder group, the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance.

These actions were not justified, and the discipline was not proportionate to any perceived offense. In addition, the suspension constitutes retaliation for his protected disclosure: a formal scientific integrity complaint Dr. Lundgren submitted in September 2014 that detailed numerous ways USDA managers had abused their authority and improperly interfered with Dr. Lundgren’s research and professional activities in violation of Agency regulations.

Rebuttal of Charges

Submitting manuscript by Dr. Lundgren on the non-target effects of clothianidin on monarch butterflies to the scientific peer review journal The Science of Nature.

On December 20, 2014, Dr. Lundgren submitted to Dr. Papiernik a draft manuscript on a study that showed that clothianidin, a neonicotinoid seed treatment, kills monarch butterfly larvae in the laboratory.

The typical procedure for publications at ARS is as follows:

(1) The scientist submits the draft to his/her manager by email;

(2) The manager sometimes suggests revisions;

(3) Unless the manager flags the paper for additional scrutiny or specifically prohibits the scientist for submitting for publication until (s)he adopts all of the suggested revisions, the manager instructs the secretary to submit the paper into the ARIS system, and the scientist submits the paper to the journal for publication.


Typically, the scientist receives no confirmation of final approval or notice that the paper was entered into ARIS; this is presumed. In other words, if the manager’s response suggests revisions without any further caveats, this is typically a green light for the scientist to adopt appropriate suggestions and then submit the article for publication without further consultation.

On January 6, 2015, Dr. Papiernik sent Dr. Lundgren the following email, reproduced in its entirety:

From: Papiernik, Sharon
Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2015 11:56 AM
To: Lundgren, Jonathan
Cc: Coombes, Susan
Subject: RE: paper
Jon:
I am returning this paper to you for revision. Please see attached.
Sharon


Dr. Papiernik’s January 6 message in no way flagged the paper as containing sensitive information. Accordingly, Dr. Lundgren assumed that the paper had been approved and entered into the ARIS system, per normal agency practice, on January 6. He then, with minor changes, submitted the manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal, per standard procedure.

Dr. Lundgren followed due diligence, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary as this was the same procedure he had followed for nearly 100 peer-reviewed articles that he had submitted for publication as a USDA employee.


The proposed suspension is predicated upon "failure to follow instructions," but neither Dr. Papiernik’s email message nor her revisions contained any "instructions" requiring Dr. Lundgren to seek additional approval before submitting the manuscript, prohibiting him from submitting the article for publication, or stating that the topic addressed was sensitive.

Although on January 5, Dr. Papiernik had sent an email message regarding pollinator papers and the need for them to be "approved before they are submitted," Dr. Lundgren was under the impression from Dr. Papiernik’s January 6 email message that she had approved his paper for submission to journals.

While it was awaiting review, Dr. Lundgren solicited five additional peer reviews from experts in this area; all of these scientific experts signed off on the experimental rigor of the study and are cited in the acknowledgements. Ultimately, The Science of Nature accepted the paper on March 16 and published it on April 4.

On February 26, Dr. Papiernik came into Dr. Lundgren’s office visibly angry. She showed him a transcript of an interview that he had conducted with Minnesota Public Radio on the research, during which he had mentioned that the paper was "submitted." She asked whether he realized that the paper had not been approved in the ARIS system. Dr. Lundgren replied that he was under the impression that the paper had been approved based on their January correspondence. (Dr. Lundgren does not have access to the ARIS system itself; only managers or their secretaries enter papers into it.)

It was at this February 26 meeting—which, notably, occurred long after he had submitted the paper—when Dr. Papiernik first informed Dr. Lundgren that the manuscript was, in her opinion, "sensitive." They discussed the reasons why Dr. Lundgren did not see the research as "sensitive" and the vague nature of the term, but at no point did she instruct him to pull the paper from Science of Nature for publication.

In addition, this action further violates the USDA’s Scientific Integrity Policy as it is provoked by the content of his research, rather than the nature of the charged offenses.

Travel paperwork for the National Academy of Sciences and the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance research presentations.

Government scientists travel extremely frequently—often at the last minute depending on the timing of the stakeholder request—and need to fill out different documentation depending on the type of trip. Thus, travel paperwork glitches at USDA-ARS sometimes occur, and, for the sake of efficiency, USDA-ARS can and does approve travel paperwork after the fact, either during the scientist’s trip or after he/she has returned to the duty station.

Several current and former USDA-ARS employees can confirm this, including several whose contact information was provided to the deciding official. For example, in just the six weeks preceding this event, another ARS employee filed travel paperwork for a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa on the day of departure, and two other ARS scientists completely forgot to fill out paperwork for a recent trip to St. Cloud, Minnesota. Management did not deny travel or punish the scientists in any of these cases.

In fact, in eleven years with the USDA, Dr. Lundgren has never heard of a single colleague suspended or otherwise disciplined for submitting contributed travel paperwork on the day of travel or even forgetting to submit paperwork entirely.

Tellingly, Dr. Lundgren’s supervisors singled him out for severe punishment for this type of paperwork glitch despite the fact that (1) Dr. Lundgren’s error was entirely inadvertent and occurred during a particularly busy four-month period when he had given eight invited presentations, mostly with contributed travel, without issue and (2) the Agency pointed to no other instance in Dr. Lundgren’s career with the USDA where he had made an error in travel paperwork, nor does Dr. Lundgren know of any such instance.

Significantly, the Agency gave no substantive reason for denying his travel request (nor does Dr. Lundgren know of any reason why such a request would have been denied). The agency’s sudden bureaucratic severity with Dr. Lundgren starkly contrasts its established pattern of flexibility and accommodation of his colleagues, strongly suggesting an alternate motivation for the Agency’s apparent rancor: whistleblower retaliation. Moreover, the suspension stands in stark contrast to the agency’s long-standing practice of allowing after-the-fact correction of paperwork errors.

Finally, this unwarranted discipline represents a double punishment, as Dr. Lundgren was already forced to forfeit his pay and travel reimbursement for his trip because he was charged with Absent Without Leave (AWOL), even though he was presenting research on behalf of USDA at two conferences to which he was invited by stakeholders. Now, ARS is re-punishing him for the same conduct through this suspension.

Protected Whistleblower Disclosures

Dr. Lundgren’s principal protected disclosure was the formal scientific integrity complaint he filed on September 12, 2014 with the Scientific Integrity Officers for ARS and USDA in response to escalating harassment and interference with his research. It detailed numerous serious alleged violations of USDA’s Scientific Integrity Policy (issued by Secretary Vilsack as Departmental Regulation [DR] 1074-001 on May 10, 2013) concerning repeated attempts by ARS managers to impede or deter his research and resultant publications.

This complaint documented clear violations of this departmental policy and abuses of authority by managers named in the complaint and constitutes a protected disclosure under the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Dr. Lundgren filed his scientific integrity complaint with Gita N. Ramaswamy, USDA SIO (later given to Bill Hoffman, USDA-OSEC) and Kay Simmons, USDA-ARS ASIO. ARS investigated the complaint and, in the process, informed the subjects of the disclosure about the complaint.

Retaliatory motivation may be inferred from a variety of factors, including proximity in time between the employee’s action and the adverse employment action, inconsistencies between the proffered reason and other actions of the employer, disparate treatment of certain employees compared to other employees with similar work records. In this case, a variety of factors provide circumstantial evidence of retaliatory motive.

Proximity in time.

First is the proximity in time between the disclosure (September 2014) and the retaliation (May 2015 proposed suspension, August 2015 final suspension decision). Eight to eleven months is well within the range of time between a disclosure and a personnel action from which an inference of causation arises.

Exaggerated nature of the charges and the punishment.

The charges sustained in the 14-day suspension are patently exaggerated, and the punishment is disproportionate to the alleged wrongdoing. Dr. McMurtry fails to consider the larger context of the incident, including USDA’s typical practices with regard to paperwork glitches as explained above as well as the practical implications of this particular glitch. Dr. Lundgren only realized the error on the day he was to travel, with an extremely prominent organization—the National Academy of Science—and hundreds of stakeholders expecting him to appear.

