The UCS Science Protection Project

Safeguarding government science and scientists

Published Jul 13, 2017

The Science Protection Project helps reduce actions that diminish the role of independent science in public health, public safety, and environmental policymaking.

Most of the time, we help federal employees, contractors, and grantees understand what options they have to resolve challenges without those challenges being made public. Sometimes, we use information provided to submit Freedom of Information Act requests or work with Congress and the media to bring political interference in science to light without exposing those who provide intelligence about the problem.

When necessary, we may connect individuals with highly skilled attorneys who possess significant federal government experience, who will consider the circumstances and provide privileged, confidential advice. 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.

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.

Contact the Project

You can contact the project via secure email, secure text message, and over the phone. Full instructions and contact information for the project are here.

Resources

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 UCS through a variety of means, including electronically, over the phone, in person, and via postal mail (described more fully above). 

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.

Why now

Agencies have limited how science informs policy decisions, disbanded scientific advisory committees, fired scientific advisors, delayed the implementation of science-based rules, censored research, and clamped down on scientists’ ability to publicly communicate their work. 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.  

Why UCS

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.

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.


FAQ

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?

UCS can provide some protections for those who provide information, but these protections are not absolute. This page describes our vulnerabilities.

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 or legal assistance, the Science Protection Project can assist in providing referrals to organizations that provide legal advice or 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.

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