Federal Scientists! Make a Note for the Record. We All Need to Know of Your Work.

, director, Center for Science & Democracy | February 13, 2018, 5:53 pm EDT
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To say that federal employees are working in a challenging environment is probably a gross understatement. I’ve heard reports of employees not being allowed to take notes in meetings or told not to use specific words in communications. The Union of Concerned Scientists has reported on scientific advice being sidelined by political staff across a broad range of decisions. As my colleague Joel Clement, formerly of the Department of Interior, said, most career professionals in the agencies just want to do their jobs.

So how can scientists and other professionals in the agencies maintain the integrity of your work place? How can you ensure that the information and technical input you provide isn’t simply suppressed? One option is to make notes for the record as you do your work. You can document in real time by writing a contemporaneous account of the projects you are involved in, dated and signed. That preserves a record of what’s happening inside federal agencies. You can briefly document meetings and calls you participate in, and include any documents that are a key part of the decision-making process. You might want to keep separate copies at home or securely in your office. In keeping with best practices for data management, back up your notes periodically or keep them in multiple formats.

I am not suggesting some nefarious effort to undermine agencies nor to catch anyone out, or challenge the administration, but simply to document the professional work that you do. Be aware that what you write will likely be seen by others. It may become part of an administrative record behind a decision. So, take care with what you write and maintain professional standards at all times.

The purpose of our government is to serve the public interest. The professional staff at federal agencies know that well. Keeping a record of your work is also the act of a professional. I certainly understand the stress that many agencies are feeling, as a former fed myself. So, take care and continue to do the work you do, and that the country so sorely needs. And as you do, help fight the censorship of science by making sure that that work will ultimately be accessible to all Americans. And for anyone reading this blog, remember to #ThankAGovScientist today.

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  • Bob Derr

    I majored in history many years ago and was very impressed by the common denominators of autocrats/dictators throughout world history. Calling groups of people ‘enemies of the state,’ limiting voting rights, ensuring a strong military, establishing an enemies list, falsely accusing or lying about the ideas and intent of others who don’t share the autocrat’s philosophy,and unilaterally limiting the use of certain ideas and/or words are all ways to keep the people under control. In today’s world, the work of our scientists in confronting the threats of global warming are vitally important in ensuring the continued existence of all life forms on our planet. I realize I’m “preaching to the choir,” but we need more people to speak out against those who align themselves with individual, organizational, and/or corporate powers that seek more wealth and control at the expense of life itself. When I read about people in powerful positions making statements like “you can’t use these words or read these books, etc.” or “this is fake science/news” (and they have no factual information to back their opinions), I think it’s past time to make a ‘course correction’ and listen to the chorus of world scientists who are warning us about our certain path of destruction. Hopefully, it’s not too late ….