The White House Restricts Science, Potentially Causing the Best Available Science to Disappear from Policymaking

Published May 20, 2019

The White House issued a memo on the use of scientific information by federal agencies that restricts the use of scientific information to inform policies.

What happened: The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a guidance memo on the use of “influential scientific, financial, or statistical information” by federal agencies. Agencies are now required to make data publicly available if scientific information will be used during the policymaking process. This guidance memo is likely to exclude many high-quality scientific studies for which data cannot be made publicly available for purposes of confidentiality, or older studies where data or author information may not be accessible. The memo is similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed restricting science rule, which was opposed by nearly 1,000 scientists, and the Department of Interior’s (DOI) restricting science rule.

Why it matters: This memo restricts the use of scientific information to inform policies that protect public health and safety since it requires that data informing such policies be made publicly available. Scientific data may include confidential information such as sensitive medical information and personal information that could identify individuals. It would be an absolute breach of ethics if scientists make this data publicly available. As a result, the number of scientific studies that can be used to inform decision-making at federal agencies will inevitably decrease and federal agencies will be essentially barred from using the best available science in their decision-making process. Policies are less effective when they cannot incorporate the best available science. And when important policies involving the environment and public health are less effective, the American people will end up bearing the brunt of the costs.

Learn more about how the OMB’s guidance memo is a re-hashing of some of the worst ideas for restricting the use of science in policymaking.