In Brief

The General Accounting Office (GAO) has launched a review of federal science advisory committees to help ensure that the committees provide scientifically sound, independent and balanced advice, say GAO staff members leading the investigation.

As part of the review, the GAO--the investigative arm of Congress--is seeking input from scientists and other professionals, including psychologists, who have been vetted for or have served on federal advisory committees. The GAO says it is willing to protect individual identities in their notes and in the final report.

Other groups have also started to take action on the issue, which has been a subject of concern in the scientific community since last fall (see March Monitor). At the National Academies, the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPUP) has created an ad hoc committee to examine the selection process.

APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, was invited to explain APA's position on the matter at a COSEPUP meeting in February that was also attended by the science advisers to three former U.S. presidents.

"In general, the overall appointment process appears to function reasonably well," Anderson said, "but it should be clear what type of expertise any individual brings to the table, and the process of vetting appointees should be made as transparent as possible. For scientist nominees, such vetting should be based solely on their scientific credentials."

In March, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued a resolution calling for fairness in the advisory council selection process. "We felt that it would be useful at this time to reiterate the importance of getting the full range and highest quality scientific advice possible," AAAS CEO Alan Leshner, PhD, said in a press release. The resolution calls on the government "to ensure that the process of obtaining scientific, technical and medical advice follows the letter and spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and accords with democratic principles of governance."

The GAO, COSEPUP and AAAS actions come on the heels of a number of anecdotal reports that political "litmus tests" have been applied to nominees for committees that advise the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies that oversee scientific research.

--E. BENSON

Further Reading

Individuals interested in contributing to the GAO review can contact investigation leaders Ross Campbell at (202) 512-6550 or campbellr@gao.gov or Christine Fishkin at (202) 512-6895 or fishkinc@gao.gov.