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Press Releases :: April 1, 2005

GAO Criticizes Agency Conflict of Interest in Research Agreements

Reps. Johnson and Udall Release Report & Staff Memorandum

(Washington, DC) Today, House Science Committee Members Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Mark Udall (D-CO) released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report critical of two research agreements between Federal agencies and industry.

GAO found that both the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had failed to take appropriate steps to evaluate the conflict-of-interest potential inherent in their respective research agreements with the American Chemical Council (ACC).  This collaboration between a regulated industry and agencies that either directly regulate that industry, or support research that supports those regulations, raises questions regarding whether the agreements were in the public’s best interest.  Curiously, GAO found that at both agencies, some officials were aware that a conflict could exist.

Ms. Johnson said, upon release of the report, "It is hard to understand why NIEHS and EPA officials, claiming to recognize a potential conflict of interest, failed to take any meaningful steps to address that concern.  Cooperative research agreements between federal agencies and outside parties, especially industries regulated by those agencies, should be subject to a public interest test."

NIEHS has agreed to implement GAO’s recommendation that in the future similar types of agreements will be subject to a conflict-of-interest evaluation.  EPA has not indicated whether it intends to implement GAO’s recommendations.  Mr. Udall observed, "NIEHS is to be congratulated for embracing these changes.  Future cooperative agreements should be subjected to the closest scrutiny to guarantee the public is best served by such initiatives.  I hope EPA will follow the NIEHS lead and also implement these recommendations.  GAO is to be congratulated for their thorough work."

Also released today is a Science Committee Democratic staff memo produced for Representatives Johnson and Udall to put the GAO report in a broader perspective.  The memo makes a case that a conflict of interest, at least in its appearance, was inherent in the agreements between the agencies and the ACC.  The memo also raises concerns about a broader range of government cooperation with regulated industries.

The GAO report was requested by Ms. Johnson in the 108th Congress when she served as Ranking Member of the Research Subcommittee and by Mr. Udall during his service as the Ranking Member of the Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee.  Ms. Johnson now serves as Ranking Member on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Transportation.  Mr. Udall has taken over responsibility as Ranking Member on the Space Subcommittee.

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