UPDATE: Groups across the political spectrum urge Congress to include scientists in pending whistleblower bill. Read the letter.

Congress is currently weighing legislation that aims to enhance protections for government employees who blow the whistle on waste, fraud, or corruption in federal agencies.

Retaliation against whistleblowers is a pernicious form of censorship, because it  chills particularly critical speech that can involve government wrong-doing and often affects vital health and public safety issues. Congress is poised to make important reforms, including expanding the rights of whistleblowers to sue if they are wrongly harassed or terminated.  

But there’s just one problem: these protections may not extend to scientists employed by the federal government.

As NCAC has documented in recent years, the distortion and suppression of “inconvenient” science on topics ranging from the environment to reproductive health to energy has reached an unprecedented, and untenable, level.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

At federal agency after federal agency, surveys and investigations have revealed political interference in the work of scientists. Scientists report that they are being asked to change research data or having their research suppressed. They are afraid to publicize this breach of public trust and harm to public health and safety for fear that their jobs and careers will be jeopardized. Of the nearly 3,400 federal scientists across nine agencies who have responded to questionnaires about this issue, more than 1,100 scientists report that they fear retaliation for openly expressing concerns about their agency’s mission-driven work.

But Congress can make a difference. The whistleblower bill passed by the House of Representatives last year, H.R. 985, includes protections for scientists. But the Senate version of the bill, which was also passed last year, S. 274, does not. This month, House and Senate negotiators are trying to resolve the differences between the two bills to arrive at final bill that Congress can send to the president. It is crucial that the House bill’s specific protections for scientists be included in that final bill.

NCAC has joined UCS and other groups to urge the adoption of a final bill that would provide protection from retaliation for exposing:

  • attempts to compromise the validity or accuracy of federally funded research or analysis;
  • attempts to censor, distort or suppress any scientific and/or technical research or analysis, opinion or recommendation; and
  • actions that prevent an employee or any person performing federally funded research or analysis from publishing his or her scientific or technical research or analysis in peer-reviewed journals or other scientific publications or making presentations at professional society meetings.

Neither proposal would permit the release of confidential information, or infringe on the legitimate policy-making role of elected and appointed officials.  The protections, rather, would insure scientists’ ability to conduct research and speak about their findings according to professionally accepted scientific standards. This would insure that the officials charged with making policy decisions have the best possible evidence, untainted by political considerations, when they act.

If you are concerned about this issue, as we are, you can participate  in the campaign spearheaded by the Union of Concerned Scientists  to raise awareness about the issue and urge Congress to defend the integrity of government-sponsored science.  

Go to the UCS Action Center for more information and instructions about how to make your voice heard.