Public Interest Data Quality Appeal Granted by Agency

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) will correct flawed information about the Florida panther after an agency whistleblower and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed requests under the federal Data Quality Act (DQA). This is one of the few cases in which a public interest group used the DQA. To date, industry has dominated the use of the DQA with challenges seeking to delay, derail and dilute information and regulations about health, safety and the environment. Andrew Eller, a biologist with USFWS, filed a data quality request for correction in May, 2004, along with PEER. The petition alleged that the agency was using literature that "contains unsupported assumptions, uses inappropriate analytical methods, and selectively uses data to support conclusions" about panther habitats. The Florida panther is an endangered species and Eller asserted that the agency used flawed science in defining habitats so that it could approve development projects. USFWS responded to the request for correction by stating it would update the challenged studies with new information by 2006, and acknowledging that some of the studies contained limitations. However, the agency contended that all of the information met the DQA requirements because they were peer-reviewed before release. The law requires that information meet an "objectivity" requirement. The agency noted that the Office of Management and Budget's implementing guidelines state that independent, external peer-reviewed information "may generally be presumed to be of acceptable objectivity." Eller and PEER appealed the agency's decision, and USFWS responded March 21, agreeing that corrections were necessary because the documents contained significant flaws. PEER praised the agency's decision, but voiced concerns about the implications. PEER's Executive Director Jeff Ruch noted, "The Fish & Wildlife Service currently is reviewing 30 very large projects slated for construction right in the middle of prime panther habitat. The delayed effective date for promised corrections may allow the agency to continue to approve projects on the basis of admittedly flawed science." After Eller filed the request, the agency fired him, citing unprofessional exchanges with the public and late work. He has not been offered his position back.
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