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U.S. Geological Survey Manual

502.4 - Fundamental Science Practices: Review, Approval, and Release of Information Products


OPR: Office of Science Quality and Integrity

Instruction: This replaces Survey Manual (SM) chapter 502.4 – Fundamental Science Practices: Review, Approval, and Release of Information Products, dated May 24, 2006.

1. Purpose and Scope. As a public agency, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a responsibility to make the results of its scientific investigations widely available to the public in the form of timely, technically sound, and professionally presented information products. USGS scientists are encouraged to publish their data and findings in ways that contribute to the most effective release of USGS science and best enhance the Bureau’s reputation for reliable science. This chapter provides the requirements and responsibilities for the appropriate review and approval of information products prior to release. This policy applies to all Bureau science information products (SM 1100.1), whether they are published by the USGS or an outside entity. The following information products are excluded from this policy: news releases, letters to the editor (not to scientific journals), and opinion pieces or op-eds; poster sessions and presentation materials used as single-use representation of USGS work at scientific meetings, briefings, conferences, and hearing testimony; real-time hazards data and alerts; and satellite data.

2. Authority. The mandate to publish data and findings from USGS science activities dates to the Bureau's creation. The Sundry Civil Bill (U.S. Statutes at Large, v. 20, p. 394-395), signed into law on March 3, 1879, specified the following: "The publications of the Geological Survey shall consist of the annual report of operations, geological and economic maps illustrating the resources and the classification of the lands, and reports upon general and economic geology and paleontology." Subsequent legislation has continued the legal mandate for USGS publication activities and has specified additional types of information products.

3. References.

A. SM 502.1 - Fundamental Science Practices: Foundation Policy
B. SM 502.2 - Fundamental Science Practices: Planning and Conducting Data Collection and Research
C. SM 502.3 - Fundamental Science Practices: Fundamental Science Practices: Peer Review
D. SM 205.18 - Authority to Approve Information Products
E. SM 500.25 - Scientific Integrity
F. SM Part 1100 - Publishing
G. SM 500.5 - News Release and Media Relations Policy
H. SM 500.19 - Contributions and Grants to USGS from Outside Sources
I. SM 550.1 - USGS Visual Identity System
J. SM 600.6 - Implementation and Administration of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
K. SM 601.1 – USGS Web Standards
L. SM 370.735.5 - Outside Work and Interests
M. 305 DM 3 - Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities
N. 470 DM 1 - Public Expression
O. 478 DM 1 – Nonofficial Expression
P. USGS General Records Disposition Schedule, Chapter 1300 - Publishing Records
Q. USGS Information Quality Guidelines (Web site)
R. USGS Peer Review Agenda (Web site)
S. Fundamental Science Practices of the USGS (Web site)

4. Policy.

A. All science information products (SM 1100.1) must be reviewed and approved for official release and dissemination, whether they are published by the USGS (SM 1100.3)or by an outside entity (SM 1100.4), if the author has full time, part time, or volunteer (including emeritus) USGS affiliation or shared affiliation (for example, between the USGS and a university). Processes for review and approval may differ for different kinds of information products but must be consistently applied throughout the USGS.

B. If during preparation, review, or approval, an information product is determined to be of a particularly sensitive nature, the appropriate Bureau executives and officials will be consulted. Issues or concerns of a sensitive nature include those that have current or future policy implications or that involve matters of national interest, security, or potential commercial gain. Appropriate officials from the Bureau and from other Federal and State agencies are alerted in a timely manner about these information products and their implications or impact with regard to public health and safety. Additionally, coordination and review will include the appropriate Office of Communications and Publishing representative in instances of policy-sensitive products as well as for those products that may be of such a level of visibility that a communication strategy is warranted to handle their release.

C. USGS Information products do not recommend or appear to advocate or prescribe a particular public policy. Information products released to the public contain no statements that suggest that the product does not meet USGS standards of scientific excellence, integrity, and objectivity. Certain information statements or disclaimers not related to scientific quality may be used, such as those regarding nonendorsement of commercial products and services, nondisclosure of peer reviews, notice of copyrighted information, and preliminary data, databases and computer programs.

5. Review, Approval, and Release Requirements. Requirements for review, approval, and release of USGS information products include the following:

A. Reviews. All information products must receive the reviews described below prior to Bureau approval:

(1) Peer review, which ensures the scientific quality of USGS information, as detailed in SM 502.3.

(2) Editorial review, which ensures appropriate Bureau standards and quality assurance for accuracy and clarity of expression are met. Specifically, for information products published by the USGS, editing is required as detailed in SM 1100.2. For information products published outside the USGS, editing is recommended but optional.

(3) Names review, which ensures the accuracy of specialized technical names used, including geologic, geographic, biologic, hydrologic, and geospatial names and geodatabase and metadata review, where appropriate. This review may be performed separately or as part of the peer review or editorial review.

