Scientific Integrity In Federal Agencies

2019-07-22T14:35:00+00:00 July 22, 2019|
(Credit: Marta D/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0))

(Credit: Marta D/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0))

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology and Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a joint hearing titled, “Scientific Integrity in Federal Agencies.”

Why It Matters

Strong ocean science and technology support a healthy ocean, which in turn ensures our ocean security. Scientific integrity is at the core of conducting transparent and trustworthy ocean science research that informs and guides policy decisions. The ability for federal scientists and agencies to work and communicate their work without political interference or other conflicts of interest is a tenant of scientific integrity. Federal agencies have policies and procedures to address scientific integrity, however, political pressure on government scientists is an issue that can be improved upon.

Key Points

Subcommittee members and witnesses strongly agreed upon and extolled the importance of developing policies that ensure scientific integrity within federal agencies protects both scientists and the scientific process. A focus of the hearing was how the Scientific Integrity Act (H.R.1709), introduced by Representative Paul Tonko (NY-20), would codify integrity policies, giving Congress explicit oversight, and would standardize definitions, policies, and procedures across federal agencies. Members and witnesses alike stressed that this is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, that breaches of integrity have occurred across the last three administrations, and the legislation would help provide the necessary steps for building a foundation of scientific integrity in federal agencies.

Ensuring our agencies follow strong scientific integrity policies helps maintain public trust in the credibility of government research and ensure that policy decisions are based on the best possible science. There was some disagreement regarding the best way to strengthen scientific integrity policies and ensure a separation of science and politics; however, members on both side of the aisle stated they were open to bipartisan discussion and deliberation.

Mr. John Neumann (Managing Director; Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics; U.S. Government Accountability Office) provided comments on the findings of the April 2019 Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of scientific integrity polices at nine federal agencies. The GAO review found variability in the implementation of scientific integrity policies as directed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy through the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act (P.L. 110-69). While all agencies had taken some action to achieve the goals of their scientific integrity policies, several had not followed through on communicating scientific integrity policies to staff, conducting oversight, or monitoring and evaluating performance of their policies.

Mr. Michael Halpern (Deputy Director, Center for Science & Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists) detailed political pressures government scientists sometimes face when presenting data on sensitive topics and stated the need to protect government scientists from outside biases and improve transparency. Federal scientists conduct research on complex issues ranging from public health to environmental protection. When science is suppressed or biased, the consequences are real and affect millions of people, emphasized Mr. Joel Clement (Arctic Initiative Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School).

Quotable

“As an engineer with a deep respect for science, federal scientific integrity standards have been a concern of mine for many years. Allowing political power or special interests to manipulate or suppress federal science hurts and hurts all of us. It leads to dirtier air, unsafe water, toxic products on our shelves, and chemicals in our homes and environment. And it has driven federal inaction in response to the growing climate crisis. Scientific integrity is a longstanding concern that transcends any one party or political administration.”— Representative Paul Tonko (NY-20)

“The value of integrity and transparency in federal science enterprise cannot be understated. Scientific findings are often relied upon by policymakers to make important decisions that affect the lives of millions of Americans. But to maintain the public’s trust, there must be a high degree of integrity and transparency in the scientific process.”— Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Ranking Member Ralph Norman (SC-5)

“I hope that today will serve as an example to all that there can be a bipartisan commitment to promoting responsible conduct in federal scientific agencies regarding the developments and communication of scientific information. There’s not Democratic science, there’s not Republican science. There’s just science. Decision makers and the public want to hear directly from the experts, and they deserve that access.”— Mr. Michael Halpern (Deputy Director, Center for Science & Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists)

“Good science and policy advice from experts also results from the upholding of scientific integrity by elected and appointed officials. Often, and rightly so, our attention is focused on the advice given by experts. However, in policy settings what is just as important is the relationship of policy makers to those experts. Elected officials or political appointees should not use their position to go after individual scientists or studies, such actions subtract from scientific integrity.”— Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. (Director, Sports Governance Center, Professor, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado)

Next Steps

The Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709, S. 775) awaits subcommittee markup in both the House and Senate. To be considered by the full committees, the bills must be approved by the subcommittee in each chamber.

Find Out More

Watch the full hearing

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership          

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