Monday, June 24, 2019
      • What's a fundamental research communication and why should I care?

      Fundamental Research Communications (FRCs) are defined both in the Scientific Integrity policy and in the Department of Commerce Administrative Order on Public Communications (DAO 219-1). These are essentially communications of scientific data and findings to the public, most often through a major publication or website. It is important for NOAA scientists to understand what constitutes FRCs as opposed to other types of public communications, especially "official" communications, as the latter require full NOAA vetting & clearance.

      Research results communicated as FRC require internal review prior to release.  Internal review should be conducted through your Line Office’s specific procedures for review of FRC’s.  These guidelines were created by your Line Office and meet special requirements for FRC’s as determined by  NOAA’s Framework for Internal Review and Approval of Fundamental Research Communications Part 1: Guidance for Line and Staff Offices on the internal review of manuscripts to be submitted to the peer-reviewed scientific literature.  

      So, does that mean you cannot express your opinion without getting some sort of approval? No, certainly not. We all have the right to express our opinions publicly on our own time as private citizens of the United States.  

      • Who decides if a communication is "fundamental research" or "official"?

      The determination whether a communication is an FRC or an official communication is normally made by the head of your operating unit. It is very important to note the head of unit may not abuse this right to unfairly delay the release of science because they do not agree with the findings or because they believe that the findings may cause political fallout. The NOAA Framework for Internal Review and Approval of Fundamental Research Communications Part 1: Guidance for Line and Staff Offices on the internal review of manuscripts to be submitted to the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the Scientific Integrity policy provide the scientist with the ultimate publishing control.  This is a protection for all our scientists. It shouldn't, however, be used as an excuse to ignore all internal feedback and review. In most cases, constructive feedback and review prior to publication lead to a better final product. This policy provides protection in the unlikely case where someone is alleged to be abusing their authority.

      • Do I need approval to publish my fundamental research?

      The Department of Commerce Public Communications policy and NOAA Framework for Internal Review and Approval of Fundamental Research Communications Part 1: Guidance for Line and Staff Offices on the internal review of manuscripts to be submitted to the peer-reviewed scientific literature require you to work with your Line Office-specific procedures for the publication of FRC’s.

      Final certification is just a statement on behalf of your office confirming the document has been reviewed for policy or budget statements. It is not an approval, per se, and cannot be used to hold up external peer review and publication. So, while there is an internal pre-publication process to follow, there is no approval required to publish.

      • What if I am being pushed to publish before I think the work is ready?

      This is a violation of the Scientific Integrity policy and should be approached carefully. We recommend an informal discussion with the person pushing the publication to express your concerns. If this doesn't resolve the issue, you can raise the concerns to the next level in your Line Office for mediation. If you make all reasonable attempts to resolve the situation or are feeling threatened with adverse personnel or other actions, you should file an official Scientific Integrity complaint with the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Operations.

      In most cases, these situations should be easily resolved at lower levels without filing a complaint. We urge employees to seek mediation before approaching the DUS/O.

      • How should I frame my conclusions?

      This is an area that is ripe for confusion and conflict for federal scientists and their managers, as the framing of findings may often imply or dictate a policy or budget direction. There is no one answer that will apply perfectly to all papers and all situations. However, the best practice is to frame your conclusions as generally and as objectively as possible. For example, an FRC cannot state that NOAA/the Administration/Congress should do such and such. If your communication makes such a conclusion, the conclusion is not an FRC. Instead, frame your conclusions to state that a certain approach would likely result in a certain result. Presenting different approaches and their likely outcomes also serves to generalize the conclusions and avoid the policy language of an official communication.

      Public Communications and the Media

      • May I take phone calls from media and give interviews?

      Yes. There are no exceptions here. However, you are not required to give media interviews. You can always refer media to your public affairs officer. Similarly, you should always feel free to consult with your public affairs officer prior to an interview and/or include them in the interview.

      • What should I do if I am asked to give an interview?

      You are not required to do anything. However, good practice suggests you should notify your public affairs officer and/or the head of your operating unit prior to or just after you give an interview. Why? Common courtesy. You wouldn't want somebody surprising you with detailed questions about your work, and your managers are no different. Nobody enjoys being made to look foolish or uninformed in public. If you don't tell your managers you said something, it is possible they could be called out and made to look bad. Situational awareness is not a requirement, but it can be a good thing. Use your best judgment.

      • Am I allowed to express my personal opinion as a scientist in an interview or in other fora (e.g. op ed)?

      Yes, indeed. All you need to do is make sure you are clear you are expressing your personal opinion, not the opinion of NOAA/DoC/the Administration. The disclaimer is your friend and it is there to protect you. Use it.

      • Do I need approval to have a science-based blog or social media page?

      To be clear, you can do whatever you want on your personal time. If you are going to be basing your public statements on your position as a NOAA scientist, then you should make sure to include a disclaimer on every page informing people these are your personal views and not the views of NOAA/DoC/the Administration.

