Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Peer on IG Persuit of Dead Polar Bear

Peer has posted the transcript from the 8/9 Kafka play

The IG originally begin looking into a short 2006 article by marine ecologist Dr. Charles Monnett and a colleague on sightings of drowned polar bears following a storm. This year, the IG expanded its inquiry to include alleged irregularities identified by its agents in his creation of a joint U.S.-Canadian study of polar bear movement across international boundaries, including a supposed tie between publication of the polar bear paper and award of the study. However, documents assembled by PEER reveal –
  • The Canadian study was set up months before drowned polar bears were first observed, making any charge of a quid pro quo between the two unsupportable;
  • Dr. Monnett did not receive any appointment with legal acquisition responsibility until after the Canadian contract was signed; and
  • All of Dr. Monnett’s communications with Canadian researchers were encouraged by his own chain-of-command and procurement officials.
Rabett Run has already (like a month ago) posted most of this information, but there are some goodies, for example a letter from the chief editor of Polar Biology stating unequivocally that Andrew Derocher was NOT a reviewer of the Gleason and Monnett paper
From: Polar Biology Chief Editor Date: August 12, 2011 1:57:37 AM MDT To: Andrew Derocher
Subject: Re: Publication in Polar Biology

Dear Andrew, You're right, all this fuss seems to be a bit "bizarre" and - from an outsider's perspective - somewhat overacted. I've got news from Rolf now, and I can assure you that you were NOT among the peer reviewers of Monnett's manuscript.
A lot of people, Lubos the Lame, being one that came to Eli's attention, owe Drs. Derocher and Monnett an apologies. Bets are being taken whether they get one.

Monnett was NOT the COTR (Contracting Officer's Technical Representative) when the contract with the University of Alberta was being negotiated, but
A. Dr. Monnett did not become a COTR until AFTER study contract was executed. During the August 9th IG interview, Dr. Monnett stated that he served as the Contracting Officers Technical Representative (COTR) for the University of Alberta study. This is correct but it was not until he was reinstated from administrative leave and had a chance to study his e-mails from this period six years ago that he found that his COTR appointment was not made until September 24, 2005 – after the final contract had been signed (see Attachment II).

Thus, during the contract approval process, which is the focus of the IG inquiry, Dr. Monnett had no responsibilities with respect to the Federal Acquisition Regulations. During this period, his role was to serve as the designated Point of Contact between the Alaska Region, and the Procurement Operations Branch and the University of Alberta.
Thus Dr. Monnett was NOT barred from looking at Dr. Derocher's proposal, indeed that was part of his responsibilities.

UPDATE: In the comments, Deech, who has experience in government contracting adds
Point of clarification: the COTR appointment is always made after contract award. Prior to award (and therefore, during negotiation), the Program official has the title "Project Officer." Between submission and award, the POC is usually the Contracting Officer (or Specialist) and the PO advises the CO on the responses to the review panel's questions and appropriateness of the budget. Of course he would have to be reading the submitted proposal, and in this instance, he would have worked with any potential Offeror as part of his market research prior to posting the solicitation.

This case may have been unusual, but it looks like Monnett acted with full knowledge of his highers up and the Contracting Office. What comes through in the transcript is the difficulty in fitting a research project to the FAR. It sounds like they were trying to get a quality study and save the government some money.
The real scandal here is that the IG, and it's representative Bozo, Eric May, HAD THIS INFORMATION MANY MONTHS AGO!! when he seized Monnett's computers.
The proposed University of Alberta study was reviewed by the OCS Scientific Committee in April 2004 and recommended for approval. Final approval was given and funds were allocated for procurement at the beginning of FY-2005. The study was only possible because the Canadians provided more than $800,000 towards the cost of the $2,000,000 study.
The original intra-agency funding mechanism was abandoned
because when the study was conceived it was expected to be an “partnership” rather than a contract since, among other reasons, the University and CWS would provide nearly $1 million funds toward the objectives. Due to difficulties with creating such agreements that span international boundaries, the MMS Contracting Officer (CO) for the study, Jane Carlson, recommended the study be prepared as a sole-source procurement.
Ah Eli has a name for the to be named later original Contracting Officer and the second one, Debra Bridge, appointed after the original CO retired 1/2005. She wrote to Monnett asking for a copy of the proposal, and he replied that he did not have it. She was not surprised
From: Bridge, Debra
Sent: Thursday, March 03, 2005 4:43 AM
To: Monnett, Charles Subject:
RE: Sole Source Justification - Polar Bears

