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NOAA Boosts Scientific Integrity with New Policy
White House Leadership Needed to Tackle Greater Issues
WASHINGTON - December 7 - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today released a new scientific integrity policy that accomplishes as much as it can to ensure the agency’s actions are fully informed by the best available science, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The group cautioned, however, that the Department of Commerce, the White House, and Congress must act to remove additional barriers for agency scientists.
The agency’s final scientific integrity policy, set to be formally announced later today by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) annual conference in San Francisco, is the first to be released since White House Science Advisor John Holdren directed federal departments and agencies last month to submit final draft scientific integrity policies to the White House by Dec. 17.
“NOAA has made scientific integrity a priority, and it shows,” said Francesca Grifo, director of UCS’s Scientific Integrity Program. “By seeking and listening to the advice of its own scientists and the greater community, the agency has put forth a policy that can build public trust in its science and decisions.” Grifo is attending AGU and Lubchenco’s speech later today.
The new policy represents a significant improvement over NOAA’s first draft, incorporating many suggestions the agency received during a public comment period that drew more than 15,000 submissions.
For example, the policy gives scientists the right to review scientific documents that draw on their work and reaffirms their right to speak about any topic as a private citizen; it ensures public disclosure of conflicts of interest on NOAA scientific advisory committees; and it further establishes science as a basis for decision-making at the agency.
The agency is the first to fully commit to external accountability by annually and publicly reporting aggregate statistics regarding scientific integrity allegations and investigations. In developing the policy, NOAA sought input from a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders.
“This policy makes NOAA stronger and more accountable,” added Grifo. “Agency scientists and staff have learned a lot simply by going through the process of putting this policy together.”
Despite these improvements, the NOAA policy is limited by reforms that require action by Congress and the White House, such as whistleblower protections for those who report political interference in science and ensuring the independence of science as it goes through interagency review processes. Further, NOAA and the Department of Commerce need to refine and align their media policies to clear up confusion and fully remove barriers to the ability of scientists to communicate frankly with the public and the press.
While Grifo called on the White House, Congress, and the Department of Commerce to address these issues quickly, she stressed that NOAA leaders can continue to reassure scientists that retaliation by managers will not be tolerated. She also called on NOAA leadership to provide more information about who is attempting to influence agency decisions.
“NOAA has gone as far as it can on most issues, but agency officials can do more,” said Grifo. “The bigger challenges, such as whistleblower rights and the ability of other federal agencies to undermine NOAA’s scientific research, need to be met through leadership from the White House and Congress.
"But NOAA’s leadership can build public trust by providing more information about who is meeting with NOAA officials and trying to influence agency decisions. And nothing should stop agency leadership from consistently sending messages that its science and scientists will be protected at every turn.”