The UCS Science Protection Project
The Science Protection Project exists to facilitate privileged, confidential advice from experienced private attorneys to federal scientists and their allies. The purpose of the Project is to help bring to light actions that diminish the role of independent science in public health, public safety, and environmental policymaking. Individuals may consult with highly skilled attorneys with significant federal government experience, who will consider the circumstances, provide initial guidance, and work with UCS staff to strategize about the best course of action. Together, we help scientists and their supporters understand their rights and potential vulnerabilities and evaluate whether and how to prevent and/or reveal efforts to politicize science.
Contact the Project
Before you contact the Project, please review these guidelines regarding how to keep your communications safe and secure.
The Project will open a hotline at 202-538-2937, which will be staffed every Wednesday between 1 and 5 PM. You can leave a message at any time, or you can call during these hours.
You can also get in touch with the Project in the following ways:
- Protonmail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Signal text message: 202-538-2937
- Paper materials, marked "Attorney-Client Privileged", may be sent for the purpose of seeking legal advice to:
Lindsay C. Harrison
Jenner & Block LLP
1099 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
If you simply wish to share documents with UCS and the attorneys completely anonymously, you can do so by using our SecureDrop server, which requires you to use the Tor Browser. Instructions on how to connect are here. You can also read our guide on creating secure records of your work.
Again, do not get in touch with the Project without reading these guidelines on secure communications first.
If you're a federal scientist looking to share information about scientific integrity problems, these resources can help you do so securely and effectively.
How it works
Federal employees, contractors, or anyone with knowledge of a situation whereby science may be being inappropriately subjected to political influence may seek advice by contacting attorneys through a variety of confidential means, including electronically, over the phone, in person, and via postal mail (described more fully below). While maintaining attorney-client privilege, the attorneys may consult with experts at UCS and strategize various courses of action.
Our first priority is to protect the person who contacts the Project. At all times, you control how much information we know about your identity and situation. Our goal is to resolve the situation and keep scientists working on science in service of public health and the environment.
Although most outreach will happen online, UCS staff will also reach out to scientists at major scientific gatherings and through peer networks, making attorneys available for consultations in person.
If you want to contact UCS directly, you can do so here; please be aware, however, that this method may afford you fewer legal protections.
What we’re looking for
Broadly, anything that relates to the role of science in policymaking. This could include:
- Removal of or reduction in access to access to scientific data and information
- Pressure to water down scientific reports
- Plans to reduce or eliminate science advisory committees
- Proposals to eliminate, reduce, or suspend data collection
- Undisclosed or underreported conflicts of interest
- Inappropriate meetings with regulated industries
- Restrictions on attending scientific meetings or publishing research
- Delays in implementation of public health and environmental protections
- Restrictions on the type of evidence that can be considered in formulating policy
- Attempts to avoid environmental impact statements or other important inputs
- Violations of agency scientific integrity policies
- Failure to consult with subject-matter experts before making science-based decisions
We’re also looking for information on any actions (or lack of action) that erode a strong culture of science at federal agencies, including:
- Attempts to reorganize or buy out staff in a way that erodes agency scientific capacity
- Overcompliance with White House directives
- Plans to reduce public participation in agency rulemaking
- Restrictions on employee communication with the media, Congress, or other scientists outside of government
- Targeting of marginalized groups, such as LGBT individuals or people of color
If you’re not sure if your situation fits under our purview, contact us anyway and we’ll talk you through it. But please be aware that this is not a hotline for general workplace grievances.
Political interference in science becomes more likely when administration officials come from regulated industry or are hostile to the agencies they lead. Already, agencies have canceled scientific meetings, disbanded scientific advisory committees, fired scientific advisors, delayed the implementation of countless science-based rules, and targeted critical scientific research for defunding. Other actions have created a culture of fear in many federal science agencies. Left unchecked, the problem will only get worse.
When principles of scientific integrity are not upheld, our nation’s ability to respond to complex challenges to public health, the environment, and national security are compromised. Further, the loss of scientific integrity betrays public trust in government and undermines the democratic principles upon which this nation was founded.
For more than a decade, the Union of Concerned Scientists has worked directly with scientists and their supporters to raise the political price of manipulating, suppressing, and distorting science. We rely on federal employees to speak truth to power and report political interference in their work and violations of the law. Our reach extends across dozens of federal agencies and departments, protecting experts on any issue where science touches policy.
We anonymously survey government scientists to measure the level of political interference in their work, and educate them about their rights and responsibilities. We provide sources for journalists and case studies for members of Congress who promote legislation to protect the integrity of science. We are experienced in obtaining and handling sensitive documents and bringing them to the public and the press.
Information for lawyers
Jenner & Block LLP is providing primary support for the Science Protection Project, but is looking for other experienced attorneys across the country who understand federal employment law and information and science policy. If you are interested in volunteering with the Project, please email Lindsay C. Harrison.
Support the Project
UCS is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and gifts are tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. UCS’s tax ID is 04-2535767. Gifts made from a donor advised fund should specify that they are intended for the Science Protection Project. Gifts may also be made online at www.ucsusa.org. We ask that you complete a Statement of Gift Intention so that your contribution may be directed to the Project.
How high profile does a situation need to be to report it?
There isn’t a high threshold for reporting. If you think it hurts federal scientific capacity, inhibits the collection of data, or limits scientific advice to the federal government, please share what you know. (For example, canceling advisory committee meetings, failing to consult with scientific experts, obscuring information on federal websites, etc.). This helps us see patterns and trends.
What protections do I have when I contact the Science Protection Project?
Individuals who send information to the Science Protection Project may have confidentiality protections through attorney-client privilege. The attorneys will only share information with UCS that is non-identifying, further ensuring anonymity. The goal of the project is to gather information about actions (or inaction) that reduce the role of science and data in policymaking. If an individual seeks whistleblower assistance, the Science Protection Project can assist in providing referrals to organizations that represent whistleblowers. If the information reported is unlawful, the case will be referred to the inspector general or other relevant authorities.
What will my information be used for?
Information provided to the Science Protection Project will inform UCS’s work to evaluate, expose, and correct any political interference in science or erosion of federal scientific capacity. You will assist our initiatives on monitoring the federal government for any violations of scientific integrity and preventing or mitigating the impacts of efforts to reduce the role of science in federal decision-making. Information from the Project will be de-identified, in order to protect confidentiality of reporting.
Why is UCS working through a law firm?
UCS is a trusted voice for scientists and science advocates, and we seek to provide resources for federal employees that have concerns about scientific integrity. It is of the utmost importance that we protect our sources. By working with a law firm to do direct intake, the Science Protection Project provides an extra layer of confidentiality protection: all information from the Project is de-identified before being provided to UCS.