Science Group Issues Roadmap for Advancing Science in Federal Government

Recommendations Would Protect Science, Health at Federal Agencies

Published Aug 25, 2020

WASHINGTON (August 25, 2020)—Today, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is laying out a comprehensive plan to strengthen scientific integrity in the federal government and ensure scientific grounding for decisionmaking. The new “Roadmap for Science in Decisionmaking” offers a detailed analysis of how science should work at the federal level, and concrete recommendations for how to protect science from political manipulation.

UCS is releasing four new fact sheets with recommendations today, focused on scientific integrity and science-based decisionmaking processes across the federal government, as well as specific recommendations for the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three agencies that depend on science to help make a wide range of policy decisions affecting public health and safety. The organization is planning to release fact sheets focusing on additional agencies and issue areas later this fall.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a vivid, tragic example of what can happen when the federal government doesn’t have a good strategy for gathering and evaluating scientific input and sharing it with the public,” said Jacob Carter, a research scientist for the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS and the lead author of the recommendations.

Carter, a former researcher at EPA, notes that communities across the country depend on federal science—including severe weather monitoring, food-safety inspection, air and water quality testing and medical research. “The good news is that we have a roadmap. We’ve surveyed thousands of scientists, studied agency policies and we know what it takes to build back from this,” Carter said.

The recommendations include protections for scientists, to make sure they can conduct research independently and share it openly with the press, Congress, fellow scientists and the public without fear of retribution. Agencies also need clear scientific integrity policies and full staffing in key scientific positions. Additionally, UCS recommends stronger policies to prevent political manipulation and conflicts of interest, as well as rolling back recently implemented restrictions on data that science agencies can use in rulemaking.

UCS has surveyed thousands of federal scientists and found they have serious concerns that political interference can undermine their work. UCS researchers also tracked more than 150 abuses of science across federal agencies since 2017. This research is the basis for the new UCS recommendations.

“No matter who wins the presidential election, they’ll have a lot of work to do to build public trust, support scientific staff in government and make sure science is being used to benefit the public at large,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy and a former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service. “Having served in presidential administrations of both parties, including during a presidential transition, I know firsthand how important it is for leaders to send a strong message that they value science and honest communication with the public.”

UCS experts noted that every administration has seen incidents of political interference with science, and that agencies need to commit not only to defending science, but to proactively use their research to promote public health and safety.

“While it’s important to acknowledge the damage that has been done in recent years, we can’t just restore the status quo and expect it to be enough,” said Anita Desikan, a UCS researcher who studies attacks on science in policymaking. “We need to make sure the federal government has the best available science and uses it to address the most urgent needs. We can’t hope to solve problems unless we’re willing to look at the evidence and listen to the impacted communities. This is particularly important for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities who are on the front lines of hazards like pollution, climate change and COVID-19.”