Previous questioning of Charles Monnett focused on research; Inspector General‘s office now says it’s about contract procurement and project management
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — The federal government is now saying its investigation of a biologist working in the Arctic is related to the management and procurement side of a polar bear study, despite the fact that investigators questioned the researcher extensively about his scientific work in a previous interview.
In a Feb. 23 interview, Department of Interior Inspector General officials who identified themselves as criminal investigators exhaustively questioned Charles Monnet about his aerial survey work involving whales and polar bears, with no questions relating to the procurement side of the work.
The Feb. 23 interview appeared to be clearly aimed at questioning the validity of a peer-reviewed paper Monnett wrote and published that suggested global warming threats to polar bears. Here’s an example of the line of questioning from the interview, taken from the transcript:
Investigator Eric May: Well, and, and let me – it, it – so incidental sightings of marine mammals, which are not the focus and target of the survey, do not represent, statistically speaking, the valid data and, therefore, wouldn’t it be questionable as to why the data was used to extrapolate such new scientific findings as your manuscript presented?
Due to the nature of that interview, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a watchdog and whistle-blower protection group, believes Monnett is being targeted for his work on polar bears during a time when the federal government is in the process of evaluating a number of proposals to develop offshore energy resources in the Arctic.
BOEMRE issued a stop-work order on the study, but lifted that suspension. According to PEER, the study, in partnership with the University of Alberta, helps track polar bears across international boundaries and has found a dramatic expansion of polar bears’ home ranges as they cope with diminished sea ice.
“This study deserves a citation rather than a black eye,” PEER director Jeff Ruch said in a press release. The group is providing legal representation for Monnett.
In PEER’s view, the suspension and questioning of Monnett is a “witch hunt” related to the political and environmental controversy surrounding Arctic energy development and the larger issue of global warming impacts in the Arctic, as well as the endangered species status of polar bears.
The Bureau referred its initial findings to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to pursue criminal charges. Instead, the findings of the investigation will be the grounds for an internal administrative review by BOEMRE, according to a July 29 memo from the Inspector General to Monnett.
The memo directs Monnett to be prepared to answer questions about his actions as a biologist and “collateral duties involving contracts as an official of the U.S. Government,” and indicates the questioning may follow up on the previous interview relating to the “integrity and representation” of Monnett’s official work.
“There were no mysteries about how Dr. Monnett handled his responsibilities related to the procurement of this or any other research project in his scientific portfolio,” said Ruch, whose organization has filed a legal request for the documents BOEMRE used to justify his suspension. “We are concerned that the IG has expanded its vindictive fishing expedition into yet another area beyond its expertise.”
According to PEER, Monnett’s role as technical representative for the contracting officer did not give him authority to commit the government to contractual relationships. The group says that the contractual relationship between the U.S. government and the University of Alberta was transparent, with all communications between Dr. Monnett and University of Alberta researchers generally copied to numerous contracting and management officials.
Both survival rates and total population size of some polar bear population appear to be in decline and are also significantly correlated with changes in ice distribution and the duration of the open water season, according to a recent study from the Beaufort Sea region.
Links courtesy PEER: