One of the first things EDGI did was to launch a confidential interviewing/oral history project with long-time federal environmental employees, mainly at EPA but also OSHA. While we began primarily with retired employees, including some who had been there at these agencies’ 1970 beginnings, we also began speaking with some still working there. Offering a human and more nuanced perspective on the impacts of the current administration on environmental agencies, our interviewing project seeks to preserve institutional memory, document the inner workings of environmental agencies under the current administration, and situate these historically.
Starting in December 2016, trained interview teams in Washington DC, Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, New Jersey, Colorado, and Vermont began confidentially interviewing long-term EPA and OSHA employees. By June of 2017, interviewers had conducted 62 interviews and composed a report based on these and other primary and secondary research. “EPA Under Siege: Trump’s Transition in History and Memory,” EDGI’s first lengthy report. The report was immediately featured in publications from Mother Jones to Bill Moyers to Grist (Eco-watch found it “stunning”). In August, 2017, findings and authors directly contributed to the first front-page coverage by The New York Times of Pruitt’s impacts inside the EPA. The interviewing project is still on-going, with a further round of conversations that we hope will enable a portrait of the EPA’s first year under Trump and Pruitt.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Stony Brook University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved the consent process for the first interviews, and Northeastern University how provides the master IRB coverage, with other universities of the involved faculty acceding to that coverage. All interviews are confidential, with the interviewee offered a wide range of choices for exactly how strict the terms of confidentiality will be. Unless the interviewee specifies otherwise, the transcript is de-identified. Our research team has developed rigorous procedures for securely storing the audio files and interview transcripts. EDGI researchers also share files and communicate with an end-to-end encryption program to maintain confidentiality.
Preparation and Analysis
We have organized on-line training sessions to coordinate our approach and protocol and harmonize the interview process. An interdisciplinary team of scholars coded and analyzed the interviews in preparation for the “EPA Under Siege” report. As the interview project continues, we are aiming to produce a codebook and other means for organizing and interpreting our findings. Interview material is also being used in preparing several academic journal submissions.
As with EDGI’s other work, the interview project documents the current transition, and its special contribution is to explore just how this transition compares to earlier ones, also to offer an important, in many ways unrivaled glimpse into the entire history of EPA. Interviewees’ knowledge is already helping us understand on-going dynamics inside the EPA and other environmental agencies as they are being re-shaped by the Trump Administration. Our work also shares an EDGI-wide commitment to putting forth a model of more democratic environmental governance for the future.
An open invitation to any and all federal environmental employees
We’d welcome your help! Anyone who has spent substantial time at a federal agency that deals with any environmental data and/or research (e.g. NOAA, NASA, Interior, DOE), please contact us for an interview. You can reach out to us using this this Google Form, by phone at (917) 887-4244. Or, if you have a fully encrypted email account, you can copy and paste the text of the survey into the body of an email, fill it out, and send it to: EnviroDGI@protonmail.com. Learn more about sending secure email to us.