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Union of Concerned Scientists
Citizens and Scientists for Environmental Solutions

Solutions to Restore Scientific Integrity in Policy Making

The February 2004 Restoring Scientific Integrity in Policy Making report, along with the July 2004 Update, having established widespread and serious abuse, raise the issue of what reforms should be adopted to restore scientific integrity to the formation and implementation of federal public policy. This is a significant question, and will continue to be the subject of analysis, public education, and advocacy by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Since the first report was published, UCS has consulted with scientists who have served in government, experienced congressional staff, and other experts about reforms that might be pursued. The reforms suggested so far fall into several distinct categories:


    Scientists: sign this statement to voice your concern about the Bush administration's misuse of science.

    Protecting Government Scientists. The vulnerability of full-time scientific staff to actions by superiors that breach the ethical code of science can impede or prevent the transmission of objective scientific information and advice to policy makers. Such practices undermine the morale of scientific staff and make it more difficult to attract scientists to government service. Government scientists have minimal legal protection should they seek to resist orders or actions by their superiors that violate the ethical code of science. The Whistleblower Protection Act only offers protection against such abuse if the abuse violates laws or creates imminent danger to public health and safety. A handful of individual statutes, including the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, protect disclosures of information that further implementation of those laws. Additional protection is needed for agency scientists who are pressured to distort or suppress scientific findings. One solution could be to create a corps of scientific ombudsmen who would, on a confidential basis, be responsible for resolving such problems in collaboration with the inspector general of the department and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Such a process, if properly designed, would conform to the culture of science and would reduce the likelihood that every such conflict becomes a public legal joust or political cause celebre.
  • Providing Better Scientific Advice to Congress. The abolishment in 1995 of the Office of Technology Assessment left Congress with very little capacity to assess important science and technology issues independently of the executive branch. A bipartisan group of House members, including the chairman and ranking member of the Science Committee, is proposing creation of a Center for Scientific and Technical Assessment within the General Accounting Office, to restore some of this capability.* A Congress more fully informed about science and technology could play a stronger role in ensuring that federal policy making is informed by the best available science.
  • Strengthening the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The OSTP director, as the most senior scientific advisor in the U.S. government, should once again have the stature of assistant to the president for science and technology, and should report directly to the president. When a new administration comes to office, the OSTP director should be among the earliest appointments, so that he or she can be involved in the selection of the most senior appointees having scientific responsibilities in all departments. The staff of the OSTP should be expanded so that it can better provide the director with independent assessment of controversies involving science. OSTP staff should also have the ability and resources to receive and assess reports from the proposed ombudsman corps.
  • Ensuring the Independence of Scientific Advisory Committees. The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) stipulates that members of such committees are to be appointed as Special Government Employees (SGEs), with full disclosure of any conflicts of interest, when they are to serve in the role of experts, or as “representatives” when they are to represent various stakeholders. A number of departments, both in this administration and in past administrations, have appointed many experts as representatives, thereby avoiding the requirement for disclosure of conflicts of interest. Congress should see to it that the FACA is fully enforced, and that clear rules are established and applied to all departments. These rules should stipulate that committees that have a purely scientific or technical advisory mission, or that review research proposals, should be composed entirely of SGEs, and more generally, should require full transparency in the selection and activities of such committees. Furthermore, it should be forbidden to ask scientists and other experts being vetted for membership on scientific advisory committees about their political or policy positions, let alone how they have voted in past elections.
  • Providing increased access to information: Government-sponsored scientific research is increasingly being withheld from the scientific community at large, the public, and even Congress. Reforms are needed in the government’s classification policies to ensure information is withheld only in cases of a clear threat to national security. The Freedom of Information Act should also be reformed to prevent government officials from suppressing unfavorable scientific findings by indefinitely keeping reports in “draft” form.

To become more involved our efforts to create meaningful reforms, click here or email

* The initial sponsors of this proposal are Representatives Rush Holt, Sherwood Boehlert, Amo Houghton, and Bart Gordon.



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