WASHINGTON (March 31, 2014)—The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology has significantly increased its reliance on industry witnesses under both Democratic and Republican control, according to a new analysis from the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. At the same time, the committee is hearing from a smaller share of academic witnesses, including scientists.
“We know industry’s influence on Congress keeps growing,” said Andrew Rosenberg, the center’s director. “As a result, even the science committee seems to be sidelining science.”
The analysis found that in the 107th Congress (2001-2003), only 18 percent of committee witnesses were from industry. In the 112th Congress (2011-2013), industry witnesses climbed to 28 percent. Every Congress except for the 110th (2007-2009) called a greater share of industry witnesses than the one before it.
In the most recent complete Congressional term, the committee heard from significantly more industry witnesses than academics. Academics made up 33 percent of the witness pool in the 111th Congress, but their share dropped to less than 25 percent in the 112th.
The analysis reviewed witness lists for more than 500 full committee hearings held during the last six full sessions of Congress and categorized some 2,000 witnesses according to their expertise. Hearing topics included space exploration, weather monitoring, terrorist attacks, appropriations, education, energy, and climate change, among many others.
Former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who chaired the committee from 2001 to 2007, noted that there are often legitimate reasons for the committee to call industry experts. He also agreed that members of Congress should consider the most credible and unbiased science to shape public policy. “Everyone likes to profess strong allegiance to science-based decision making until the scientific consensus leads to a politically inconvenient conclusion,” he said.
Rosenberg recommends that the committee call on more independent experts and require all witnesses to proactively disclose conflicts of interest. “We’re seeing industry voices drowning out independent science,” he said. “That’s a loss for our democracy, especially for a committee that focuses on science.”