(4) Courtesy review, as appropriate prior to publication, is permitted by customers and outside organizations that are in partnership with the USGS, have coauthored an information product, and/or who have a stake in the results of a product’s release. These reviews must be treated carefully to avoid prejudicing the science by comments that represent conflict of interest (refer to 5.B.(2) below). In being afforded this courtesy review, such parties are bound by the Bureau’s nondisclosure policy to uphold the strictest scientific ethics in ensuring confidentiality of the science that is being reviewed and not disclosing or divulging any results or conclusions or making any public statements regarding the science before it is published and released. Information products distributed for courtesy review must carry the following statement: “This draft manuscript is distributed solely for the purpose of courtesy review. The comments received will be addressed and treated as appropriate to ensure there is no conflict of interest. Its content is deliberative and predecisional, so it must not be disclosed or released by reviewers. Because the manuscript has not yet been approved for publication by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), it does not represent any official USGS finding or policy.”

(5) Policy review, which ensures that all policies relevant to USGS Fundamental Science Practices (FSP) are met and identifies policy-sensitive issues, is performed as part of the Bureau approval process, as outlined 5.B. below.

B. Approvals. All information products must receive general approvals, which include those of line supervisors and generally follow the organizational alignment of the senior USGS author, and, subsequently, Bureau approval, which includes the Policy Review, described in 5.A.(5). Bureau approval (previously referred to as “Director’s approval”) validates the scientific excellence of the information product. Bureau approval ensures that all appropriate reviews (refer to 5.A.) have been conducted and that the product is consistent with all pertinent USGS and Departmental policies. Delegations of approval authority to those who grant Bureau approval are detailed in SM 205.18. Bureau approval also uses the following criteria:

(1) Scientific Excellence, Integrity, and Objectivity. The data and information collected are accurate and precise. Interpretations are presented as honestly and straightforwardly as possible, without apparent bias. References are used to support scientific statements. Speculation about results is not appropriate in USGS information products instead, the conclusions are based on accurate data interpreted with sound scientific reasoning.Issues with regard to scientific excellence, integrity, and objectivity are dealt with in accordance with established Departmental and USGS codes of scientific conduct (305 DM 3 and SM 500.25).

(2) Conflict of Interest. Issues with regard to any conflict of interest, in which an individual’s personal interest interferes with or could be construed to interfere with the objectivity of the person’s action or judgments when authoring an information product, conducting peer review or approving an information product, are dealt with in accordance with established Departmental and USGS codes of scientific conduct and ethics requirements. Personal interest may include the interests of a spouse or minor children. Conflict of interest includes any financial or other interest that conflicts with the service or actions of an individual because it could impair the individual’s objectivity or could create an unfair competitive advantage for a person or organization.

(3) Impartiality and Nonadvocacy. Information products present science based, peer reviewed facts and interpretations impartially. Information products do not advocate or appear to advocate a particular public policy. However, evaluations of alternative courses of action may be included in the information product. Interpretations are presented as honestly and straightforwardly as possible, are without apparent bias, and contain no derogatory remarks. The conclusions are based on the best available data interpreted with sound scientific reasoning that avoids speculation.

(4) Methodology and Documentation. Methods used to collect data and produce results must be defensible and adequately documented (SM 502.2).

(5) Public Benefit and Access. The results of USGS investigations will be made available in an impartial and objective manner that will best serve all the public, rather than the special interests of any group or individual.  Products are effectively presented, and the tone is appropriate for ease of understanding by the intended audience. There is no implied competition with the private sector, nor do the results favor any particular entity. Commercial product endorsements are not permitted. Data and information are preserved in accordance with requirements found in USGS records disposition schedules. Issues of intellectual property law, copyright (SM 1100.6), and restriction to open access of publicly funded science must be addressed and every effort made to ensure maximum visibility by publishing in the most appropriate medium. The need to maintain open access to USGS information will be balanced with national security concerns. Open access may also be restricted in accordance with USGS efforts to safeguard proprietary information, as well as unpublished data and information that is deliberative and predecisional in nature or that has not received the appropriate review and approval for release (refer to SM 500.14).

(6) Natural Hazards and/or Public or Wildlife Health. Information products that identify forecasts or predictions of natural hazards (for example floods, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic activity) or that have immediate or time-sensitive relevance to public or wildlife health warnings or alerts are scientifically sound and have been technically reviewed according to USGS quality standards or by qualified scientific peers prior to release the level of review reflects the scope and relevance of the product. To the extent possible, the product has the concurrence of State or local officials who are charged with response or public announcements. 

(7) Accessibility and Bureau Identity. Federal laws and guidelines regarding the accessibility of USGS information must be met (SM 600.6). Information products conform to USGS Visual Identity System requirements (SM 550.1).