      If, however, you want to have a blog or social media page as part of your official work, you will need to clear the activity through your supervisor and set up the page via your Chief Information Officer, who is responsible for setting up these pages.

      Regarding content, the rules are no different than for any other public communication. In other words, Departmental Administrative Order 219-1 on Public Communications still applies, as does the Department of Commerce Policy on the Approval and Use of Social Media and Web 2.0. Therefore, if you are delivering a Fundamental Research Communication, you should still follow your Line Office procedures and the NOAA Framework for Internal Review and Approval of Fundamental Research Communications Part 1: Guidance for Line and Staff Offices on the internal review of manuscripts to be submitted to the peer-reviewed scientific literature. If you are providing official communications, these need to be approved through the appropriate channels. (Note: DAO 219-1 and the Department's social media policy do not apply to members of certain bargaining units.)

      • When should I call Public Affairs?

      When issuing an official NOAA communication and/or whenever you feel like you need advice or guidance on how to approach your public communications. Other than for official communications, the most common scenarios for working with public affairs are preparing for testimony before Congress, prior to giving an interview, or when working to publicize your research. Your public affairs specialist has spent years working in the field, so his/her advice and support can be invaluable.

      One other note, if you are providing a media interview, even if you don't work with public affairs, it is good practice and common courtesy to inform them of your interview. Surprises, even when they are good ones, may not always be welcome in the work setting. Better to keep people over-informed than under.

      • What should I do if I feel my work is not being allowed to be published or if I am being "muzzled"?

      Hopefully this will never happen, and the Scientific Integrity policy is intended to prevent this situation from ever happening. If it does happen. while each scenario will be different, the best approach usually is to try to address the issue in a non-confrontational way with the person you feel is impeding your work. If this doesn't resolve the situation, you should try to work the issue within your office or at the next higher level by having somebody with no vested interest in the outcome mediate the situation. If this still doesn't produce a mutually acceptable outcome, you are fully within your rights to file a complaint with the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Operations, which is responsible for investigating all allegations under the Scientific Integrity policy.

      • Do I need to have a disclaimer on my email?

      No. From a policy perspective, email communications between individuals are considered the same as oral communications, so you generally don't need to be concerned with having a disclaimer. If you are using email to broadly "publish" or communicate your science and/or express your opinion, you should include a disclaimer. Some in NOAA use a disclaimer on all email to cover all possible scenarios.

      One caveat here: email is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and could be disclosed in litigation or if requested by Congress, so anything you say in email can be made public. This isn't specifically related to Scientific Integrity or this policy, but you should keep it in mind if you decide to write something potentially embarrassing in an email.

      Congressional Testimony

      • I have been asked to testify, what are my next steps?

      Contact your Line Office Legislative Affairs specialists who will work with NOAA Legislative Affairs to arrange schedules and timing, as well as assist you with preparation. They will take it from there in communicating with the Hill.

      • Do I need to clear my testimony with NOAA beforehand?

      Yes. As part of the preparation process (see questions above), your Line Office and NOAA Legislative Affairs specialists will be happy to work with you.

      Gifts, Travel, and Awards

      • Am I allowed to accept honoraria in exchange for speaking engagements?

      The Scientific Integrity policy states "NOAA supports the recognition of the outstanding science conducted by its employees. NOAA scientists should, therefore, be able to accrue the professional benefits of any honors and awards for their research and discoveries, subject to applicable law."

      In the case of honoraria, public employees are not allowed to accept pay (i.e., accrue benefits) for doing what they are being paid by the public to do. In other words, if the public is paying for you to prepare a talk and to attend the speaking engagement, you cannot take additional payment in the form of an honorarium. If, however, you are attending a conference on your own dime and have prepared your talk outside of work hours, you can take the honorarium.

      You should consult with your ethics officer if you have questions about honoraria.

      • If I receive a gift from an organization or individual when representing NOAA, am I allowed to accept it?

      Under the terms of the Scientific Integrity policy, you are allowed to accept a gift, provided it doesn't violate the parameters set under federal ethics rules. For example, there are limits to the value of gifts you can accept as a federal employee and from whom you can accept gifts. You should consult with your ethics officer if you have questions about a specific gift.

      • Am I allowed to accept meals or food at receptions while on travel?

      Yes. However, you must then deduct the amount of that meal from your per diem when you submit your travel order. Again, the principle is that you shouldn't be getting a free lunch and then later claiming compensation for the same lunch. You should consult with your ethics officer if you have questions about meals or receptions while on travel.

      Serving in Professional Societies and on Boards

      • If I am serving as an officer or a board member in a professional society, what do I need to do?

      Please contact your Line Office Scientific Integrity Officer or the NOAA Scientific integrity Officer and work with your Line Office leadership to obtain an approval memo if necessary; this process offers an opportunity for NOAA employees to contribute as part of their official duties to the advancement of our mission through leadership roles in the work of nonprofit organizations. With this right comes responsibility, and we need to ensure that we are fully compliant with Department of Commerce guidelines (available on the front page of the Scientific Integrity Commons) for meeting our responsibilities.  