I’m happy to take on this “baggage” and will move it forward ASAP. Yes, the CO is supposed to obtain the proposal but many times this is already done by the time we get the procurement package (funny how that happens!). Anyway, I’ll move it forward just as quickly as possible. I’ll send you a copy of the FBO announcement as an FYI. My intent is to get it posted today. Anything else, let me know. Thanks. Debbie
An investigation of Eric May is needed HE HAD ALL THIS MONTHS AGO.

Monnett was TOLD to work with Derocher on the proposal by his superior James Kendall
From: Kendall, James [mailto:James.Kendall@boemre.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, December 21, 2004 9:38 AM
To: Monnett, Charles Cc: Benner, Lee; Carlson, Jane; Cimato, James M; Cowles, Cleveland; Wallace, Barbara; Hargrove, Michael Subject:
FW: Importance: High

Hi Chuck:
As you discussed yesterday with Jim Cimato, Lee Benner is out for the rest of the year. However, to help keep this on schedule, I reviewed the dSOW myself this A.M. and added just a couple of edits:

1) I included Chief ESB as a recipient of the quarterly reports – I really do need my staff up to speed on all our studies efforts. Often our fire drills do not allow enough time to coordinate with the Regional Programs.

2) I beefed up the verbiage regarding “Draft peer-reviewed journal article”. We recently had a very, very public “flare-up” regarding the perception that MMS has to give permission to scientists to publish ------- then, it was misconstrued as “censorship.” See my suggested verbiage.

Also, do you want to require the Contractor to have a website for the project?????

Finally, while I do want Lee to look over the dSOW, I understand that since this will conducted by the Canadian Wildlife Service and/or U.Alberta (please clarify) in Canada, a Fed Bis-Ops announcement, etc. is not necessary. As such, Jane Carlson (the CO-Eli) has informed us that it is OK for you to send the draft SOW to them so they can start thinking about how to prepare their proposal.

I’ll have Lee look at it as soon as she gets back (around January 10th); any comments she has can be incorporated into the Final SOW that will be officially sent to through the procurement process to the Canadians.
Cheers, jjk
Who is this Eric May? Who made the original complaint? Inquiring auditors want to know (BTW, Monnett has the right to see the original complaint once the investigation is concluded).

24 comments:

J Bowers said...

"Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." -- The Trial (1920).

Rattus Norvegicus said...

OMG, the second interview is even worse! May goes on and on about the contents of the abstract! The abstract for gods sake! And somehow in his little pin mind not mentioning everything in the results and conclusions in the abstract is some sort of horrid scientific crime.

I'll leave it to others to comment on the contracting stuff, but it seems to be in line with what has been mentioned by others familiar with the process. Of course wise bunnies knew this weeks ago...

Steve Bloom said...

I'll repeat that this so, so smells like "burrowed" denialist think-tanker Indur Goklany, with the caveat that one or more higher-ups in Interior must have decided that it was just what they wanted to hear. Paraphrasing: "Will no one rid me of this damnable scientist?!"

Re May and the IG's office generally, it may be that at this point they're just searching for a figleaf. The new evidence from PEER wold seem to make that a difficult task.

In the end, will they have to put Monnett back in his old position?

Steve Bloom said...

Also: I would hope not just the complaint, but the paper trail as to who was in on doing something about it.

J Bowers said...

I've followed this story quite closely, but I have to admit to losing track of the timeline. The first interview between X-Files and Monnett was keenly focused on the polar bears - the science - but then the focus switched to administrative procedures, with Mulder's boss stating that it's all about, basically, the content of Eli's post, and not about the science.

Does anyone know, off the top of their heads, if Mulder's boss made this clarification, plus further committment to pursue the case, plus praise for the work done so far, before or after they'd taken Monnett's computers?

