Coalition Letter In Support of Rescinding The Executive Order On Evaluating And Improving The Utility Of Federal Advisory Committees

2019-10-23T09:16:26+00:00 October 4, 2019|

October 4, 2019

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Rescinding the Executive Order on Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory
Committees

Dear Mr. President:

The undersigned organizations are writing to ask that you rescind the Executive Order on Evaluating and
Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees. By requiring elimination of one-third of existing
advisory committees and capping the total number of committees at 350, the order would arbitrarily
eliminate essential advice that informs government decisionmaking. Its rationale is specious, and its
impacts would be severe.

It is reasonable for each agency to assess its own advisory needs on regular basis, which is why this is
already done by agencies as required by the Federal Advisory Committee Act and tracked by the General
Services Administration. The order does not explain why this existing process is insufficient, nor justify
its apparent assumption that one-third of existing committees are no longer necessary and that the
government does not need more than 350 advisory committees.

The justification for this order is to reduce costs to the government, but advisory committees provide
substantial value to agencies for costs far below those of hiring additional staff or contractors to perform
the duties they fulfill. Agency staff run a few meetings per year and compensate committee members for
economy-class travel and other small expenses incurred. Gathering premier experts who volunteer their
time to deliberate on pressing matters is a bargain for taxpayers. Further, there is no evidence to support
that cutting advisory committees will result in fewer agency costs. To the contrary, a GAO report
examined the costs before and after President Clinton’s 1993 executive order that cut committees and
found that while the number of advisory committees declined during the four years after the order, the
costs increased by four percent. A case can and should be made for committees to be sunset once their
charges are complete, but the costs of running active committees are small compared to the valuable
advice they provide to the agencies they serve.

Reaching a goal of 350 total committees across the government is an arbitrary number that will not help
our agencies ensure that policies are based in science and respond to public need and its research
programs are doing the highest quality work possible. For agencies like the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, cutting one-third of discretionary advisory committees means that it will have to
choose between a range of active public health needs, from infant mortality to sickle cell disease.
Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency will have to make difficult decisions, such as between a
committee studying how best to protect children’s health or one that focuses on environmental justice
issues.

The value of our government’s federal advisory committee infrastructure cannot be overstated. Scientific
and technical advisory committees provide independent reviews of the evidence and debate issues ranging
from the best way to minimize exposure to lead from drinking water to understanding how best to collect
information as a part of the U.S. census. Other committees offer advice on policies and provide an
avenue for agencies to receive feedback from key stakeholder groups, such as women serving in the
armed forces or agriculture and rural communities. The process by which advisory committees operate
provides avenues for all stakeholders to give input on agency actions, as all advisory committees hold
open meetings with public comment opportunities. The federal advisory committee process is an
important and unmatched venue for transparent deliberations on federal matters that gives members of the
public the opportunity to observe and hold agencies accountable.

The removal of advisory committees across the government without a compelling rationale is a threat to a
vital independent source of information and deliberation. It will undoubtedly result in a net loss of
independent expert capacity and institutional knowledge and leave important work unfinished or
underdeveloped. Further, it will result in fewer opportunities for the public to participate in agency
decision making and weigh in on issues that impact them directly. We urge you to rescind this executive
order in order to preserve this vital advisory committee network and uphold public trust in the integrity
and rigor of government decisions.

Read the full letter and list of undersigned organizations here.