The exaggerated nature of the charges is similarly apparent from two other important factors that Dr. McMurtry failed to consider: the instruction itself and the weather. Dr. Papiernik’s initial text message stated, "You must return to your duty station at the earliest possible time." When Dr. Lundgren looked into travel options and informed her that blizzard conditions would make immediate travel impossible, she responded, "We understand the weather issues" and instructed him to return "ASAP." Nonetheless, in the proposed suspension Dr. Papiernik inaccurately characterized her instruction as one to return "on March 2." Severe winter weather made it impossible for Dr. Lundgren to return immediately. Thousands of flights were cancelled on March 2 and throughout the week due to heavy weather affecting the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

Even had Dr. Lundgren been able to secure a flight early that week, because of severe weather impacting road conditions in South Dakota, it would not have been safe for Dr. Lundgren to drive the roughly sixty miles from the airport back to his home and duty station in Brookings. His attempts to fly home on Thursday, March 5, as well as on Friday, March 6, were thwarted by circumstances beyond his control (an issue with the plane and a booking error respectively). Bearing all of this in mind, there is nothing in the facts of this matter that suggests Dr. Lundgren did not comply with the request to return as soon as possible.

Regarding the punishment, a 14-day suspension without pay is a serious disciplinary action that will impact Dr. Lundgren’s personnel file, harm his reputation, and cost over $4,500 in lost base pay, not including related impacts to retirement contributions and leave accrual. Given that other colleagues have consistently experienced no repercussions for common human errors of the same nature, this punishment is clearly exaggerated and disproportionate to the wrongdoing, suggestive of retaliatory motive.

The proximity in time, the exaggerated charges and disproportionate nature of the punishment, the inconsistency with the treatment of other employees, and Dr. Lundgren’s assertions of misconduct by ARS management all provide strong evidence of retaliatory motive in proposing and imposing this suspension.
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Re: Suspended USDA researcher alleges agency tried to block

Postby admin » Fri Jan 15, 2016 10:18 pm

Complaint of Violations of USDA Scientific Integrity Policy
by Dr. Jonathan Lundgren
September 12, 2014

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TO: Gita N. Ramaswamy,USDA SIO
Kay Simmons, USDA-ARD SIO

FROM: Dr. Jonathan Lundgren

RE: Complaint of Violations of USDA Scientific Integrity Policy

DATE: September 12, 2014

I am making this formal complaint as specified in Section 6 of the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy Handbook. This complaint specifies the Scientific Integrity Policy provisions which have been violated, names the responsible officials, lists witnesses, describes the violations and requests appropriate relief.

I. Authority: Sections of USDA Scientific Integrity Policy (DR 1074-001) Violated:

A. Culture of Scientific Integrity


1. Pursuant to the Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity dated March 9, 2009, and complying with applicable statutes, regulations, trade agreements, and/or international protocols, Executive Orders, or Presidential Memoranda, the policy of the Department is to:

a. Promote a culture of scientific integrity….

2. CODE OF SCIENTIFIC ETHICS

• I will not willfully hinder the research of others…

B. Honest Communication about Scientific Findings

e. Support scientific integrity in the communication of scientific findings and products, including to:

(1) Encourage…USDA scientists to participate in communications with the media regarding their scientific findings…

(2) Ensure that scientists may communicate their findings without political interference or inappropriate influence, while at the same time complying with USDA policies and procedures for planning and conducting scientific activities, reporting scientific findings, and reviewing and releasing scientific products.

C. Participation in Peer Review

f. Encourage USDA scientists, engineers, and analysts to interact with the broader scientific community, in a manner that is consistent with Federal rules of ethics, job responsibilities, and existing agency policies, including:

(1) Encouraging publication of research findings in peer-reviewed, professional, or scholarly journals…

II. Officials Guilty of Scientific Integrity Violations

A. Officials Who Improperly Interfered, Harassed or Retaliated

1. Sharon Papiernik, Supervisory Research Soil Scientist, North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory, USDA-ARS

2. Mickey McGuire, Assistant Area Director, Northern Plains Area, USDA-ARS

3. Larry Chandler, Area Director, Western Business Center, USDA-ARS


B. Witnesses to Behavior Described Herein

In addition to those individuals named in the specifications contained in Section IV (below), the following persons can verify the matters discussed below:

[DELETED]

