U.S. Congress investigating misconduct at Colorado geochem lab

usgs-1A U.S. Congressional subcommittee is investigating two cases of fraud affecting one Colorado lab run by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The misconduct occurred in two separate cases, taking place between 1998 and 2014. We covered the most recent incident, in which a chemist doctored data in up to 24 projects supported by more than $100 million in federal funding.

A letter from the Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to USGS director Suzette Kimball details another incident that took place in the Energy Resources Program (ERP) Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, Colorado, in which another worker manipulated data for more than a decade.

The letter notes that, although the incidents were reviewed by the Department of the Interior (DOI) Scientific Integrity Review Panel and its Office of Inspector General (OIG):

…the findings of the OIG and the DOI Scientific Integrity Review Panel remain extremely troubling. In both of the briefings to the Subcommittee the USGS briefers could not assess the entirety of the damage attributable to the intentional, chronic scientific data manipulation with requisite specificity.

The subcommittee has thus requested the USGS submit a series of documents by October 7, such as the people in charge of data during the period of misconduct, the personnel actions taken as a result, and multiple other requests — 30 in total.

A USGS spokesperson told us:

The USGS has been working with the Subcommittee and will be cooperating in every manner possible. We have begun the document search process and are committed to working diligently to provide the requested documents.

According to the government letter, signed by Louie Gohmert, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the first incident at the same lab involved one worker who manipulated data “outside of acceptable standards by more than 20 percent” in “25 to 30 percent of the samples.”

The Energy Resources Program (ERP) posted a notice about the misconduct – but not until 2010, nearly two years after discovering the problem.

After another two years, in 2012, ERP contracted an external audit of the Inorganic Laboratory’s quality control practices. The external auditor’s report identified 29 quality control process deficiencies, which potentially contributed to more than a decade of undetected scientific misconduct.

As reported in The Daily Caller, the lab was closed in March.

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