Screenshot UCS

This Graph Shows How Shockingly Little Trump's Science Committees Meet

Where's the science at?

CARLY CASSELLA
19 JAN 2018
 

Who needs facts and evidence, anyway? A new report reveals science advisors and committees are conspicuously missing from White House policymaking.

The analysis, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), finds the Trump administration has been systematically side-lining science advisors and committees to an unprecedented extent.

 

Last year, federal science advisory committees met less often than in any year since the government started keeping track in 1997. And nearly two-thirds are meeting less than directed by their very own charters.

csd abandoning science advice figure3 with captionUnion of Concerned Scientists

"Federal agencies are supposed to consider the evidence when they're making policy decisions that impact all of us," said Genna Reed, lead author of the report. 

"If we don't have access to the best available science, we can't trust these agencies to protect and inform the public. We can't afford to let these policies be based purely on politics or lobbying by powerful industries."

Not only are these science committees meeting less often, many of them have seen a reduction in membership and some have been disbanded for good.

In a transition year, where everything is being re-shuffled by the new administration, a drop in membership on these advisory committees is only to be expected.

But last year, membership on advisory committees decreased by 14 percent from 2016, which is double the amount seen in Obama's first year and seven times the amount seen in Bush's first year.

 

"The US leads the world in science," said Reed.

"The experts and the institutions we have here are an incredibly valuable resource—a resource the administration is now squandering."

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) science committees are in a particularly bad way. The agency has fewer experts serving on science advisory committees than at any time since tracking began in 1997, and administrator Scott Pruitt even went so far as to exclude top scientists from advisory panels by no longer allowing EPA grant recipients eligibility.

All in all, Pruitt has played a particularly powerful role in side-lining science under the Trump administration. The report found last year, more than two-thirds of the EPA's science advisory committees failed to meet as often as their charters directed.

Many critics say this is just another example of Pruitt preferencing industry interests over science and the environment.csd abandoning science advice figure4 with caption

The Department of Interior (DOI) has also neglected many of its science advisors. Under Secretary Ryan Zinke, the report finds the DOI's science committees are not only meeting less than directed, they are meeting less than ever.

Thanks to Zinke's agency-wide freeze on more than 200 advisory committees, President Trump's decision to drastically reduce national monuments received no input from the DOI's science advisors.

 

Zinke also made the decision to terminate the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science entirely.

But it's not just the EPA and the DOI. The report touches nearly every major department in the Trump administration.

The Department of Energy's flagship scientific advisory committee has reported no contact with the Trump administration in the past year.

The FDA's flagship Science Board was by phone, had no agenda, and lasted less than 15 minutes. The FDA also disbanded a Food Advisory Committee, which had operated for 25 years.

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has five advisory committees. Four of them failed to meet in 2017.

In August, the Department of Commerce quietly disbanded their Advisory Panel for the Sustained National Climate Assessment, which worked to make climate change research more useful for businesses, the public, and government.

The only agency that has gone largely unscathed by this sweeping neglect for science is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who has some of the most active science committees.

"It's clear that the administration is willfully neglecting, even undermining, independent scientific advice," said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS.

 

"I've worked as a federal scientist and served on science advisory committees, and I can tell you that agencies just can't make good decisions in the public interest if they can't or won't listen to the facts."

The report was conducted by reviewing the membership and meeting data of 73 science advisory committees across 24 departments, agencies and sub agencies, where researchers interviewed more than 30 current and former advisory board members.

The full report can be read here.