The real issue here is that we are allowing scientific advisory committees to be contaminated by people who have clear bias, clear financial conflicts that will not allow them to make unbiased scientific decisions.
Bruce Lanphear, Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, whose nomination to an advisory committee was scuttled by the Bush Administration in favor of candidates suggested by the lead industry.1
Roughly 1,000 committees, panels, commissions, and councils advise the federal government on everything from how to allocate federal research dollars to what should be considered permissible levels of pesticide residue on produce.2 Traditionally, appointments to these advisory groups have been relatively nonpartisan and merit-based. Politics has always played a role in the selection process, but the federal government has traditionally avoided overt bias by relying predominantly on the nominations of agency staff who, in conjunction with colleagues outside of government, tend to favor candidates widely recognized for their scientific expertise and reputation as leaders in their fields.
The balancing of scientific advisory positions in government is not only a matter of tradition but also one of law. According to the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, the membership of federal advisory committees must be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee.” In addition, the advisory process must “contain appropriate provisions to ensure that the advice and recommendations of the advisory committee will not be inappropriately influenced by the appointing authority or by any special interest, but will instead be the result of the advisory committee’s independent judgment.”3
The current Bush administration has repeatedly contended that it is upholding the spirit of balance. Responding to questions about irregularities in the appointment process early in 2003, for example, White House spokesperson Ken Lasaius stated that President Bush makes appointments on the basis of putting the best qualified person into a position.”4 The record often shows otherwise; the current administration has repeatedly allowed political considerations to trump scientific qualifications in the appointment process. As this section will detail, the administration has picked candidates with questionable credentials for advisory positions, used political litmus tests to vet candidates for even the least political of its government review panels, and favored the candidates put forward by industry lobbyists over those recommended by its own federal agencies. This last charge of favoring candidates put forth by industry is particularly troubling, as executives from these industries are quite often large campaign contributors.
1 As quoted in “Lead Poisoning Science Panel ‘Contaminated’ by Bias, Critics Charge,” Gannett News Service, November 26, 2002.
2 For a full accounting, including a listing of members and other pertinent information, see the online database of the Federal Advisory Committee Act at www.facadatabase.gov.
3 See Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. Appendix 2, Section 5(b) 2 and 3.
4 Ken Lasaius, January 23, 2003.
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