Response to NAS request for comment on S&T appointments  (draft – KG 6 21 04 )

Response to NAS request for comment on S&T appointments (draft – KG 6 21 04 )

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Remarks of Alden Meyer, UCS Director of Strategy and Policy Before the NAS Committee on Ensuring the Best Science and Technology Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Appointments July 21, 2004 Thank you for the opportunity to share our views on your challenging task. It’s daunting to be the last speaker standing between you and Henry Waxman! Listening to this morning’s presentations and discussions, it struck me that there is a huge elephant sitting in the middle of the room – the mounting concern in the scientific community about the Bush administration’s suppression and distortion of scientific analyses, and its politicization of appointments to federal scientific advisory panels. These abuses affect many federal agencies across a wide range of issues. As Chairman Porter suggested, I’m not going to spend time recounting the details; these abuses have been widely reported in both the general and scientific press as well as in well-documented reports by UCS, Congressional offices, and many others. But the current dispute between the World Health Organization and political appointees at HHS is illustrative of the larger problem. HHS wants to control which of its scientists at NIH, CDC, FDA and other agencies under its control get to participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization and other multilateral organizations -- presumably to ensure they adhere to the administration’s policy positions on controversial ...

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Remarks of Alden Meyer, UCS Director of Strategy and Policy Before the NAS Committee on Ensuring the Best Science and Technology Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Appointments July 21, 2004 Thank you for the opportunity to share our views on your challenging task.It’s daunting to be the last speaker standing between you and Henry Waxman! Listening to this morning’s presentations and discussions, it struck me that there is a huge elephant sitting in the middle of the room – the mounting concern in the scientific community about the Bush administration’s suppression and distortion of scientific analyses, and its politicization of appointments to federal scientific advisory panels. These abuses affect many federal agencies across a wide range of issues. As Chairman Porter suggested, I’m not going to spend time recounting the details; these abuses have been widely reported in both the general and scientific press as well as in welldocumented reports by UCS, Congressional offices, and many others. But the current dispute between the World Health Organization and political appointees at HHS is illustrative of the larger problem.HHS wants to control which of its scientists at NIH, CDC, FDA and other agencies under its control get to participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization and other multilateral organizations  presumably to ensure they adhere to the administration’s policy positions on controversial issues.The WHO is bridling at this interference in its recruitment of expert advisors. Dr. D.A. Henderson, the man who led the worldwide campaign to eradicate small pox and an advisor to HHS Secretary Thompson, said that during his 11 years at WHO “he could not recall having to go through government bureaucrats to invite scientists to participate in expert panels, except in the case of small Eastern European countries.” UCS has documented numerous instances where scientists nominated to advisory committees have been asked about their political views  even whether they had voted for President Bush. Chairman Porter asked the panel this morning about the appropriateness of this behavior.While Mr. Flaak told you he saw no legitimate basis for such lines of questioning, and Ms. Glynn implied such questions might even be unethical, HHS spokesman William Pierce baldly defended this practice.In a radio interview this spring, he stated that “when they are in power they appoint Democratic scientists and when we are we appoint Republican scientists.” These and numerous other abuses of scientific integrity are bad enough.What’s even worse is the Bush administration’s flatout denial that these abuses are occurring, or when they are forced to admit they are, that there’s anything wrong with them.
This behavior is creating a major new obstacle to the federal government’s recruitment and retention of senior scientific talent, one that I believe this committee must address.From conversations with scientists who have recently left agencies such as CDC, NIH, EPA, and Interior, as well as scientists still at these agencies who for understandable reasons will only speak offtherecord, it’s clear that if this pattern of abuse continues, there will be an exodus of scientific talent from the federal government.This will go far beyond the senior appointees that are the focus of your committee – it will involve the thousands of government scientists who do the research, analyze the studies in the literature, draft the technical regulations, and make the daytoday decisions on federal R&D investments.For as Dr. David Baltimore said in his comments to this committee: “Good people want to work in an environment where their work is appreciated.Scientists have many alternatives as to how they spend their time and are not going to work for or advise the government unless they believe that their work will be taken seriously.” It took years or even decades to build the worldclass teams of scientists at these agencies, but they could be decimated in a matter of months if inappropriate interference with their scientific work is allowed to continue. What should this committee do about it? First and foremost, you should acknowledge the depth of concern in the scientific community about these abuses, and highlight the barrier this is creating to recruitment and retention of top scientific talent.Just like Alcoholics Anonymous, the first step on the path to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Second, you should make it clear in no uncertain terms that no matter who is the next President, this committee and the National Academy believe these kinds of abuses of science are simply unacceptable and must cease. Third, you should make some specific recommendations for reforms that, while not guaranteeing these abuses will never happen in the future, will make them less likely to occur – or at least ensure they are promptly addressed if they do occur. I’ve listed a few broad areas in my full statement that you might want to consider: the Director of OSTP should once again also be the Assistant to the President for Science & Technology, should be one of any new President’s first appointees, and should be consulted in the selection of directors of sciencerelated agencies as well as other senior scientific appointees.political meddling in the selection and activities of federal advisory committees associated with sciencebased policy should be scrupulously avoided, and it should be forbidden to ask candidates for scientific advisory committees about their political or policy positions, let alone who they voted for.
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scientists, engineers and health professionals being considered for science and technology federal advisory committees should be appointed as Special Government Employees rather than as “representatives,” to ensure full disclosure of any conflicts of interest they may have.And finally, to reduce the vulnerability of federal agency scientists to actions by their superiors that breach the ethical code of science, you should propose the creation of a corps of scientific ombudsmen in key federal agencies.These ombudsmen, who should themselves be senior scientists, would work to resolve such conflicts, and could report serious allegations to the department’s Inspector General and simultaneously to OSTP. Thanks again for the opportunity to share our views.We stand ready to provide any assistance we can as you pursue your important work.
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