Restoring Science, Protecting the Public
43 Steps for the Next Presidential Term
The selfless and talented scientists working for the federal government do arguably the most important research in the world, collecting and analyzing information about public health threats, environmental harms, climate change, and innumerable other subjects. They should be free to pursue their research where it leads and communicate their results without political manipulation or fear of reprisal. Their results are the people’s work and should be available for the benefit of the people.
The advice the government gets from its formal scientific advisors should be robust and independent, and the government should rely on the expertise of those advisors. Agency leaders should be qualified, ethical, and accountable, not political hacks, cronies, and know-nothing sycophants trying to tear down the institutions that they lead. Agencies entrusted with protecting the public should do so based on the best available science, not the say-so of industry and billionaires. Brave whistleblowers who expose corrupt political interference in science should be protected.
Today, PEER joins dozens of good-government, public health, environmental, consumer, and human and civil rights organizations to collectively release Restoring Science, Protecting the Public: 43 Steps for the Next Presidential Term. This group includes, among many others, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Revolving Door Project, the National Children’s Campaign, Public Citizen, the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, the Project on Government Oversight, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made painfully clear how much the nation suffers when science is sidelined or eliminated from policy decisions. When CDC guidance is manipulated and scientists can’t publicly share their expertise, public confusion increases and more people get sick and die. When inspectors general are fired, accountability for bad actors becomes more difficult. When data is not adequate or reliably reported, states, cities, businesses, swimming pools, restaurants, and more lack sufficient information to safely function.
To successfully emerge from the pandemic, we must rebuild not only the government’s scientific capacity but also the public’s trust in the government’s ability to provide reliable information and make decisions that protect our health and well-being.
This series of memos provides concrete steps the next administration can take—without significant costs—to make government more effective, efficient, transparent, and accountable. These are principles of good government. They make it more likely that we can keep people safe. They make it easier to reduce health disparities. Recommendations are offered in eight categories:
- Federal advisory committees
- Personnel policy
- Agency scientific independence
- Restoring strength to scientific agencies
- Whistleblower protections
- Scientific communications
- Data collection and dissemination
- Regulatory reform
PEER and the other sponsors of these recommendations will share them with major presidential campaigns and transition teams. We encourage all who have influence over White House and executive branch priorities in 2021 to read these short documents and take them to heart.
Kevin Bell is PEER’s staff counsel, defender of whistleblowers, and lover of all things FOIA-related.