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Polar bear researcher is back at work, but still under investigation

Polar_Bear_-_Alaska Polar bear researcher Charles Monnett is back at work at the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) after a six week suspension over unspecified “integrity issues” (read Nature’s take on the debacle here).

The BOEMRE says the wildlife biologist remains under investigation. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which is providing legal representation to Monnett, says the agency is also running a separate investigation into its complaint that Monnett’s superiors breached the research integrity policy of the US Department of Interior (DOI), which includes the BOEMRE, when they suspended him.

Monnett was a co-author on a 2006 paper in Polar Biology reporting observations of polar bears that had apparently drowned in a storm while swimming long distances in search of sea ice. Drowned polar bears became an iconic symbol of the possible adverse effects of climate change. But in 2011 the Inspector-General of the DOI interviewed Monnett about the paper, and about his award of an $800,000 contract to researchers at the University of Alberta in Canada to support research on a polar bear population that spans the US-Canadian border.

While IG investigators refused, in an interview transcript released by PEER, to elaborate on the nature of the misconduct allegations, a notice sent to Monnett in August and provided to Nature by PEER makes the contract management concerns clearer. It says the IG believes Monnett may have broken procurement regulations by helping Deroucher draft a proposal for a contract that Monnett was later involved in awarding. PEER says Monnett’s involvement was sanctioned by Monnett’s supervisors.

A spokeswoman for the BOEMRE, Melissa Schwartz, says Monnett’s reinstatement has nothing to do with PEER’s allegations against his superiors and was motivated by federal regulations that create a presumption against lengthy administrative leaves, which should be “reserved for exceptional situations when all other options are considered insufficient to adequately protect the government’s interests.”

Image: rubyblossom on Flickr under Creative Commons.

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