C. Dissemination and Release of Information Products. USGS data and findings are published in ways that contribute to the most effective release of the science and enhance the reputation of the Bureau. The opportunities for publishing in USGS and outside outlets are broad, including USGS publication series and Web pages, publications of cooperating agencies, audiovisual products, scientific journal articles and books, and articles in semitechnical or popular periodicals.

(1) Following a Bureau-wide approach to the release of USGS series information products (such as Professional Papers, Scientific Investigation Reports, and Fact Sheets) is critical to ensuring that USGS science information is made available in a consistent and uniform manner (SM 1100.3). Information products published by the USGS must conform to appropriate review and approval requirements detailed in this chapter, including conformance with established USGS publishing requirements and procedures for production and release (SM Part 1100 - Publishing).

(2) Presenting USGS data and findings in non-USGS outlets (such as journals, scientific societies, and commercial publishing houses) can provide USGS authors with an effective means of conveying USGS science to a broad audience of scientists, to a limited audience of specialists, or to the general public. These outside entities can be effective in broadening the stature and impact of USGS science and generating support and partnerships for USGS programs and scientists. Refer to SM 1100.4 for requirements on the use of outside publications.

(3) News releases, opinion pieces, letters to the editor and other media communications are governed by requirements detailed in SM 500.5. the Office of Communications and Publishing must be informed of anticipated Bureau approval and release of findings or data that may be especially newsworthy, have an impact on Government policy, or contradict previous public understanding to ensure that the proper officials are notified and that media communication strategies are developed.

6. Responsibilities. Compliance with this policy is incumbent on all USGS employees and others working on behalf of the Bureau. Specific additional responsibilities are as follows:

A. Director. The USGS Director has final authority and responsibility for FSP and for the excellence, integrity, and objectivity of USGS science and information products. In executing this authority and responsibility, the Director consults with the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), which is a deliberative body comprised of senior policy-level leaders of the major bureau components that makes recommendations to ensure the successful delivery of the USGS mission.

B. Associate Directors and Regional Executives. Associate Directors and Regional Executives set FSP policy for review, approval, and release practices and collaborate with each other and Science Center Managers in their areas regarding the content and application of these practices to ensure consistency. Regional Executives in collaboration with the Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI) execute and ensure compliance with the FSP policies and practices governing review, approval, and release. Regional Executives work with the OSQI to mediate or assist in resolving review, approval, and release issues that cannot be resolved directly between Science Center Manager, approving officials, and others. Associate Directors and Regional Executives ensure that those who have Bureau approval authority are aware of policy-sensitive issues. The decision to restrict access and distribution to any science data, information, software, or publications will be made by the appropriate Associate Director in consultation with other senior members of the Director’s staff. Regional Executives also work with Office of Communications and Publishing and other appropriate USGS offices and officials to develop communications strategies with regards to any product content that may be potentially sensitive, controversial, or of high interest.

C. Office of Science Quality and Integrity. The Office of Science Quality and Integrity (OSQI), in collaboration with Associate Directors and Regional Executives, executes the policy and practices governing review, approval, and release of information products. The Director of the OSQI also collaborates with the ELT regarding the content and application of consistent USGS review, approval, and release practices and maintains the policy documents and procedures that pertain to FSP. The Director of OSQI appoints Bureau Approving Officials (BAOs) who approve those information products for which they have been delegated Bureau approval authority (SM 205.18), and ensures that the BAOs are aware of policy-sensitive issues.

D. Science Center Managers. Science Center Managers ensure that standards for scientific quality are met, for example, ensuring that methodology is documented and accepted metadata standards are used. Science Center Managers (or their equivalent) have delegated Bureau approval authority for some information products and can redelegate this authority to a designee (SM 205.18). They determine if they can approve an information product or if the product needs to be approved by a BAO in the OSQI. Science Center Managers ensure that only properly peer reviewed products (SM 502.3) are approved by them or forwarded to a BAO for approval (refer to 5.B). They alert appropriate officials (such as the Regional Executive and BAO) and offices (including the Office of Communications and Publishing) about potential high-visibility products and controversial or policy-sensitive issues in information products. If necessary, Science Center Managers contact the respective Regional Executive for assistance if necessary in resolving issues with regard to review, approval, and release. They ensure that information products produced in their centers conform to USGS publishing requirements (SM Part 1100 - Publishing) and archival requirements (refer to section 7. Documentation and Recordkeeping).

