Washington, DC — The largest federal agency, the U.S. Department of Defense, has finalized a scientific integrity policy, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Months after the March deadline by the Obama White House, however, several major federal agencies have yet to release their rules for preventing political manipulation of public science.
Without public announcement, the Pentagon finalized its policy effective July 26, 2012 in the form of a Department of Defense Instruction, which PEER obtained in a Freedom of information Act request. The Instruction declares sweeping new policies that –
- Forbid any “DoD personnel” from asking or directing “scientists or engineers to alter or suppress their professional findings…”
- Allow specialists to “speak to the media and the public about scientific and technical matters based on their official work with appropriate coordination with the scientists’ or engineers’ organizations. Further, “DoD approval to speak to the media or the public shall not be unreasonably delayed or withheld”; and
- Require independent review of scientific and engineering data and research “when feasible and consistent with law.”
This three-page DoD Instruction lays out these and other broad principles but lacks any implementing procedures, such as how to lodge a complaint about suppressing or skewing of technical data. It also has no mechanism to safeguard from reprisal those specialists who lecture or publish on findings that undercut official policy. Instead, it is left to the Assistant Secretary for Research and Engineering, as well as the service chiefs and agency directors to “provide leadership” to “ensure … compliance.”
“If put into practice, these scientific integrity principles could revolutionize the cloistered and hyper-controlled realm of the Pentagon,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that few Defense employees may even know that the new rules exist. “With no process in place to enforce them, it remains to be seen whether these principles will be a new reality or mere rhetoric.”
These Pentagon rules implement a March 2009 directive from President Obama. Yet, months after the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP, which was charged with shepherding the process) gave agencies a deadline to produce final or final draft policies, nearly two-thirds of the 25 agencies are still deficient. Five departments (Education, Justice, Labor, Transportation and Veterans Affairs) are still in a draft stage. Three others (Homeland Security, Social Security and OSTP) have no policies at all. Another eight agencies lack policies addressing all four elements of the Obama directive.
“OSTP punting on a policy governing its own operations is like the truant officer playing hooky,” Ruch added, pointing out that OSTP has a government-wide quality control function. “The uneven White House leadership on its own initiative has spawned commensurately uneven policies which vary widely from agency to agency for no apparent reason.”
PEER is preparing a detailed breakdown and comparison of all the agency scientific integrity policies.