III. Scientific Integrity Activities Which Triggered Reprisal

Two recent activities explicitly sanctioned by the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy have triggered an official campaign of harassment, hindrance and retaliation:

A. Approved Media Interviews Regarding Research Papers Focused on RNAi and Neonicotinoids (Neonics)

Both in the US and abroad I am considered an expert on the risk assessments of pesticides and genetically modified crops+. RNAi is a new form of genetically modified crops quickly approaching commercialization. With a coauthor, I published an article that appeared in the peer reviewed journal Bioscience in 2013 that discusses some of the risks that this technology poses to non-target organisms. In 2011, I published a peer-reviewed manuscript in Journal of Pest Science that documented a lack of efficacy of neonicotinoid insecticidal seed treatments in soybeans and the adverse effects of these toxins to non-target predators. Although both of these papers were heavily scrutinized by line management and National Program Staff of the USDA-ARS, all of this work was published with ARS approval.

On December 20th 2013, I was interviewed by NPR Harvest Public Media about risks of RNAi. I spoke with the reporter about the Bioscience article.

Following ARS Policies and Procedures, I informed Larry Chandler about a press interview that I did with the Boulder Weekly about risks of RNAi (March 27, 2014), which he identified as a sensitive issue in December. The same week, a newspaper article came out in the Minneapolis Star Tribune presenting an interview with me about neonicotinoid risks to non-target species.

B. Service as an External Peer Reviewer on Neonicotinoid Insecticides

In March, I served as an external reviewer for a report that was prepared by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) ("Heavy Costs"). This report was critical of the overuse of these insecticides, and cited scientific literature and expert commentary (of which I was one) to support claims that neonicotinoids had questionable economic value for farmers. I was listed as an external reviewer of that report due to my expertise on this topic. The report was released in late March 2014.

IV. Improper Reprisal, Interference and Hindrance

Within one week of these late-March press interviews and the release of the CFS study, improper reprisal, interference and hindrance of my research and career began in earnest. The following actions were taken in connection with the activities listed above which are specifically encouraged or protected by the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy:

A. Restraint on Further Media Contact

The December NPR interview was publicized nationally, and ARS information staff used social media to disseminate their interpretation of my responses to questions during the interview; their interpretations not 100% accurate. Larry Chandler and Sharon Papiernik explained that somebody in the agency hierarchy had seen the tweet and questioned why I was being allowed to criticize the regulation of this technology. I explained that I was simply talking about the agency approved Bioscience article, and he urged me not to speak to the press anymore, and said I should get approval from line management and information staff before any more press conversations.

On April 10th, 2014, I contacted the director of information technology who related to me a rumor that Secretary Vilsack wanted to run for President, and therefore did not want to public disruption in the agency. While I was not strictly forbidden from further media contact on these subjects, it would be appreciated if I ceased media interactions on these topics.

B. "Misconduct" Investigation

On April 2nd, 2014, Sharon Papiernik came into my office and told me that there were allegations of misconduct against me, and that she was not at liberty to discuss the matter any further or what the allegations were. Human Resources would be contacting me.

This initiated five months of a wide-ranging and needlessly disruptive "investigation" which was utter hell for me and my laboratory group. The process overlooked both USDA-ARS and Federal Policies and Procedures [see Attachment I], coerced and intimidated me and my laboratory group, led to their physical, mental and emotional illness, disrupted research plans and derailed my career trajectory.

Given the timing and unspecific but insistent nature of this investigation, it is clear that the motivation for it is associated with my talking to the press about pesticide risks.

C. Research Disruption

Five of my eight term employees have had their employment threatened, hampered, or were dismissed unexpectedly since March 2014. I have never had problems of this nature or to this extent as I have since talking with the press in late March. See Attachment II for details of these actions.

D. Professional Interference

After late March, it appeared that most formerly routine approval from management was either denied or made needlessly complicated, sending a clear signal that I was in official disfavor:

Specification 1.

On March 24th, Sharon Papiernik came into my office about a weed management proposal I was trying to submit. She informed me that she questioned my ability to conduct the research and the validity of the budget. The irony is that this proposal had been submitted in 2013 with no objections at all, and the budget had not changed. She allowed the proposal to be submitted a couple of days after she raised this initial objection, but by this time the stress of having the proposal blocked had occurred.

