DNA analyzers at the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute.
By ANDREW WYNER
Yesterday, POGO sent the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) a letter expressing its concern that many executive branch agencies' scientific integrity plans do not sufficiently hold federal contractors and grantees accountable for their work. Agencies created the scientific integrity plans in response to President Obama’s 2009 Memorandum on Scientific Integrity (SI Memo), and the plans outline standards for government-funded science, including conflict-of-interest, procedural, and transparency rules.
While a handful of plans address contractors and grantees, POGO found that at least fourteen do not sufficiently cover federal contractors or grantees. POGO hopes that OSTP, the office in charge of implementing the President’s SI Memo, will ensure agencies know that they will not be in compliance unless they strengthen the integrity of all science funded by taxpayer dollars.
POGO specifically articulated its concerns, using DOE as an example, in its letter to OSTP:
These omissions are gaping holes in the scientific integrity plans and policies, particularly at a department like DOE, since nearly all of its science is funded through contracts or financial assistance agreements… Indeed, we are concerned that DOE, by selectively complying with only a part of the President’s directive, is neglecting a crucial public responsibility—a requirement that DOE’s contractors observe the standards of scientific integrity.
In December 2011, POGO sent a letter to DOE Secretary Steven Chu urging him to include contractors and grantees in his agency’s plan, given his Department’s heavy reliance on contractors. Yet DOE’s final draft plan does not mention the contractors so vital to its operations.
The fourteen agencies and departments POGO cited in yesterday's letter are: the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Center for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, Marine Mammal Commission, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and U.S. Agency for International Development.
In yesterday’s letter, POGO also commended the efforts of several agencies and departments that sufficiently covered both contractors and grantees in their policies. The Departments of Agriculture, Education, and State specifically include contractors, and the Department of Justice Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) cover both contractors and grantees. POGO also commended the efforts of several agencies and departments who opened their draft policies to public comment, including the EPA, NOAA, and the Departments of Education, Interior, Labor, Justice, and Veterans Affairs.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, as well as POGO, has additional concerns with various scientific integrity plans. In some plans, whistleblowers still do not have enough protections when revealing instances of scientific misconduct. In others, conflicts of interest restrictions are vaguely defined. The policies need further improvement and stronger language to truly safeguard scientific integrity.
The journey to improve policies outlining scientific integrity standards continues, though it has been more than three years since President Obama released his SI memo in March 2009. Initially these policies were due July 2009. In October 2009, OSTP issued a December 17, 2009, deadline for agencies to submit policies. In February 2012, OSTP Director John Holdren issued a final March 30, 2012, deadline for final scientific integrity policies. Shortly after the deadline, Holdren announced the release of almost all scientific integrity plans—in draft or final form, declaring that “scientific enterprise is stronger…and promises to be stronger for many years to come.”
Though it has taken time, and it may take more time yet, POGO wants the policies to fulfill the President’s mandate and truly strengthen the integrity of all federally-funded science. Now that most of the plans are public, there is an opportunity to offer improvements. As noted in POGO’s letter, “Americans must be able to trust the results of all federally-supported science—not just the science performed by federal employees.”
Andrew Wyner is a POGO research associate.
Image via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.