January 20, 2022

Federal Scientific Integrity: A Primer (New Congressional Research Service Report)

Federal Scientific Integrity Policies: A Primer (R46614) was recently published by the Congressional Research Service.

From the Report:

The results of research and development (R&D) help inform the decisions that policymakers and the public reach on a wide range of issues, including human health and safety, the environment, agriculture, energy, and transportation. For example, scientific information is essential to the review and approval of drugs and medical devices and the setting of air quality standards. There is broad agreement among policymakers and the scientific and engineering community about ensuring the integrity of the conduct, communication, and management of R&D, and its use in policy development and decision making. However, recently, some policymakers and others have alleged that presidential administrations of both parties have violated the principles of scientific integrity. Assertions of such violations include weighting the membership of federal advisory committees toward a particular viewpoint or constituency, targeting individual scientists for harassment or adverse actions, appointing agency officials with significant conflicts of interest or antagonistic views toward an agency’s mission or neutrality to science, improperly editing scientific documents, and using the budget process to impede the implementation or formulation of science-based policies.

Following the guidance of a 2010 memorandum issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, more than 20 federal departments and agencies have developed and implemented scientific integrity policies. The memorandum detailed principles in four broad areas: foundations of scientific integrity, public communications, use of federal advisory committees, and professional development of government scientists and engineers. The memorandum provided federal agencies with flexibility developing their scientific integrity policies stating, “the scope of an agency’s scientific work and its relationship to the mission of each department or agency may necessitate distinct mechanisms be used by each to implement this guidance.”

There is, however, no uniform definition of scientific integrity across the federal government. Some experts have expressed concern over the variation in scope and specificity of federal agency scientific integrity policies and recommended that Congress enact scientific integrity legislation that would create a clear set of standards and mechanisms for enforcement. Some have alleged violations of scientific integrity against the current and previous administrations. For example, several media articles reported that Trump Administration officials delayed timely information to the public from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the COVID-19 pandemic that was inconsistent with political objectives, or altered scientific findings or recommendations in ways that were misleading or incomplete.

Congress may remain interested in the objectivity, timeliness, and availability of scientific information to the public and policymakers in the 116th Congress and beyond. This report provides an overview of scientific integrity and selected issues for congressional consideration. For example, the Government Accountability Office found that the majority of agencies reviewed had not taken steps to evaluate and monitor implementation of their scientific integrity policies. Additionally, Congress may consider how agencies report and address alleged violations, interagency coordination of scientific integrity policies, and the designation of scientific integrity officers. The report also summarizes scientific integrity-related legislation introduced in the 116th Congress.

Direct to Full Text Report
(19 pages; PDF)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.