WHITE HOUSE:

Scientific integrity reports are in, but info is scarce

Federal agencies turned in progress reports to the White House this week on their scientific integrity policies, but officials are saying little about how far along agencies have come in protecting scientists' work from political meddling.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced on its blog yesterday that "representatives of every executive branch department" had turned in progress reports, as requested in OSTP Director John Holdren's December 2010 memo. President Obama directed agencies to adopt scientific integrity policies more than two years ago; since then, only the Department of Interior has issued a final policy.

Scientists and nonprofits have bemoaned the slow rollout of agency policies -- and of OSTP's guidance, which was released 17 months late in December. Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said yesterday that she hoped OSTP enforced a firm deadline on agencies to develop policies in the coming months.

"I think getting the agencies this far has certainly been similar to herding cats. I'm certain it hasn't been easy," she said, but "I'm ready to be done. You know, I want the finals and I want them now."

OSTP spokesman Rick Weiss said all agencies had submitted progress reports, though a few had done so verbally. The next step, he said, is setting a deadline for agencies to submit draft policies.

"We're very gratified to have had such a complete response in those progress reports," Weiss said in an interview today. "We will be asking for further progress with deadlines in the near future, and we'll be happy to report on the details on those responses when those deadlines come around."

Weiss said six agencies turned in drafts or final policies, though he declined to identify which agencies. However, those six ostensibly included Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which publicly released a draft policy last month.

OSTP also has used as examples the communication policies of Interior, the Department of Commerce, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA and the National Institutes of Health in material aimed at helping other agencies develop their scientific integrity policies.

Gavin Baker, a federal information policy analyst at OMB Watch, said today the nonprofit is "hopeful and disappointed at the same time." Hopeful that agencies have made progress, he said, and disappointed that so few have draft policies.

The "lack of transparency" during the process also has been disturbing, Baker said.

"They're willing to tell us that they received these reports and kind of toot their own horn for the progress that they made," Baker said. "But they haven't posted the reports online so anyone can actually see what's in them and whether they made progress worth getting excited about."

Grifo suggested that OSTP could release its own report on the agencies' progress in lieu of the actual drafts.

"I hope that with the next progress report we actually have more information, even if it's not a copy of the policy," she said. "I hope that next time rather than just telling us just who reports in, we get something resembling a real report card."

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