House Science Committee chairman questions White House delay on federal science integrity principles


In the more than six months since the enactment of a law requiring the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop principles of science communication integrity for the federal agencies to implement, and more than three months after the statutory deadline for issuing the principles, the White House continues to be tangled up in its own internal political processes rather than being in compliance with a straightforward statutory requirement.

In our February 13 post – “Why hasn’t White House science director issued required science communication integrity principles?” – we said:

When White House science Director John Marburger testifies before the House Science and Technology Committee on February 14 at a hearing on funding for the America COMPETES Act, the Committee should ask him why he has not issued the federal science communication integrity principles required by the Act.

The statute requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to “develop and issue an overarching set of principles to ensure the communication and open exchange of data and results” from Federal scientists and to “prevent the intentional or unintentional suppression or distortion of such research findings.” As we noted earlier, the legal deadline passed 3 months ago. Perhaps we missed something, but we have not seen anything to bring the White House into compliance with the statutory requirement. 

From an exchange that took place at the hearing, we find that we were right. We see no excuse for this dilatory response to a Congressional mandate. Where is the tie-up? Now that OSTP, months behind schedule, has apparently produced a draft for final approval, who in the White House is sitting on this?

At the February 14 House Science and Technology Committee hearing on “Funding for the America COMPETES Act in the FY2009 Administration Budget Request,” Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) took up our question and had the following exchange with OSTP Director Marburger (about 21 minutes into the archived Webcast):

Gordon: “Also Dr. Marburger, Section 1009 of the COMPETES act required your office to work with all federal science agencies to develop and issue principles to ensure that the federal scientists can communicate the findings of their research openly to the public and that their research will not be suppressed or distorted. These principles were to be developed within 3 months after the law was passed. Within 6 months after the law was passed your office was to ensure that each federal agency had developed policies and procedures consistent with these principles. I would like to ask what have you done to fulfill the requirements of section 1009 of the COMPETES Act? Have you developed the principles? Have they been issued by your office? Have all federal science agencies developed and implemented policies based on these principles?

Marburger: “Sir, my office has developed principles, in fact I saw final draft of those principles within the last few weeks. They have been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for distribution to the departments for the kind of review that is specified in the act. That will take some time but we do want the agencies and offices to have buy-in to these principles so we can be assured they will be followed. Sorry that it has taken this long, it is a process that involves consultation with agencies, but I do believe we are on a good track to get this out. You will be receive the information as soon as it is possible to get it to you in the form in which it is likely to be approved.

Gordon: “Better late than never. But we hope you will try to move this forward, we believe it is important. Let me ask you, did you take any type of public comment or seek public comment on these principles as you were developing them?”

Marburger: “We did not take public comment as far as I know on these principles but they will go through an interagency vetting process that will expose them to public view that will inform the final version of them. I believe that several agencies have good models for a set of principles and we drew heavily on those, NASA is one that I can name, in preparing our document that we are now circulating to the agencies.

Gordon: “We would certainly welcome to see that at the earliest convenience.”

It seems to us that Marburger’s response is either another example of his typical evasiveness about what is actually going on, or an indication that he really doesn’t know what is going on, or isn’t bothering to stay up-to-date with it. From our experience and understanding, the final signoff on something like this, if any political sensitivities might be involved, e.g., with reference to climate science communication, would have to come from the political police at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, possibly in connection with the Vice President’s office. The agencies on their own are unlikely to be so cavalier about disregarding a statutory deadline—only the White House does that.


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