USDA scientist who filed whistleblower complaint to talk settlement with ARS
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2015 - A USDA senior research entomologist can proceed with a whistleblower complaint alleging he was punished for publishing research that found neonicotinoid insecticides harm pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies."
Last week, Patricia Miller, an administrative law judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSBP), ruled against USDA, which had filed a motion to dismiss Jonathan Lundgren's complaint. She said that contrary to USDA's claims that Lundgren had presented “conclusory, speculative, and unsupported allegations,” he had in fact presented “non-frivolous allegations” that a 14-day suspension he received was related to his filing of a scientific integrity complaint.
USDA said Lundgren was suspended for a failure to properly file travel paperwork. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which is representing Lundgren, said in a filing with MSPB that the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), where Lundgren has worked for 11 years, “used a minor and unintentional travel paperwork error . . . as the primary pretext for severe disciplinary measures, when in practice the agency treated similar travel paperwork errors by Dr. Lundgren's colleagues as inconsequential, routinely issuing approvals during or after their trips.”
Miller scheduled a teleconference for Jan. 6 so the parties could discuss settlement options. The conference will not be public.
ARS officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but spokesman Christopher Bentley told The Washington Post, “USDA actively fosters a culture of excellence and transparency in our scientific agencies and takes allegations regarding scientific integrity very seriously.”
PEER recently filed a complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C., charging that USDA's Scientific Integrity Policy, which provides guidance for employees publishing scientific research, was adopted without proper public notice and comment, and that it infringes on the First Amendment rights of researchers. USDA has not yet filed an answer to the complaint.
Lundgren is senior research entomologist and lab supervisor for ARS's North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, South Dakota.
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