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Project on Government Oversight

POGO's Angela Canterbury offering comments on the plan to restore scientific integrity to federal policy making.

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November 4, 2011 | By: Angela Canterbury

Public Comments of Angela Canterbury, Director of Public Policy
Project On Government Oversight
Submitted to the
President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
November 4, 2010

Members of PCAST, it is my pleasure to offer comments today on the long overdue need for a plan to restore scientific integrity to federal policy making. Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight or POGO is an independent nonprofit that investigates and exposes corruption and other misconduct in order to achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

POGO has a keen interest in ensuring both public confidence in government science and our public’s health and safety.  Federal science must reflect the authentic work of scientists free from conflicts of interest and political tampering. This is why we are deeply concerned about the lack of guidance to improve scientific integrity and protect scientists.

Federal government scientists play a vital role in providing policymakers data and scientific analyses to ensure they can make the best, most informed decisions about our environment, health and national security. Whether it is toy safety, drug efficacy or air quality, we count on federal agencies to use independent and unbiased science to protect us from harm. We are all at risk when federal scientists have their work altered or suppressed because it doesn’t support predetermined policy decisions.

We welcomed President Obama’s Scientific Integrity Memorandum issued on March 9, 2009. 

However, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has yet to produce the scientific integrity plan due on July 9, 2009—nearly 16 months ago.

Federal agencies must have guidance to create policy and practices that allow independent science to fully inform policy decisions. We've seen individual agencies take significant steps, such as the EPA providing more information about toxic chemical releases. But there also have been extremely troubling examples of malfeasance with federal science, such as the recent evidence that NOAA may have put a rosy spin on the scientific estimate of how much oil is left in the Gulf following the BP disaster. Another worrying example is the FDA scientific advisory committee members who have financial conflicts of interest who voted to keep the risky diabetes drug Avandia on the market.

A strong central plan implemented by the agencies will go a long way to improve federal science.

Such a plan must include:

  • Media and publications policies that allow scientists to share their research results with the public and other scientists.
  • Adequate disclosure of meetings among government officials and outside groups while science-based decisions are being made.
  • Stronger conflicts of interest rules for scientists and science advisors, including revolving door restrictions.
  • Protections for scientists and other federal employees who blow the whistle on political interference in science.

We urge OSTP to fulfill the president's pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” and release its plan before the end of the year as promised by PCAST.

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