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Press Releases :: July 22, 2004

Politics Should Not Intrude Into Scientific Advisory Panel Appointment Process

Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Ranking Member on the Basic Research Subcommittee, and Brian Baird (D-WA) today released statements endorsing the work of the National Academy of Sciences relating to appointments to Scientific Advisory Panels.

Ms. Johnson said, "I am very pleased that the National Academy has decided to take up the question of how to attract the best scientific advisors to government service.  Both Mr. Baird and I have been concerned about this very issue for several years.  We were particularly troubled by reports of politicization of the advisory panel process that began to appear early on in the Bush Administration’s tenure.  We requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) do a report.  That report lays out several steps that can be taken by the Executive Branch to improve the integrity of the appointment process."

 The GAO report can be found at http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-328.

Both Members distanced themselves from remarks at yesterday’s Academy session attributed to Congressman Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Chair of the Environment, Technology and Standards Subcommittee.  Mr. Ehlers was quoted in the Washington Post, and these quotes were confirmed by other sources present at the meeting, on the appropriateness of directing questions regarding political affiliation or moral views on abortion to a scientific advisory panel candidate.

Mr. Baird commented, "When the government seeks scientific advice, we have to follow appointment policies that attract the best scientists available.  The key questions in putting such a panel together revolve around the research expertise of potential members and relevant conflicts of interest, not their political preferences or which candidates they may have given money to in the past.  Once you begin letting politics get in the way of choosing scientists to offer expert advice, you corrupt the very process designed to get you good advice."

Ms. Johnson said, "I was very disappointed to learn of Mr. Ehlers’ statements regarding advisory panels.  He is widely viewed among Republicans in the House as a leader on science issues.  If he is saying it is okay to politicize scientific advisory panel appointments, then it is little wonder that such behavior was actually pursued by Administration officials.  I strongly disagree with his views.  I don’t think that such questions are appropriate and I don’t think the public is well served by a process built on political calculations.  My position is that we should get the best scientific advice available, and then let policy makers and politicians deal with that advice in the context of policy, ethical and political considerations."


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