I, too, am keen to find out who Cancer Man is.

Doug said...

Steve Bloom:

I'll repeat that this so, so smells like "burrowed" denialist think-tanker Indur Goklany...

Mole, creating chaos and-- most of all-- dread, hesitation, fear of investigating the wrong questions.

This is becoming a bit of a pattern. To the extent these tactics succeed, they'll be industrialized and scaled up.

So, give early, give often to Scott Mandia's defense fund if you cannot right now think of another concrete way for you yourself to help provide the legal armor these guys need.

Again, early success with this kind of pogrom will breed more of the same. Don't let it happen.

Steve Bloom said...

Eli: "Thus Dr. Monnett was NOT barred from looking at Dr. Derocher's proposal, indeed that was part of his responsibilities."

Remember that Monnett says that it was agency SOP on contracts of this sort for the COTR to do just that sort of thing, and that he and others had done so in the past; IOW there was no bar regardless.

Having read the transcript, it becomes apparent that the COs were simply covering their butts. The fact that neither checked their records to see that Monnett wasn't the COTR at the time (one or the other of them would have appointed him to that role) seems to be evidence that they were blindsided. It would have been entirely clear to them that the IG was going after Monnett on contract compliance issues, and so any answer other than no, no, no would have shifted the IG's focus to one or both of them. Contrary to the IG's claim in the interview, it would have been impossible to ask such a question neutrally.

Deech56 said...

Point of clarification: the COTR appointment is always made after contract award. Prior to award (and therefore, during negotiation), the Program official has the title "Project Officer." Between submission and award, the POC is usually the Contracting Officer (or Specialist) and the PO advises the CO on the responses to the review panel's questions and appropriateness of the budget. Of course he would have to be reading the submitted proposal, and in this instance, he would have worked with any potential Offeror as part of his market research prior to posting the solicitation.

This case may have been unusual, but it looks like Monnett acted with full knowledge of his highers up and the Contracting Office. What comes through in the transcript is the difficulty in fitting a research project to the FAR. It sounds like they were trying to get a quality study and save the government some money.

Doug said...

I don't know who Eric May is, but it's interesting to look at the DOI OIG's history of investigations, compare previous work with the case in question. Conveniently, the DOI OIG appears to publish all of its reports online, including those having to do with investigations into individuals and organizations possibly having committed civil or criminal infractions.

Since 1999, the OIG appears to have published about 400 reports, many consisting of audits of the performance of various units of DOI, others being informational to the Hill. Very few investigations of civil or criminal infractions seem to take place, or at least reach the point of justifying a report. Here are titles of what appear to be most online published reports having to do with such matters:

Investigative Report - CNMI ARRA Management
Report of Investigation - Cheryl Brown Henderson
Report of Investigation - Pensus, Inc.
Investigative Report of Royal Dutch Shell
Alleged MMS Employee Misconduct - Lake Jackson District
Investigative Report - Steven Henke
Report of Investigation - John Latschar
MMS Oil Marketing Group - Lakewood

Investigative Report On Allegations that U.S. Geological Survey Employees Assigned To Conduct Research on the Yucca Mountain Project May Have Falsified Scientific Data and Quality Assurance Records

Investigative Report on David Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Fish and Wildlife and Parks

Island Operating Company, et. al.

So, about eleven investigations involving guys with big fedoras, desk lamps aimed into sleep-deprived suspects' faces, etc.

What's conspicuous about these reports (they're all available in full text) is how picayune the Monnett affair seems in comparison. It's as though -something- skewed the attention of the OIG to look at something practically insignificant even if it actually existed, which appears not to be the case anyway.

If things operate consistently and anything at all comes of this, the final report ought to show up presently here along with all the rest of the OIG output.

J Bowers said...

Doug, a number of the investigations by the DOI OIG were into corruption within MMS leading to the loss of billions in royalty revenues to the DOI, hence they're now called BOEMRE. Some MMS staff were (quite literally in some cases) in bed with those they were supposed to be monitoring, and handing over the forms for them to fill in themselves in pencil. The attempted purge of bad apples is thought to have not been very successful, though.

