Federal Science Advisory Committees See Major Changes under New Administration

Jan 26, 2018

Over the past year, Science Advisory Committees (SAC) found in the White House and various federal agencies have been pared down and called on at a diminishing rate. The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report “to examine whether the neglect of scientific advice extends beyond top-level appointments” based on a thorough review of “the record of the government’s network of science advisory committees.”

In 2017, the SACs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) all met less frequently than at any other time in the last 20 years. In addition to this low meeting rate, the composition of several boards was highlighted. On the EPA Science Advisory Board in 2018, 23 percent of members are industry representatives, up from six percent in 2017. Similarly, 50 percent of members currently hail from academia, down from 79 percent in 2017. As Andrew Rosenberg, UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy Director explained, “That’s disturbing because that means they’re making decisions without having any independent reference for the scientific underpinnings for those decisions. Or they’re completely ignoring the science as they make decisions.”

In further effort to cut ties with the previous administration’s policies, EPA grant recipients are banned from serving on any boards or committees, a carry-over from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017. This signals the administration’s strong feelings on the matter, putting it in line to be a point of contention in the next budget cycle.

In 2017, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee passed two bills on amending the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, both of which are currently awaiting a Senate vote.  Reforming science advisory panels, as well as federal data disclosure policies, remains a top priority for House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and the Trump administration in the year ahead. 

The full report is available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2018/01/abandoning-science-advice-full-report.pdf