Report Card Grades Federal Agency Media Policies

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Lisa Nurnberger, 202-331-6959, Meghan Crosby, 202-331-6943

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

Report Card Grades Federal Agency Media Policies

Federal Agency Media Policies Inconsistent: Some Stifle, Some Support Scientists Sharing Information With The Press, New Study Finds

WASHINGTON - The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) today issued a report card
grading 15 federal agencies on their policies controlling communication
between staff scientists and the news media and the public. The report
found significant inconsistencies and confusion among agency media
policies and their implementation. Some agency policies encourage free
speech, but the agencies stifle communication. Other policies are weak,
but in practice the agencies allow scientists to speak freely. And
although overall many agency policies are deficient, UCS has seen some
positive changes in recent years. (For the report card, go to: www.ucsusa.org/mediapolicies.)

"We've
learned that with a little determination, agencies can become more
responsive to the public through the media," said Francesca Grifo,
director of the UCS Scientific Integrity Program. "But too many
agencies have a long way to go. Too often the press and the public are
being shortchanged."

The agencies with the best policies and implementation were the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The agencies with the worst policies were the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Fish and
Wildlife Service (FWS), and Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA).

NASA
made improvements in the wake of a widely reported incident in which a
political appointee censored top climate scientist James Hansen. "When
presented with allegations of censorship, NASA moved quickly to take
steps to clarify its media policy and move toward a culture of
openness," Grifo said. "It's time for other federal agencies to make
the grade." The report gave NASA's policy a B and its implementation of
the policy a "satisfactory."

UCS
analyzed the media policies at regulatory and science agencies and
surveyed staff scientists to assess how the policies are implemented.
UCS also interviewed dozens of agency scientists, public affairs officers, and journalists who cover the agencies.

Among other things, UCS's investigation found:

-- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent media policy, with
provisions that allow scientists to state their personal views and
review press releases about their research. When it comes to
implementation, however, many scientists say they are not allowed to
speak freely to the media, and many fear retaliation for doing so. UCS
gave the CDC an A for its policy, but a "needs improvement" for
implementation.

-- OSHA's policy is more focused on controlling
the agency's message than communicating scientific results and
analysis. Most agency scientists told UCS they could not speak freely
or feared retaliation for stating their personal scientific opinions.
UCS gave OSHA's policy an F.

--
FWS has no national policy, forcing scientists to rely on informal, ad
hoc local policies. Many FWS scientists told UCS that political
appointees have interfered with science-based decisions in recent years
and, as a result, scientific openness has suffered. UCS gave FWS's
policy a D.

--
In addition to receiving poor marks on numerous regional media
policies, the EPA is especially restrictive, according to interviews
UCS conducted with journalists who cover the agency. Many EPA
scientists concur, telling UCS they cannot speak freely to the media. UCS gave the EPA policies a D.

Besides
the aforementioned agencies, the report also graded media policies at
the Bureau of Land Management, Census Bureau, Food and Drug
Administration, National Institutes of Health, National Science
Foundation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.S. Geological Survey.

The
report calls on the next administration to ensure federal scientists
are allowed and encouraged to share their expertise freely with the
media. Furthermore, the report recommended that agency media policies
grant scientists the right to final review of press releases and other
documents that rely upon their research or purport to represent their
scientific opinions. In addition, the policies should protect
scientists' freedom to speak
openly about their research and scientific opinions in a private
capacity, even in situations in which their research may be
controversial or have implications for agency policy.

"The
common-sense reforms we are suggesting wouldn't cost the government a
penny," said Grifo. "In these tough economic times, adopting and
enforcing good media policies is a way to strengthen the government's
ability to protect public health and safety without putting additional
financial strain on taxpayers."

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The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. Founded in 1969, UCS is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has offices in Berkeley, Chicago and Washington, D.C. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.

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