The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is in court over its failure so far to put forward recommendations to ensure scientific integrity in government.
It’s a discouraging development in a process that began with the rosy hopes raised by Barack Obama’s March 2009 memo promising to put sound science at the center of government policy-making.
The memo required OSTP to deliver agency guidelines within 90 days. But 18 months later scientists are still waiting. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a Washington DC-based advocacy group, wants to know why, and sued OSTP on Tuesday in the US District Court for DC when the agency failed to respond to an August 2010 Freedom of Information Act request that it had filed for documents relating to the delay.
PEER’s Jeff Ruch tells Nature that the group sued because it suspects that some government agencies, possibly including the Office of Management and Budget, were pushing back against the proposed policy in way that might result in some principles of integrity getting diluted. Among the documents PEER wants are draft recommendations from an interagency group convened by OSTP and position statements from other agencies on the draft. Bringing those to light now will help prevent any potential for dilution, he says. “We’re trying to influence the policy rather than doing a post-mortem,” he says.
In a June 2010 blog post OSTP Director John Holdren said that the process had been more “laborious and time-consuming” than expected. “Determining how to elaborate on the principles set forth in the Memorandum in enough detail to be of real assistance in their implementation, while at the same time retaining sufficient generality to be applicable across Executive departments and agencies with a wide variety of missions and structures, has been particularly challenging.” He said then that he anticipated forwarding a policy to the president in the next few weeks.
Image: OSTP Director John Holdren with President Barack Obama / White House