By David Michaels
The Center for Public Integrity has launched an exciting project examining the work of the federal advisory committees. It’s been named “The Shadow Government,” and it is directed by veteran journalist Jim Morris. The project’s first report focuses on the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health, a panel that provides advice related to the program that compensates civilian nuclear weapons workers who developed occupational illnesses following exposure to radiation, beryllium and other toxic materials encountered in the production and clean up of nuclear weapons. (I’ll come back to that report in a later post.)
Since the beginning of the Bush Administration, federal advisory panels have been the subject of a great deal of controversy. These panels, set up under the “Federal Advisory Committee Act” (FACA), play a vitally important role in assisting federal decision-makers grapple with complex and difficult policy issues, especially in science policy. Since the first reports of the Bush Administration stacking advisory committees (one early outcry was an editorial in Science Magazine which I wrote with several colleagues associated with the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, or SKAPP), scientists and science organizations have been have been outspoken in their objections to appointments of individuals selected for their allegiance to special interests rather than for their scientific qualifications.
After a flurry of publicity (and resolutions by the AAAS and the APHA, and reports by Cong. Henry Waxman, the Government Accountability Office and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science, Education and Public Policy), the public discussion about the workings of most federal advisory committees has quieted. But their importance has not lessened. So we welcome “The Shadow Government” and look forward to the light it will shine on the workings of these panels.
For those policy aficionados who want to know more about federal advisory panels, and what’s happened to them since the beginning of the Bush Administration, check out the materials in the advisory committee section of the SKAPP website www.DefendingScience.org.
David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.