Report: Protecting Science at Federal Agencies

by Tim Donaghy

November 20, 2018

A new report describes new and ongoing threats to the use of science in public health and environmental decisions and recommends steps Congress can take in response.

To read the full report Protecting Science at Federal Agencies click here.

A new report describes “new and ongoing threats to the use of science in public health and environmental decisions and recommends steps Congress can take in response.” The report was released by a diverse group of sixteen environmental, public health, and good government organizations — including Greenpeace USA.

From the Executive Summary:

Federally sponsored scientific research and technology development have brought us the ability to explore outer space, convert sunlight into electricity, build super-computers, predict weather patterns, manufacture self-driving vehicles, and use assisted reproductive technologies to give birth. Taxpayer-funded science and scientists also improve our quality of life by finding cures to cancer and other deadly diseases, developing technologies that protect public health and safety, and inventing means for enhancing national security. When conducted appropriately, government science programs yield enormous benefits.

However, when political interference occurs— such as politically motivated censorship, misrepresentation of scientific findings, or the suppression of the free flow of information from the government to the public—public health and well-being suffer. Political interference in the way the government communicates science and uses it to inform policy is a long-term challenge to protecting public health, safety, and the environment. All modern presidential administrations have politicized science in some way. However, scientific integrity at federal agencies has eroded recently, with serious consequences for public trust and our government’s ability to respond to problems.

Agency leaders have ignored and mischaracterized scientific evidence on climate change, worker compensation, and reproductive health. They have cut themselves o from expert advice that could lead to cleaner air and safer workplaces. They have suppressed information that could help families, national parks, and communities better protect themselves from environmental threats, while weakening enforcement of environmental laws.

To fulfill their Congressionally established missions, agencies must have well-qualified leaders who respect the laws they are tasked with implementing—but many political appointees lack basic relevant credentials or exhibit outright hostility to the missions of their agencies, and several have resigned over conflicts of interest or improper use of agency resources. To use taxpayer dollars efficiently, agencies must attract and retain skilled civil servants—but as scientists face abuses of scientific integrity and limits on their communication with the public and scientific peers, morale suffers and employees depart. Finally, when employees blow the whistle on abuses, they often face retaliation, which discourages others from speaking out.

The findings and recommendations in this report have been endorsed by the following organizations. Contributors to the report are identified with an asterisk.

Climate Science Legal Defense Fund*
Defenders of Wildlife
Democracy Forward*
Environmental Integrity Project*
Environmental Protection Network*
Government Accountability Project*
Greenpeace*
Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health*
National Center for Health Research
National Federation of Federal Employees*
National LGBTQ Task Force
National Partnership for Women & Families*
National Women’s Health Network
Power to Decide*
Project on Government Oversight*
Union of Concerned Scientists*

Tim Donaghy

By Tim Donaghy

Tim Donaghy is a Senior Research Specialist with Greenpeace USA. He writes frequently about climate change, offshore oil drilling, energy production, and the Arctic.

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