On April 14th, I received an e-mail from Dr. Chandler regarding the proposal. One of the Co-PIs at a university hadn’t gotten his paperwork done on time, although my colleague gave me approval to submit the proposal. Chandler explained that this was my mistake, and that I would have to retract the proposal until all of the paperwork could be completed. Then I [would] be able to resubmit the proposal. I was on travel at the time, and he knew how difficult and disruptive this would be. Ultimately, I spoke with the colleague, who cleared things up and was shocked that I would have to retract the proposal over such a small oversight. The proposal went in. These events were designed to add unnecessary stress to an already time-consuming and stressful procedure (submitting a grant that will be blocked takes a lot of time and effort from the PI). Threatening the risk of soliciting funding to support and protect my supervisees is understandably traumatic.

Specification 2.

At our unit, our ARS e-mail accounts are not able to be checked remotely except on an ARS-approved laptop computer. I began using a gmail account as a way to be reached during the October 2013 furlough and during travel because it is so transportable (I can check in on my phone). This is a common practice for professional scientists. Larry Chandler insisted on April 14th that I abandon this gmail account, always making sure that I have access to my ARS account, even when travelling. I would repeatedly receive recurring grief for several months over using a gmail account to occasionally conduct non-sensitive government business.

Specification 3.

In early 2014, I was invited to keynote at the Colombian Entomological Society annual meeting in Cali Colombia, and they offered to pay my travel costs for July. After reviewing the documentation that I provided to support my travel request, on April 25 Dr. Mickey McGuire told me that the Colombia travel was going to be denied because it looked like I requested the Colombians to cover my travel, instead of letting them offer it to me. I explained that this was not the case, but he told me that unless I could find an existing e-mail that explained to the Colombians that I cannot attend because I don’t have travel funding, that the travel would be denied. Even if the Colombians offered me a new letter of invitation. He was accusing me of breaking the ethics rules of the agency.

After an hour or two of going through my e-mail boxes, I found the missing e-mail, and he was forced to approve the travel. This added hassle and strife to what should be a routine request to do my job.

Specification 4.

On March 7, 2014, my leadership in risk assessment of RNAi-based pesticides, I was invited to give a presentation on the non-target effects of RNAi-based pesticides to the European Food Safety Authority. I got the paperwork in to the secretary to enter in to the system on March 9th. The trip required 5 travel days (2 to get there, 2 workshop days, and 1 to get home). I also wanted to take 4 days of annual leave associated with the trip. I would leave for Belgium June 2, and would arrive home June 12. I rarely take vacations, and my wife and I were going to take a few days off and tour a bit after the meeting.

EFSA wanted to book the travel (all expenses paid during the meeting) by the end of March, so I gave them these dates. Management dragged their feet and did not get the travel entered into the system until April 20th (or thereabouts), and Mickey McGuire (Assistant Area Director) got back to me on April 25th to tell me that I had to come home on the 10th, contending that I would be taking too much annual leave.

On May 5th, I explained the travel fiasco, and offered to use Leave Without Pay on those last few days. Mr. McGuire said that I put them in a difficult position, but that he would let it go this time as long as I never did it again.

He also said that this was a very sensitive research topic and that I was not allowed to express any opinions on the matter- just data. He said that the slides from my presentation would have to be approved by approximately 7-8 administrators, none of whom have any expertise with risks of RNAi. Therefore, my presentation would have to be completed 7 days in advance of the meeting; a few days before the deadline he advanced the deadline to 10 days before the meeting. In nearly 10 years with the agency, I [have ] never been required to have my slides approved before a meeting. The stress and added work associated with trying [to] figure out how to navigate their unpredictable hurdles makes going on travel to talk about my research a burden. I have never previously been denied travel for such reasons.

Specification 5.

As ARS scientists, we have to plan our research for review every 5 years. On June 16th, National Program Staff removed my research objective pertaining to risk assessment of pesticides. It was explained that I would still be able to work on this topic, but that it would not be declared in the project plan.

This was a subtle but effective way for National Program Staff to prevent or punish scientists for doing undeclared research on sensitive topics. In the prior 10 years, I had never previously experienced rewriting of CRIS objectives by program staff to specifically exclude my ability to work on risk assessment of pesticides.

