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Bullet policy · Feb 01, 2021

White House Orders Review of Federal Scientific Integrity Policies

On January 27, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a memorandum ordering a government-wide review of the effectiveness of existing scientific integrity policies.

The directive, “Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking,” builds on a 2009 memo from President Obama and a 2010 memo from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which called for ensuring a culture of scientific integrity in the government, strengthening the credibility of government research, facilitating the free flow of scientific information, and establishing principles for conveying information to the public.

“Scientific findings should never be distorted or influenced by political considerations,” reads Biden’s memo. “Improper political interference in the work of Federal scientists or other scientists who support the work of the Federal Government and in the communication of scientific facts undermines the welfare of the Nation, contributes to systemic inequities and injustices, and violates the trust that the public places in government to best serve its collective interests.”

The directive orders the OSTP Director to convene an interagency task force to conduct a 120-day review of existing scientific integrity policies across the government. The task force will consider whether existing policies “prevent improper political interference” in scientific research; “prevent the suppression or distortion” of research data and findings; and support researchers of all genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Once the review concludes, a report synthesizing the task force’s findings, including an assessment of agencies’ strengths and weaknesses regarding scientific-integrity policies and a description of best practices, will be published on the OSTP website.

The memo directs agencies to identify chief science officers to serve as principal advisors to agency heads on scientific issues; conduct a 90-day review of federal advisory committees that provide independent scientific advice to the government; and determine whether any science advisory panels disbanded under the Trump Administration need to be re-established. It also calls on agencies to review and update within 60 days any website content and within 300 days any reports and data published during the Trump administration that are “inconsistent” with Biden’s directive.

The memo has been welcomed with cautious optimism by research and advocacy groups, according to E&E News. Lauren Kurtz, Executive Director of the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund notes the memo is “considerably more detailed than Obama’s” but that there is “quite a tall task order for the Biden [A]dministration.” According to Science Insider, Roger Pielke Jr., a policy specialist at the University of Colorado, Boulder argued that the memo “is very good, but legislation is still needed.” Andrew Rosenberg, Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated, “Over the next four years, scientists, public health experts and community advocates will be watching closely to make sure that the Biden administration upholds its promise to heed the science.”