Biden Administration Tells Federal Agencies How to Safeguard Against Political Influence on Science

According to a new report, the Biden administration is urging government agencies to intensify their policies against improper political influence when it comes to the science that instructs on making decisions.

The report was penned by the administration’s interagency scientific integrity task force and first gathered by CNN on Tuesday.

It discovered that examples of political influence are comparatively less often in federal policymaking, however, when they do take place, they engage in doing the maximum damage in spoiling the public’s faith in government.

Highlighted Instances in the Report

The task force utilized the report to outline the instances of when scientific integrity policies were weakened during the Trump administration, along with the administration’s response to the Hurricane Dorian map scandal and its force to include a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

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The task force report mentions “Although violations of scientific integrity are small in number compared to the magnitude of the Federal Government’s scientific enterprise, they can have an outsized, detrimental impact on decision-making and public trust in science,” adding “As illustrated by high-profile cases, political intrusion into the conduct, management, communication, and use (or misuse) of science has a severe impact on public trust in Federal science.”

White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Deputy Director for Science and Society Dr. Alondra Nelson, who co-chairs the task force explained that though the report cautions against violations of scientific integrity, the review by the task force was not considered to examine definite moves.

Nelson told CNN “The work of the task force was not to do an investigation of prior administrations,” stressing the “forward-looking” attribute of their work to reduce possible violations in the future.

The report is the product of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Scientific Integrity Task Force, which the Biden administration formally launched last spring to review the federal government’s scientific policies and whether they prevent improper political interference.

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Biden Administration Repeatedly Emphasized the Importance of Bringing Science Back

An executive order has been released by President Joe Biden within his first week in office directing the task force to review the efficiency of scientific integrity policies, and his administration has continuously stressed bringing science back to the center of policymaking and rebuilding trust in government.

The report also develops on scientific integrity principles pointed out during the Obama administration by additions of new suggestions for agencies to occasionally update and evolve their scientific integrity policies.

OSTP Deputy Director for Climate and Environment Dr. Jane Lubchenco, who also co-chairs the task force, signaled the historic nature of the interagency group’s report.

In an interview with CNN, Lubchenco said “It’s the first comprehensive assessment that we’ve had across the entire federal government of what needs to be done to ensure scientific integrity in our government,” adding “We’ve seen that when we don’t have good policies in place, and when they aren’t enforced, that bad information can get out, and that undermines public trust in government.”

Lubchenco, who earlier headed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Obama administration added “And so, we need to get back to a place where the public can trust that the government used good science and evidence and that they can believe what the federal government is telling you.”

According to the report, Tuesday’s report was created alongside dozens of representatives throughout 29 federal agencies, most of whom “brought first-hand knowledge of instances in which existing scientific integrity policies were not followed or enforced and the implications of those lapses in scientific integrity.” 

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The report also included a review from public engagement sessions across the summer, in which the White House questioned the public including federal employees for their opinions on how to best rebuild scientific integrity to the federal government.

The administration heard over 1,000 people via listening sessions and roundtables across 30 days who made it apparent that the Biden administration is required to work to boost science as a result of the Trump administration, which they stated politicized and disgraced it.

During Trump’s four years in office, both he and many of his political appointees were notably hostile toward science, particularly the science around the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump often shunned science during his term, including when he touted a hurricane projection map doctored with a Sharpie in the Oval Office and once speculated during a press briefing about the benefits of ingesting bleach to battle Covid-19.

Amongst other moves taken during the earlier administration were multiple alters to several Environmental Protection Agency websites. In many scenarios, climate change language was revealed from them.

The Trump administration’s EPA said the language was being upgraded to “reflect the approach of new leadership.” The amendments were then turned over by Biden’s EPA.

In Tuesday’s report, the task force gives extra suggestions for how agencies should consider scientific integrity policy violations and enactment tools to both rectify the scientific record and consider violators responsible.

The report mentions that breaches of scientific integrity policies from high-level officials, along with political appointees, are usually the “most problematic and difficult to address.”

The task force suggests intensifying scientific integrity policies not only for federal agencies but usually connected with science.

The report reads “All Federal agencies — not just those that fund and conduct scientific research — need to develop, implement, and periodically review and update scientific integrity policies.”

The task force also suggested agencies appoint senior officials to manage scientific integrity matters, in compliance with Biden’s executive order targeted at rebuilding faith in the government via scientific policymaking.

Nelson explained the report as a “first step” toward building a wider plan for agencies to strengthen their scientific policymaking.

Nelson told CNN “I hope that the American public will be encouraged — certainly by the process — but by this report that is thoughtful and is comprehensive and is only just the beginning of what is a deeply committed effort to ensure that lapses that have occurred in the past won’t happen again.”

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