Scientific Integrity Policies Increasingly in Place

Departments and agencies across the Federal government submitted to OSTP their latest and, in some cases, final, drafts of their scientific integrity policies this past week, in compliance with a deadline I set in October for completion of final or draft-final versions for review. The latest versions—produced by 20 Federal entities—reflect inputs received from OSTP this past fall to ensure that each includes the full range of assurances called for in President Obama’s March 2009 Memorandum on Scientific Integrity and my December 2010 Memorandum that outlined in greater detail the minimum requirements expected by this Administration.

As I’ve noted repeatedly in this space, the Obama Administration is firmly committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity. That does not mean that “science trumps all” in the policy-making process. Policy always reflects an array of equities, including scientific, economic, and social realities. Further, scientists do not always agree with one another on how to interpret or respond to scientific findings. But as the President’s science and technology advisor, it is my duty to ensure that when science is relevant to policy-making, the very best science—and the best thinking about that science—is at the table for consideration on its merits.

The scientific integrity policies now final or being finalized by departments and agencies will help ensure that federally supported science and scientific information remain undiluted and untainted—not only for policymakers but also for the public.  All of the policies also ensure that Federal Advisory Committees—which provide outside expert advice to the government, including in many instances from scientists and engineers—operate transparently and free of problematic conflicts of interest. Finally, all the policies also provide assurances that Federal scientists have the freedom to advance their careers in much the same way they would in the private sector in terms of their participation in outside professional activities and receipt of awards. This is key to ensuring that the public sector remains an attractive place for high-quality scientists and engineers to pursue their careers in service to the Nation. 

As of this week, five Federal departments and agencies have finalized their policies: the Department of the Interior, NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Intelligence Community.  Thirteen others submitted near-final drafts that are now going through clearance processes (which in at least some cases will include a period of public review—an approach that I continue to encourage): the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State, and Transportation, as well as the Veterans Affairs, US Agency for International Development, and National Institute of Standards and Technology. Finally, the Environmental Protection Agency reported this week that it is clearing a recently improved version that it expects to submit to OSTP later this week.

Of course, scientific integrity has been a cornerstone of this Administration from Day One, as evidenced, for example, by the stature of its scientific leaders and the research and development budgets it has supported—as well as by the principles laid out by the President in March 2009, which have been in full force since then. But the progress I have outlined above means we are in the home stretch of an important, added milestone: having in place a solid array of standing, agency-specific policies that will assure in unprecedented detail the reliability of government science and scientists—not only during this Administration but for Administrations to come. 

I appreciate all the work that departments and agencies have put into this historic process, and will report before long on the path to completion.

John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

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