Houser, agency agree to binding mediation, no admission of guilt
By TIM HEARDEN
YREKA, Calif. -- A former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation senior science adviser who claimed he was fired earlier this year for speaking out about the Klamath River dam removal process has apparently resolved his dispute with the government.
Paul Houser and an organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, issued a joint statement asserting that the scientist and the agency reached an agreement to their "mutual satisfaction" after mediation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
The statement didn't disclose details of the settlement, including whether the government paid Houser. The scientist said in a phone interview Dec. 7 that terms of the agreement required that neither side disclose specifics about the outcome.
"I can tell you that I'm happy with it," Houser said, adding he had an option of either binding mediation with no one admitting guilt or a full-blown investigation, which could have taken years.
"I wasn't all that excited about spending the next three years or longer in a prolonged investigation, and I'll bet they weren't either," he said.
U.S. Department of the Interior spokeswoman Kate Kelly also declined to comment about the details of the agreement. She said in an email that Houser's allegations that scientific data about the Klamath project was manipulated for political purposes was still under investigation.
Houser, 42, became a darling of Klamath dam removal opponents and tea party activists after he went public about his February departure from Reclamation, over which he filed federal whistleblower and scientific-integrity complaints.
A former National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist, Houser was hired by the bureau last year to oversee the scientific studies on the Klamath project, which would include the removal of four dams as well as numerous river-restoration efforts.
He told the Capital Press in May that superiors told him his "skills weren't a match for the position" and terminated him after he alleged officials wrote a summary and news release to elicit support for dam removal while downplaying negative remarks from scientists that were in the full reports.
He said superiors ordered him to be quiet about his concerns, then he faced increasing scrutiny on his job.
In a speech to a local group here, he said it appeared top Interior officials had already decided they wanted the dams out and were seeking the science to back up their decision.
Houser approached PEER, which represented him through his negotiations with the government. The group defends public employees against what it sees as the political manipulation of science, according to its website.
While Houser's personnel issue was resolved, the scientific integrity issues he raised were outside the jurisdiction of the Office of Special Counsel, said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based PEER.
Houser said Dec. 7 he still has hopes that his scientific integrity complaint will have an impact on the Klamath process.
"I felt like I consistently tried to stand by scientific integrity in this whole process," he said. "I really have a desire to see this problem fixed, and even better that it doesn't happen again."
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility: www.peer.org
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: www.usbr.gov
Paul R. Houser: prhouser.com/houser