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Inspection of Scientific Integrity Incident at USGS Energy Geochemistry Laboratory
U.S. Geological Survey
In late 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) discovered an issue in its Energy Resources Program’s (ERP) Energy Geochemistry Laboratory in Lakewood, CO, that had been ongoing since 2008. Specifically, a mass spectrometer operator assigned to ERP’s Inorganic Section had been accused of scientific misconduct and data manipulation. Since the Inorganic Section’s work had implications for ERP’s national and international coal and water quality assessments, USGS began to assess the full impact of this incident on the research and assessment projects conducted between 2008 and 2014. It also notified OIG. We subsequently initiated an inspection to determine the impact of the incident on USGS customers, products, and organizational integrity.
OIG identified publications for 24 research and assessment projects representing approximately $108 million in funding that had been potentially impacted by erroneous information from the laboratory. We also learned that, even though management discovered the incident in late 2014, employees had long suspected quality-related problems to be associated with the laboratory.
In the long run, we determined the scientific misconduct and data manipulation also impacted USGS organizational integrity in ways that are still unfolding and difficult to quantify.
Although USGS closed its Inorganic Laboratory on February 25, 2016, it still has not informed its many stakeholders about the scientific integrity incident and how it may potentially have impacted them. Our one recommendation to USGS was to complete this notification process.