Report: Wildlife agency ignored whistle-blowers

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe failed for more than a year to discipline two supervisors who retaliated against whistle-blowers at an Oklahoma field office, the Interior Department's inspector general says in a harshly worded letter that accuses Ashe of damaging the agency's credibility and integrity.

Deputy inspector general Mary Kendall said Ashe and other high-level officials ignored months of "pointed discussions and stern warnings" about the complaints.

Three biologists who reported scientific misconduct had their pay cut and duties transferred, the letter said, while the two supervisors were given what appear to be promotions.

One of the complaints involves a recovery plan for the American burying beetle; another involves data collection on a freshwater mussel. Both are endangered species.

An agency spokesman on Thursday called the allegations "troubling" and said officials were pursuing disciplinary action against the two supervisors. Both supervisors have been transferred from the Tulsa field office, where the complaints were filed, said Chris Tollefson, a spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tollefson stressed that the transfers were not punitive, and said disciplinary proceedings are underway to determine an appropriate response.

The agency "takes scientific integrity complaints very seriously," Tollefson said, adding that officials are taking steps "to help ensure that such an occurrence is not repeated and to ensure scientific and management excellence in delivery of our conservation mission."

Kendall called the case "disturbing." Far from being punished, the three biologists should have been "thanked for their passion for good science and for the courage it took for them to report misconduct at a significant risk to their professional and personal well-being," she said.

Kendall urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to take immediate action to resolve the whistle-blower complaints, adding that further delay would expose the wildlife agency "to significant and unnecessary risks."

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Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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