SEJ Objects to OSTP Backing of Reporting Restrictions

Jan. 26, 2022 — SEJ joined with the Society of Professional Journalists , in sending a letter today to the leaders of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy about a recently released report laying out the Biden administration's stance on ensuring scientific integrity in government.

We praise the report, "Protecting the Integrity of Government Science," for espousing as a fundamental principle that "federal scientists should be able to speak freely, if they wish, about their unclassified research, including to members of the press."

But we point out that the rest of the report undermines and effectively negates that principle by endorsing existing widespread agency policies and practices that specify media access to government scientists should be "in coordination with supervisors and public affairs officials." As a practical matter, that means interview and information requests are frequently delayed, inadequately responded to and often outright denied.

We cite the example last July, when the chief of staff of EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention emailed all employees in that office reminding them that they were not authorized to answer reporters' questions directly and that all queries from journalists were to be referred to the press office. That email came in the wake of news that four EPA scientists in that office had filed a whistleblower complaint alleging managers had improperly watered down their chemical risk assessments.

Our letter concludes:

"Even though your report is final, we urge you to amend or supplement it by stating, in the clearest and strongest terms possible, that federal scientists need no one's permission to share their research or knowledge with journalists and the public. It's fine to ask them to voluntarily inform communications offices of such contacts, but they shouldn't be required to report them or fear being chastised or disciplined for not doing so. The American public deserves the full story from their government scientists and other staff, not a sanitized version that's filtered through a political or policy lens."

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