J Bowers said...

A reminder of Brown's letter to Monnett of August 15th.

"...During our meeting, you were informed that the OIG asked the CO for this contract and if you had ever informed her that you assisted Dr. Derocher in preparing his proposal for the cotnract. The CO told the OIG that you never informed her you had taken such actions, and if you had informed her she would have warmed you that such actions would be highly inappropriate under procurement integrity policies and procedures. The OIG then informed you that the CO felt that the fact that you served as Chair to the TPEC for the contract made your actions especially egregious, and accordingly, the CO believed your actions warranted immediate action..."

Deech56 said...

Some thoughts:

The IG's case starts out on p 61. Some important material to support Monnett's case is in the PEER response starting on p 9. I don't necessarily agree with all of their justifications (from my reading, FAR 15.201(c) applies to pre-solicitation market research, for example), but Monnett did seem to act in full view of everyone and was apparently following standard practice for that group.

It appears that "assisted him in preparing the proposal" is a stretch. The CO actually directed Deroucher to send the proposal to Monnett (Apr 5 e-mail), so the Contracting Office appeared to be comfortable with direct contact between the PO and Offeror (also Jul 29 e-mail).

I can't imagine that COI would encompass a courtesy review of Monnett's paper. Was that the big personal gain for Monnett? The challenges to the team were fitting the research study under the contracting process, getting a quality proposal and getting the award made before the end of the fiscal year (it's the government - things take time, and the Contracting offices are crazy places in the months of August and September). It appears that the organization has moved from sole-source contracts to cooperative agreements because of these difficulties. (I would also note that the incremental contract funding described in the TPEC report isn't done anymore, either.)

I would direct the reader's attention to the document in the PEER response - pp 31-34. It appears that there was a set of group-wide practices that are in the gray area of the FAR. That happens, and one role for the IG is to bring everyone into compliance. This does not appear to be the case here.

It does appear that the Contracting office was in major CYA mode. Not surprising, since their warrants put them under greater scrutiny, and they can get into bigger trouble.

Doug said...

Yes, it's interesting to note how in terms of effort expended, Monnett is classed along with people accepting sex and drugs from the petroleum industry, even though it's extremely difficult to see exactly what benefit Monnett might have obtained from his supposed misbehavior, even if he were misbehaving, which he wasn't.

The lesson from the investigation list is that things normally have to get pretty stinky for the OIG to shift itself into action. Monnett obviously did not reek in the same way.

The agenda strongly smacks of being warped, bent, in this case with the investigators behaving crookedly. Where did the distortion come from?

J Bowers said...

@ Doug. Agreed. Maybe the OIG has instructions to get somewhat overzealous in light of MMS's track record, and Monnett having worked for MMS for 13(?) years which meant he was around during the corruption years? If they have a remit to investigate the scientists they really could do with employing a scientific advisor, or have a hotline to the NAS, which (in a seeming absence of such) may be why they switched focus from the science to the policy procedures as they realised they were going nowhere fast. There's no doubt in my mind that their focus, from reading the transcripts, was originally on the polar bear study, regardless of what the IGC claims further on in the timeline. If they were investigating procedure from the outset I fail to see why they would have been so keen to get their hands on the camera that took the photos, instead of just confirming that the camera matches the receipt.

EliRabett said...

Deech, the smoking gun here is the lack of a motive. Giving Derocher a 1.2M$ contract for reviewing a paper is risible. That, more than anything reduces what they have to an issue of procedures, and what PEER is showing is that all of the COTRs are going to throw a fit because they have all been operating on instructions that the IG is rejecting.

Doug said...

J.Bowers: Maybe the OIG has instructions to get somewhat overzealous in light of MMS's track record, and Monnett having worked for MMS for 13(?) years which meant he was around during the corruption years?

If investigators were driven by zeal to expose criminality, they'd stick with the minerals side, they would not waste scarce manpower squinting at blurry photos of dead bears.

