EPA Says More Diverse Advisory Committees Will Mean More Equitable Decisions

May 17, 2021 | 3:19 pm
Genna Reed
Former Director of Policy Analysis

In a response to our sign-on letter to 24 agencies sent on April 28th, EPA says it agrees that “it is critical that all federal advisory committees leverage the available tools and resources to ensure a diverse pool of applicants. EPA agrees that this will contribute to a broader, more diverse representation on science advisory committees and will lead to more comprehensive and equitable decision making at the federal level.” Along with this letter, EPA included Administrator Michael Regan’s response to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) regarding the 90-day review of federal advisory committees triggered by the January 27th Presidential memo on evidence-based policymaking and scientific integrity.

EPA’s response didn’t name any specific steps it was taking internally to diversify committees but it did offer some recommendations it had also sent to OMB to inform a government-wide effort to diversify all committees, including considering “Memorandum of Understanding with minority scientific, academic, professional institutions, and minority talent initiatives that can help mentor and grow future federal committee members; mandatory federal-wide training for the DFOs [Designated Federal Officers] on developing more inclusive outreach plans; and, establishing standards on the diversity criteria with which DFOs collect in formation…”

We support the idea of a formal government-wide effort to make science advice more inclusive, but EPA can also shift its own internal practices in the meantime. As it decides on appointments for members for its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), Science Advisory Board (SAB), Science Advisory Committee on Chemicals (SACC), and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act Science Advisory Panel (FIFRA SAP) in particular, the agency has the opportunity to lean into the Biden administration’s memo and not just select individuals who are qualified and free of conflicts of interest, but represent different identities, backgrounds, experiences, and expertise.

Administrator Regan wrote in his response to OMB that “the agency is returning to its standard process of incorporating a well-rounded group of experts using the time- tested, fair, and transparent normal membership process. Further, DFOs acknowledged that committee diversity is dependent on the pool of nominations.” Given the history of neglect of this issue we are looking forward to seeing the concrete steps that EPA will take to ensure we move past the status quo. EPA and other agencies must put in the outreach effort and have the incentive structures to recruit qualified and diverse candidates.

We appreciate that EPA was the first agency to formally respond to our letter and that it agrees with the need to prioritize this issue. We will be holding them, and other agencies, accountable for making the necessary changes in practice and process that will mean more diverse committees now and in the future.