Specification 6.

On August 28th, I received an e-mail from Sharon Papiernik chastising me for "accepting" the NAPPC (North American Pollinator Protection Campaign) check for $1000 travel funds to attend their annual meeting back in March (they mailed it to me unsolicited. I did not "accept" anything). She instructed me to send the check back, request permission to travel, and then have them reissue the check, if approved. This adds stress to the situation, additional time for both NAPPC and my schedules, and makes me and USDA-ARS look extremely unprofessional.

Added Consequence of Cumulative Low-Level Harassment

Apart from the personal stress, these actions negatively affected my career trajectory. On April 18th, I stepped down as Lead Scientist of the NP304 (pest management) CRIS project for our facility. This position was influential to my career and future promotion as well as influential in shaping the direction of research at the laboratory. It was a difficult decision, but I could not accept the impending additional workload with the tremendous pressures I was receiving from HR/PALS and line management over the misconduct and reprimand, all while managing one of the most successful research programs in the Agency. I cited "personal reasons" for why I stepped down.

D. Letter of Reprimand

Within one week of speaking to the press in late March (see above), steps were initiated to put a letter of reprimand on my personnel record for 2 years. I was reprimanded for not following instructions and having my personal computer connected to the internet at work in violation of an IT policy that they decided to start enforcing.

Significantly, only a few months prior, many of my employees were required to have their personal computers connected to the internet at work. At the time, I did not dispute this reprimand because I vainly hoped that if I keep my head down, that the increasing aggression would dissipate.

The unwillingness of line management to recognize that there is a problem with computer access and then discuss the problem rationally suggests that this reprimand is motivated by other factors; the close occurrence to my management-prohibited interactions with the press on pesticide risks strongly indicates the real motivation for the reprimand. As detailed in Attachment III, the reprimand was unwarranted, inconsistent with widespread agency practice and obviously intended to harass.

On the same day I was issued the reprimand, I was told about the misconduct investigation.

E. Conduct Unbecoming Charge—Proposed Suspension

After more than 3 weeks into this investigation, I was officially informed I was its sole subject, and that the topic of the investigation was inappropriate comments made in the workplace.

Most of the examples were from more than 8 months prior and had been self-corrected; no one had complained to me or anyone in my research group that jokes within my research group were offensive in any way. It was normal behavior for my laboratory (10 years running) and every other lab group in the building. Management decided suddenly that jocular humor among friends in the workplace was classified as misconduct and that I alone should be suspended for prior offenses.

The charge now pending against me is "Conduct Unbecoming a Federal Employee", and I am specifically accused of "Displaying discourteous conduct or disrespect to a coworker, another federal employee, or a member of the public when acting in an official capacity." My responses to the five cited instances (see Attachment IV), and letters of support from my laboratory group (see Attachment V), clearly show that my actions are not an example of the specifically cited prohibited activity.

Significantly, the recent reprimand was used as the basis for stiffening the penalty for this latest proposed discipline to a seven-day suspension without pay. My annual performance appraisals have consistently been "Superior" and "Outstanding", and these are the first personnel actions that I have ever received in 9.5 years of service.

Conclusion

Since late March, I have been subjected to a sudden but escalating pattern of impediments and disruption of my scientific work, restraints on my ability to communicate with scientific colleagues, as well as the media and a growing professional toll that is making further scientific work in ARS untenable.

This abrupt onset of actions undoubtedly appears to have been prompted by the scientific activities that are supposed to be specifically safeguarded and encouraged under the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy.

V. Relief

To remedy the above-described breaches in the USDA Scientific integrity Policy, I request that:

1. My record be cleared of all references to the prior reprimand and the pending seven-day suspension and that any other negative references inserted in my personnel file.

2. The responsible officials be appropriately disciplined for these violations of USDA policy.

3. Remove these responsible officials from my chain-of-command. Alternately, transfer myself, my research team, and all of my extramural agreements to a mutually agreed upon university program. If this latter option is selected, the transfer would be made under the terms of an Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement for the maximum four year period.

4. I receive 250 hours of personal leave (or the cash equivalent) to compensate for the amount of overtime I have had to put into handling/responding to the harassing tactics detailed above.
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