Reading the reports I cited above, it's absolutely remarkable-- especially in comparison with this Monnett affair-- how dubious interfaces between MMS and industry were given benefit of the doubt, questions of conduct were left hanging in the air, prosecutions were declined. With Monnett we have investigators quibbling over fractions of expired polar bears, on the oil and gas side we have vast amounts of money washing back and forth with MMS employees obviously far too cozy with their industry charges. Count the number of prosecutions that resulted in the latter situation.

The report coming out of this will not specifically identify the original complainant, as looking at previous examples indicates. However, those reports provide a contextual framework appearing to neatly confirm this investigation has nothing to do with any threat of corruption, rather is driven by something else. We're left to speculate on that. The conclusion is likely going to remain unsatisfying because it would require an effective, impartial investigation of the investigators themselves to tease this out.

Doug said...

And one more thing (harrumph). All this business about contractual procedures is purely a red herring, an elaborate costume to provide a plausible disguise for the original intent of this investigation.

The hair-splitting over floating bears, camera resolution, who was sitting at what position in aircraft and whether the windows were dirty or clean is a clear pointer to the primary interest in this case, which is to undermine and destroy the scientific reputation of a person who has asked uncomfortable questions and worst of all inadvertently provided some rhetorical fodder for the Great Evil Confiscatory Fat One.

Sure, Eric May had access to evidence for months and did not look at it, only belatedly became focused on uncovering what he was not originally concerned with. That's because the point of this thing was not originally contractual comportment problems. Investigators turned their attention to inventing a corruption case only when the spotlight shining on their own work became too bright.

Deech56 said...

Finished reading the questioning - and it all turned back to Monnett's study after all. It was almost painful to read the questions. May has no working knowledge about how papers are written and reviewed.

From what I can see, the whole case is based on these sentences from Monnett's Apr 14 e-mail: "What you have seems on target. The most important thing is that objectives and methodology conform to the statement of work, and that seems to be the case. Put in what details you can and if we have further questions we won't be shy." The accusations make it sound as if Monnett co-wrote the response.

Richard Prentki's e-mail suggests that their group understood that FAR 15.201(c) allowed for contact between the PO and Offeror after the solicitation and before proposal receipt. I am not sure that this would be considered standard practice in other parts of the government, but if it's part of their system, then the whole group should be apprised of the proper procedures. Monnett should not be singled out.

The accusations by the IG turn out to be much more benign when the other evidence is examined. Something is not quite right with this never-ending audit (h/t to willard). With so many rules under the FAR, it doesn't take much fishing to catch a minor transgression.

Eli is right - IMHO the process was used in order to get the best proposal. I don't see any evidence that Monnett gained anything personally by reading over the draft research plan.

J Bowers said...

Doug -- "If investigators were driven by zeal to expose criminality, they'd stick with the minerals side"

I have to half disagree. Zero tolerance doesn't distinguish much between a gun crime and pickpocketing, but in this case the special agents seem unable to distinguish between dipping from a stranger's handbag and borrowing from the wife after she asked her husband to go pay for the groceries while she gets the kids.

John McManus said...

Are you now or have you ever been a card carrying member of an NGO?

Rumleyfips

Doug said...

J Bowers, I see what you're saying, but given the strange bedfellows and consequent heavily lopsided conflict of interests within the purview of the DOI, I'm going to stick with "persecution at industry behest."

J Bowers said...

Doug, fair enough. I also tend toward that view, but not so much at industry behest, more due to the political climate within context of the DOI. I also tend toward Hanlon's Razor in this instance, although the Bush administration's attempts to corrupt honest discourse was definitely nothing to do with Hanlon's Razor. Once again we have big decisions due to be made (XL Pipeline and Arctic drilling), and once again a big manufactroversy occurs that primarily focuses on a single scientist who has had an impact on the climate debate and whose published research is dragged into the manufactroversy but is actually quite old, and it all stems from an anonymous source claiming to have discovered something that isn't what is claimed to be.

Anonymous said...

Snow Bunny says:

Eric May was too busy looking up the dictionary definitions of "abstract" and "deliberate" to get into complicated issues like when contracts were let.

Anonymous said...

Eric May was also too busy looking up what 7 of 11% is.
-Daniel J. Andrews