      • While serving as an officer or on a board, what if I am responsible for funds or contracts related to NOAA?

      Given the complexity of the rules regarding serving on professional societies, and the potentially very serious consequences for an employee who is found to be in violation of a federal ethics law, we recommend NOAA scientists always consult with a member of General Counsel before accepting a membership offer.

      Once you have consulted with General Counsel and are serving on the board in the appropriate capacity, you must pay very close attention to any issues that may have, or may be perceived to have, implications for NOAA funding, grants, or contracts. If you do find yourself in this situation, you should recuse yourself from participation in the deliberations and decisions of the board with respect to this issue. You should also contact the Office of General Counsel for additional guidance.

      Accusations of Misconduct

      • What do I do if I suspect a person or group of scientific or research misconduct?

      Depending upon the situation, you can either address the issue with the person or group in a non-confrontational manner or you can make an official allegation with the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary. It is often beneficial to inform yourself before making an official allegation, as you may not have a complete picture of what is happening. Likewise, the person/group in question may not realize they are doing anything wrong and will remedy the situation once they are aware of the issue.

      On the other hand, if you do not feel comfortable talking about the issue with the person and/or the situation is an obvious violation of the Scientific Integrity policy, you should immediately file a report to the Deputy Under Secretary for Operations and let them investigate.

      • What if I am accused of misconduct?

      The policy provides needed guidance and protections for both the accuser and the accused. The privacy of all parties will be guarded closely as we conduct a full and fair investigation. The Procedural Handbook provides the complete process for how and who will conduct investigations. Those accused have the right to retain counsel and will not suffer any adverse consequences during the course of the investigation.  Allegations of misconduct within NOAA to date have been rare.

      • What protections are offered to those who are falsely accused?

      Above all, the procedures established in the Handbook for this Policy provide the main protections for an employee who is falsely accused. The initial phase of the process, the assessment, establishes right away if there is any merit to the case. If there is no evidence of misconduct, the case will be closed and the employee who was accused will not suffer any negative consequences as a result, nor will there be any record of the accusation included in the employee's personnel file.

      Beyond these protections, employees have the right to privacy throughout the investigation process. NOAA will not release the names of those employees who have been accused or are under investigation. Additionally, NOAA will provide an accused employee with information about available assistance, such as counsel, expert advice, union representation, and volunteer mentors. Importantly, NOAA employees are presumed innocent until an investigation proves otherwise. As a result, the employee will not suffer any adverse consequences (e.g., demotion, suspension, firing) during the course of the investigation.

      • Can somebody accuse me of misconduct just because they don't agree with my interpretation of data or findings?

      Any accusation must be substantiated with some evidence; otherwise the accusation will not go beyond the initial assessment.

      NOAA's Scientific Integrity Policy does not recognize disagreement with findings or the interpretation of the findings as a basis for filing a scientific integrity complaint, and so any complaint based on such a disagreement would be dismissed. And if the accuser lied about your methods or work quality in order to fabricate a complaint, the initial assessment and potential inquiry would rapidly uncover the fraud. Note that the false accuser's unethical conduct would most likely have serious professional repercussions.

      General Policy Questions

      • Is there some training I can take on these policies?

      All employees should first read and be familiar with the policy and the handbook. There are rights and responsibilities in this policy that apply to a large number of NOAA employees. If you have questions or concerns, feel free to send them to our email box at

      We are currently working with an interagency group, led by the Department of the Interior, to develop a basic Scientific Integrity training package for all federal employees. This training will be adapted specifically for NOAA staff and our policy. In addition, the Commerce Learning Center (CLC) hosts a number of relevant ethics courses and inter-personal communications courses, which can be very useful.

      Employees should also use the resources on this website to learn more. We have provided a page of related information and will continue to update the site and add documents as needed. Lastly, scientists, their managers, and communications staff should have ongoing conversations about scientific integrity. In most cases, what constitutes integrity and ethical behavior is clear-cut. However, some grey areas exist in certain cases. Our training program will help to identify these areas and bring them to light. As working scientists, you have the best insight on the issues of the day.

      Where can I go with questions?

      If you have questions about the policy or how the policy applies to you, please send an email to noaa.sio@noaagov. The NOAA Scientific Integrity Committee  monitors this mailbox and will either answer your question or direct you to the proper office for a response. Your questions will also be used to build out these FAQs moving forward.

      How do I report an allegation of scientific misconduct?

    • All allegations of scientific misconduct should be sent in writing to the Deputy Under Secretary for Operations at this address:

    • NOAA Deputy Under Secretary for Operations

      C/O Scientific Integrity Office

      HCHB Room 5810

      14th and Constitution Ave, NW

      Washington, DC 20230


      For more information, please contact the NOAA Scientific Integrity Officer 


"The idea is to try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another”

Richard Feynman