E. Approving Officials. Approving Officials, including Science Center Managers (or equivalent) and BAOs in the OSQI, ensure that USGS standards for scientific quality are followed by confirming that appropriate review, approval, and release requirements are met in accordance with this chapter before they grant Bureau approval of the information products they have authority to approve (SM 205.18). They ensure that strict objectivity regarding the relation of science to public policy is upheld, thus preserving the reputation of the USGS as a source of high-quality and policy-relevant, but policy-neutral science (refer to 4.A.(3) and 5.B). Approving officials may require that an information product receive additional peer, policy, editorial, or other reviews as necessary to ensure the ultimate quality of the product. To ensure that the manner of release is consistent with FSP and publishing practices and with the intended audience in mind, approving officials may make the final decision related to selection of the appropriate USGS series or external outlet (refer to 5.C). They confirm that appropriate officials and offices (including the Office of Communications and Publishing) have been notified with regard to potentially policy-sensitive or high-visibility information products. They interact with Regional Executives, Science Center Managers, Supervisors, Authors, Science Publishing Network staff, and others in the conduct of their approval responsibilities. They conduct consistent and uniform approval practices across the Bureau. Information products will be considered for approval on a “first-in, first-out basis.” Approving officials will, however, exercise discretion in prioritizing review of information products in the approval queue to most effectively manage the workload and meet program needs of the Science Centers. They communicate effectively with one another to share knowledge and expertise relative to review, approval, and release practices and the Bureau approval responsibility, one acting on behalf of another, as needed. If necessary, they contact the respective Regional Executive and the Director of OSQI for assistance in resolving issues.

F. Authors’ Supervisors. Supervisors have initial responsibility in management to ensure the quality of science information products by authors they supervise and ensure that the appropriate reviews, such as peer review and editorial review, occur and that review comments are adequately addressed (SM 502.3 and SM 1100.2). They inform the Science Center Manager about any product content that might be sensitive or controversial, may qualify as influential scientific information or highly influential scientific assessment as defined in the OMB Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review, or may be of high interest and will identify any internal or external groups or agencies that might have particular and/or immediate interest in the product. They facilitate forwarding information products for approval well in advance of the date due to the publisher, leaving enough time for any needed changes before the product is submitted for release (SM 205.18).

G. Authors. The senior USGS author (or the first USGS author, in instances of collaborative outside publications) is responsible for ensuring that the appropriate review and approval for their information product occurs (SM 1100.5). They ensure that products of a sensitive or controversial nature are brought to the attention of their supervisor or manager. Authors are responsible for considering and reconciling peer review comments. Authors ensure appropriate editorial review requirements are met. They collaborate with the Science Center Manager, supervisor, and approving official to ensure the information product is forwarded well in advance of the date due to the publisher, leaving enough time for review and reconciliation, approval, and any needed changes before they submit the product to the publisher for release. If significant changes in drafts occur after approval, the author is responsible for informing their supervisor and the approving official to determine if further review and approval is warranted. Authors will consult with their supervisor and their local, Publishing Service Center staff in the Science Publishing Network (SPN) for requirements on the production and release of USGS series information products.

H. Office of Communications and Publishing. The Office of Communications and Publishing (OCAP) is responsible for developing communication strategies, plans, and procedures to ensure appropriate notification of sensitive or controversial products, as well as broad dissemination and exposure of USGS science and managing the Bureau’s publishing activities. The OCAP advises Science Center Managers and others in the Bureau on communications strategy for pending information products that are likely to be notable, policy sensitive, or of high visibility and impact to the scientific community, the public, or a specific industry or interest. The Director of the OCAP collaborates with the ELT regarding communication needs for USGS information products. SPN staff in the OCAP ensure publishing efficiencies and consistent application of publishing requirements within the USGS and coordinate regularly with each other and authors in providing support of Bureau publishing activities from consultation regarding information product design and media to editorial review, production, and release of the finished product.

7. Documentation and Recordkeeping.

The use of the Information Product Data System (IPDS), the Bureau’s official internal product tracking system for managing the development steps of USGS information products is required. Development steps include documentation of review and approval records for published USGS science information products and for information products and articles published by outside entities. The documentation should include the author, title, purpose, publishing media, and documentation of peer review, editorial review, Bureau approval, and other appropriate USGS and outside review and approval concurrences. Documentation also includes the consent or permission of the copyright owners for using copyrighted materials in USGS information products (refer to SM 1100.6). The documentation is part of the official record and is maintained in accordance with USGS Records Disposition Schedule (GRDS) recordkeeping requirements (refer to GRDS, Chapter 1300) at the originating office (for sensitive or confidential documentation) or digitally in the IPDS. The IPDS is also the mechanism for documenting highly-visible, policy-sensitive, and influential USGS information products. The official record copy of series publications and many other published science information products is available through the USGS Publications Warehouse, the Bureau electronic publications database.



/s/ Karen D. Baker                                                                                          December 16, 2011
_____________________________________________                              _______________
Karen D. Baker                                                                                               Date
Associate Director for Administration and Enterprise Information


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