"Thank you for the invitation to come here today. It
is impossible to overestimate the importance of the National Academy
of Sciences to policymakers like me - and indeed to the entire nation.
When political conflict surrounds a scientific issue, we need to hear
an independent and expert view of the evidence. Your work reviewing
and clarifying data on such complex issues as vaccine safety, nursing
home standards, and the science of climate change has been enormously
"I appreciate the opportunity today to discuss with
you how to ensure excellence in advisory committee appointments.
I was first elected to Congress in 1974 - just two years
after the passage of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The Act rested
upon a key premise: the best scientific advice is essential to the
development of the most effective policies for the public.
"For nearly 30 years, this premise was widely accepted
by both Democratic and Republican Administrations. But it is not the
rule in Washington anymore.
"The present Administration has a disturbing pattern
of treating advisory committee appointments as politics by any other
means. Nationally renowned experts have been dropped from panels without
explanation, or after flunking ideological litmus tests. New advisors
have been hand picked by political appointees despite having scant
scientific credentials. The Administration has even asserted political
control for the first time over which scientists are permitted to
advise the World Health Organization.
"The Administration s defenders dismiss these accusations
as politically motivated or, if confronted with specific details,
aberrations. But the frequency of the reports and the intensity of
the response of the scientific community - including editorials in
major scientific and medical journals - indicate that something more
systematic is going on.
"On issue after issue, this Administration seems to
start with the policies it is planning to pursue, and then seek advice
that justifies these predetermined choices. We have seen an inversion
of the relationship between science and politics. Rather than scientific
experts pointing the way to good policy, politics appears to be dictating
the choice of experts and what they say.
"This pattern is wrong and dangerous. It puts [us] at
risk of failing to address key problems facing our country. It also
risks the faith of the American people in the ability of science to
point the way to solutions.
"This Administration s record also complicates matters
for your committee: You are being asked to provide advice on scientific
excellence at a time when the White House may not have a strong inclination
to pursue it.
"This means the committee will need to go further than
usual in your approach to promoting scientific excellence. As you
have done in the past, you should advise the Administration on how
to find the best possible scientific experts.
"But you should also advise Congress and the public
on how to intervene when an Administration is corrupting the advisory
process to advance a narrow political or ideological agenda.
"Let me make three specific suggestions.
"First, the Committee should consider making a statement
affirming the importance of integrity in the scientific advisory committee
system. There should be no question that appointments should be made
on the basis of scientific expertise and not politics. There should
be no role whatsoever for ideological or partisan litmus tests.
"Second, the Committee should consider endorsing much
broader transparency in advisory committee appointments. Under FACA,
agencies are not required to reveal information on conflict-of-interest
to the public. By contrast, the system adopted by the National Academy
of Sciences for its committee members requires public disclosure of
conflict of interest as well as a comment period. With more transparency,
egregious appointments would be less likely to stand.
"Third, the Committee should consider the conditions
that would justify forming an independent body to evaluate the quality
of scientific appointments. This might take the form of an independent
commission. If problems are found, the censure of the scientific community
could be brought to bear on the Administration.
"Thank you for inviting me here today and considering
these suggestions. In these times, the role of the National Academy
of Sciences in providing nonpartisan scientific expertise is more
critical than ever. I look forward to our discussion today."