OSTP Breaks Silence on Scientific Integrity Policies

, former science policy fellow | November 1, 2011, 1:37 pm EST
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In a blog post yesterday, White House Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren announced that all relevant federal agencies and departments must submit “final draft [scientific integrity] policies” to the White House by December 17, 2011. By this, the White House means “versions [agencies and departments] consider to be ready for a final round of internal review.”

Given the fact that this deadline is one year to the day after Dr. Holdren issued guidelines that required agencies and departments to develop these policies, the public should expect the policies to be specific and comprehensive.

To date, some agencies have provided more specifics than others. For example, the National Science Foundation included language in its draft policy that reaffirms the right of its staff to communicate effectively with reporters; in contrast, the Department of Interior included vague language in its policy and then promised to update its media policy. Nearly a year later, we’re still waiting for that to happen. (I’ll have more to say on media policies later in the week).

In a notably positive development, the blog post also recommended that agencies make drafts available for public comment. “Our experience with agencies that have already done so has been that draft policies tend to improve considerably as a result of public input,” wrote Dr. Holdren.

I am encouraged by the fact that the White House has recognized the importance of external input to policy development. Only five agencies thus far have sought public comment on policy drafts: Interior, NSF, EPA, NASA, and NOAA. The comment period for USDA’s incomplete and potentially ineffective draft policy closed just yesterday (you can read our comments to USDA here).

The post came just two days before a meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology at which several scientists are expected to testify about the importance of continued progress in restoring scientific integrity to federal policymaking.

Over the past several months, UCS staff have met with leaders of many agencies to give input on scientific integrity policy development. We’ve also published a suite of resources for agency staff to use as they work to meet the White House scientific integrity guidelines.

If the administration expects policies to be fully implemented by the end of 2012, the policies that agencies release by December 17 must be ready for prime time. Agencies should not wait for this deadline to release policies for public comment. And the White House must rapidly share what comes in so we don’t lose momentum and visibility during the holiday season.

I look forward to seeing more policies over the next few weeks and will continue to share my views regarding their strengths and weaknesses.

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  • Gail Talbot

    The UCS comments to the USDA are well done. Unfortunately, attempts to bring change to the USDA have been fruitless. It is so corrupted that one must wonder if reform will work better than a complete makeover beginning with regulations that thwart allowing industry agents from holding agency positions of authority.

  • Barbara Talbert

    I was so pleased to see your work on scientific integrity with various government departments. It seems that the USDA is somewhat resistant to your ideas on transparency and conflicts of interest. I would hope the FDA would also elucidate their position on scientific integrity. Scientific integrity needs to be restored. As it stands now it is in a very precarious position from decades of allowing corporations to set this very important policy.