CNN premiere: Biden administration tells federal agencies how to protect themselves from political influence on science

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The report was written by the Interagency Scientific Integrity of Administration Working Group and first obtained by CNN on Tuesday. He found that instances of political influence are relatively rare in federal policy-making, but – when they do occur – they tend to do the most damage by eroding public trust in government.

“Although breaches of scientific integrity are few compared to the scale of the federal government’s scientific endeavor, they can have a disproportionate and detrimental impact on decision-making and public confidence in science.” , notes the report of the working group. “As illustrated by high-profile cases, political intrusion into the conduct, management, communication, and use (or abuse) of science has a severe impact on public confidence in federal science.”

While the report warns of breaches of scientific integrity, the task force’s review was not intended to investigate specific actions, explained the deputy director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy of the White House for Science and Society, Dr Alondra Nelson, who heads the task force.

“The task force’s job was not to conduct an investigation of previous administrations,” Nelson told CNN, stressing the “forward-looking” nature of their work to mitigate potential violations in the future.

The report is the product of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Scientific Integrity Task Force, which the Biden administration formally launched last spring to review the federal government’s science policies and determine whether they prevent inappropriate political interference.
President Joe Biden issued an executive memorandum during his first week in office instructing the task force to review the effectiveness of scientific integrity policies, and his administration has repeatedly underscored the return of science to the first plan for policy development and rebuilding confidence in government.
The report also develops the principles of scientific integrity describe during the Obama administration by including new recommendations for agencies to periodically update and modernize their scientific integrity policies.

OSTP Deputy Director for Climate and Environment Dr Jane Lubchenco, who also co-leads the working group, underscored the historic nature of the interagency group report.

“This is the first comprehensive assessment that we have done across the entire federal government of what needs to be done to ensure the scientific integrity of our government,” Lubchenco said in an interview with CNN. “We’ve seen that when we don’t have good policies in place and when they’re not enforced, bad information can come out, and that undermines public confidence in government.”

“And so, we have to come back to a place where the public can have confidence that the government has used good science and evidence and can believe what the federal government tells you,” added Lubchenco, who previously led the National Oceanic and Atmospheric. Administration under the Obama administration.

Tuesday’s report was written in collaboration with dozens of representatives from 29 federal agencies, many of whom “provided first-hand knowledge of cases in which existing scientific integrity policies were not followed or enforced and the implications of these breaches of scientific integrity, ”according to the report.

The report also incorporated comments from public engagement sessions over the summer, during which the White House asked the public as well as federal employees for their thoughts on how best to restore the scientific integrity of the federal government. The administration listened to over 1,000 people in listening sessions and 30-day panel discussions, which made it clear that the Biden administration must work to strengthen science in the wake of the Trump administration, which, according to them, had politicized and discredited it.
In Trump’s four years in power, he and many of his political candidates were particularly hostile to science, particularly the science around the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Trump has often avoided science during his tenure, including when he touted a doctored hurricane projection map with a Sharpie in the Oval Office and once speculated during a press briefing about the benefits of the ingestion of bleach to fight Covid-19.
Other steps taken during the previous administration included several changes to various Environmental Protection Agency websites. In many cases, the language about climate change has been taken away from them. At the time, the Trump administration’s EPA said the language was being updated to “reflect the approach of the new leadership.” The changes were later revoked by Biden’s EPA.

In Tuesday’s report, the task force provides additional recommendations on how agencies should deal with science integrity policy violations and enforcement mechanisms to both correct the science record and hold violators accountable. . The report notes that violations of scientific integrity policies by high-level officials, including politicians, are generally “the most problematic and difficult to resolve.”

But strengthening science integrity policies isn’t just about federal agencies typically associated with science, suggests the task force.

“All federal agencies – not just those that fund and conduct scientific research – must develop, implement and periodically review and update policies of scientific integrity,” the report notes.

The task force also recommended that agencies appoint senior officials to handle scientific integrity issues, in line with Biden’s executive memorandum. aimed restore confidence in government through science policy development.

Nelson described the report as a “first step” towards creating a broader framework for agencies to strengthen their science policy-making.

“I hope the American public will be encouraged – certainly by the process – but by this thoughtful and comprehensive report and which is only the beginning of what is a deeply committed effort to ensure that the gaps that have occurred in the the past will not happen again, ”Nelson told CNN.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify that the President issued an executive memorandum giving the task force its mission.

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