The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has released a new report, Strengthening Scientific Integrity at Federal Agencies: Recommendations for 2021 and Beyond, which outlines a road map for the next Administration to enhance scientific integrity across federal agencies.
“Independent science is under attack in government decisionmaking and its integrity must be restored,” states the report. “Government decisions affect our public health and safety and must be rooted in strong, independent science,” argues the report. “But the safeguards protecting government science have broken down significantly, with the Trump administration in particular laying bare the inherent weaknesses in existing scientific integrity standards, policies, and practices.”
The document cites multiple instances since 2017 in which political appointees “stalled scientific research, rolled back science-based public protections and policies, retaliated against government scientists, weakened and disbanded science advisory committees, failed to fill a large number of critical scientific positions, and undermined career staff.”
The report graded current scientific integrity policies across the federal government and found that the protections available to federal scientists and their work varied widely by agency. The analysis found, for example, that the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) media and social media policies are missing, with previous links now dead; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a suite of scientific integrity policies and resources, while the Department of Commerce does not; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been certified for ensuring its employees are aware of their whistleblower protections, while the Department of Agriculture has not.
UCS provides several recommendations for federal agencies to advance scientific integrity policies and practices, including ensuring open communication with the press and the public, enforcing clearance and review policies that protect scientific independence, preventing interference in data collection and research funding, and minimizing conflicts of interest in government science. The report recommends appointing officials to oversee scientific integrity, form intra-agency committees, and report annually on the state of scientific integrity within agencies. UCS also recommends educating and training federal workers on their rights and responsibilities. Finally, the report calls for providing safe and meaningful procedures to report and investigate scientific integrity violations and for establishing mechanisms to protect scientists from retaliatory actions and threats.