Draft Scientific Integrity Policies Due from Agencies; Progress Unclear

by Matt Shudtz

August 03, 2011

Today marks 90 days since the last milestone in the White House’s push toward improvements in federal agencies’ scientific integrity policies. Agencies that have made progress in this time ought to release their draft plans and open them to public comment.

 From an outsider’s perspective, there hasn’t been much progress to evaluate recently. It’s something we’ve gotten used to—after an initial push, this administration has not presented much of a sense of urgency in its efforts to set up new scientific integrity policies. 

A quick timeline: President Obama issued an Executive Order in March 2009 that proclaimed the importance of ensuring scientific integrity in the federal government and assigned the task of developing new administration policies to the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Dr. John Holdren. In December 2010, Holdren issued a memorandum to the heads of federal agencies, providing them with guidance and minimum standards for the new scientific integrity policies and giving them 120 days to report to him on their progress. According to a May 5, 2011 blog post by OSTP Student Volunteer Mira Atanassova,

more than 30 executive branch departments, agencies, and offices submitted progress reports on the development of their respective scientific integrity policies. A handful went even further than required and provided draft or complete policies for review.

At that time, Holdren gave all agencies 90 days to submit draft policies. 

Here we are 90 days later, and it is not clear how far the agencies have come. We don’t know exactly which agencies have sent OSTP draft plans (seven had by mid-June, E&E News PM reported).OSTP has mostly not made them available on its website. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) posted its draft policy in June, and the  Department of the Interior has finalized a policy. The story of that transformation underscores the importance of public participation and transparency. Interior’s draft policy, released in August 2010 before Holdren’s memorandum, was panned by PEER for “ignor[ing] political manipulation of science and instead focus[ing] on punitive measures against scientific specialists.” A reworked final policy, issued in February 2011 was better received by the whistleblower group.

To be fair, progress on scientific integrity is probably a second- or third-tier issue right now. Political meddling plagued the Bush administration, but we have not seen many instances of interference in agency scientists’ work in the last three years (the circumstances regarding the recent suspension of a BOEMRE biologist remain unclear). What we have seen is the right wing’s unyielding attack on the policies that federal agencies enact to improve our standard of living. So while it’s far more important that the people running EPA, OSHA, FDA, CPSC and other “protector agencies” focus on fighting off attacks on clean air and water, healthy food, and safe workplaces and consumer products, it’s disheartening to see a “progressive” administration moving so slowly toward reforming scientific integrity policies.

Tagged as: science integrity
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Matthew Shudtz, J.D., is the Executive Director of the Center for Progressive Reform. He joined CPR in 2006 as policy analyst, after graduating law school with a certificate in environmental law.

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