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NAS Committee on Ensuring the Best Science and Technology Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Appointments

November 2004—The National Academy of Sciences has released a report that speaks out against the use of political litmus tests when selecting scientists for scientific advisory committees. The report also recommends that the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) be restored to the level of assistant to the president, as the position was under previous administrations.

UCS has documented numerous cases in which the Bush administration, during its first term, imposed political litmus tests on candidates for advisory committees. Also, in a departure from previous administrations, the director of the OSTP does not report directly to the president. UCS Board Chair Kurt Gottfried released a statement praising the recommendations, urging Congress to enforce and strenghthen legislation that forbids inappropriate questioning and urging the administration to restore the stature of the OSTP director.

The report comes from the NAS Committee on Ensuring the Best Science and Technology Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Appointments, which was charged with addressing barriers to appointing the most qualified candidates for science and technology presidential appointments. The committee also examined the appointment process and the principles that should be observed in selecting qualified individuals to serve on federal advisory committees.

Many prominent scientists provided written comments to the committee. In addition, on July 21, at a full-day meeting at the National Academies in Washington, DC, the committee heard testimony from a wide variety of scientists and public-interest groups.

Many charged that the ideological and political litmus tests applied to potential federal advisory committee members by the Bush administration have had a chilling effect on the composition and quality of such committees.

"Scientists understand that public policy decisions must, in most cases, incorporate considerations other than science," said Alden Meyer, UCS director of strategy and policy. "Nevertheless, top-flight scientists can only be expected to accept senior government positions and advisory committee appointments if they have good reason to believe that objective science-based input will actually be heard by decision makers, and not be distorted, suppressed or ignored...It’s clear that if this pattern of abuse continues, there will be an exodus of scientific talent from the federal government."

The committee released the report on November 17, shortly after the presidential election. The executive summary details several points, including:

• "When a federal advisory committee requires scientific or technical proficiency, persons nominated to provide that expertise should be selected on the basis of their scientific and technical knowledge and credentials and their professional and personal integrity. It is inappropriate to ask them to provide nonrelevant information, such as voting record, political-party affiliation, or position on particular policies."

• "Shortly after the election, the President or President-elect should identify a candidate for the position of Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (APST) to provide advice, including suggesting and recruiting other science and technology presidential appointees. After inauguration, the President should promptly both appoint this person as APST and indicate the intent to nominate him or her as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy."

The report was partially based on two previous versions which were prepared for the 1992 and 2000 presidential transitions.

Read the NAS ReportExecutive Summary, and Press Release

Read Alden Meyer's oral remarks and full statement to the NAS committee.

Visit the NAS Committee website to learn more information about committee members and to read the previous two reports.

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