Federal Advisory Committees

Issue Overview

In an era of unprecedented debate about the use and abuse of science in public policy decision-making, one issue has stood out: the appointment of scientists to federal advisory committees. Critics have accused the Bush Administration of replacing highly qualified experts with incompetent apologists for polluting industries. They have pointed to a pattern of actions in which ideology has invaded arenas that, until now, had rigorously and effectively maintained scientific independence. Scientists voicing concern about the stacking of federal advisory committees have reported threats of retribution from senior government officials. In response, the Administration has declared its prerogative—indeed, its legal imperative—to consider an individual’s point of view in selecting scientists to serve in advisory roles. To be sure, the line between scientific and political considerations is never clean, and claims of imbalance in committee appointments have been made before. But in SKAPP's view, the degree of meddling by political appointees in the work of scientific advisory bodies goes way beyond business as usual, and reflects a cynical disregard for evidence-based decision-making that has chilling consequences.

Current Topic

The US EPA Science Advisory Board announced in August 2006 (71 Federal Register 48926) that is was forming an Asbestos Panel to provide technical advice on a proposed methodology to estimate cancer risk from inhaling asbestos fibers.  On April 19, 2007 EPA published its short list of candidates which includes a number of individuals with close financial ties to companies that will likely be affected by new federal public health policies to reduce asbestos disease risk. The public comment period on the short list ends May 24, 2007.  The following are comments by a few organizations that expressed concern about the financially-conflicted nominees:

Project on Scientific Knowledge & Public Policy (SKAPP)

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)


Background Information on Federal Advisory Committees:

History and role of federal advisory committees.

Scientists' experience and perspectives on stacking of federal advisory committees.

Administration response.

Recommendations for reform.

Additional Resources