Alondra Nelson, OSTP deputy director for science and society said the review will examine whether policies prevent "suppression or distortion" of data.

Alondra Nelson, OSTP deputy director for science and society said the review will examine whether policies prevent "suppression or distortion" of data. Matt Slocum/AP

New Task Force Will Conduct Sweeping Review of Scientific Integrity Policies

The governmentwide review will look at policies and political interference in science over the last two administrations.

The Biden administration outlined on Monday how a new task force will conduct a governmentwide review of policies and political interference in science over the last two administrations, an issue that drew widespread concern during the Trump administration. 

The Office of Science and Technology Policy sent a letter, first reported by The New York Times, to all agencies, furthering a memoranda President Biden issued on January 27 titled, “Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.” During the Trump administration there were numerous reports of political appointees stifling the work of career officials on climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and environmental research in particular. Biden officials have repeatedly vowed to let data and evidence drive policy, not the other way around. 

“Restoring and safeguarding scientific integrity will require the participation and contribution of scientists from across government, who will bring their diverse perspectives to the endeavor, including: type and size of agency, scientific of technological discipline, stage of career, methodology and personal and professional background,” wrote Jane Lubchenco, OSTP deputy director for climate and the environment, and Alondra Nelson, OSTP deputy director for science and society.

Specifically, the task force will review whether or not current policies prevent political interference in scientific research or data collection; prevent the “suppression or distortion” of findings, data or other information; support all scientists and researchers regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender or background; and boost “equitable delivery” of federal programs, they wrote in the letter. 

The January memo said the task force will review the scientific policies established since President Obama issued a memorandum on scientific integrity in March 2009. The review is to be completed within 120 days of appointment of its members. The memo also directs agencies to internally review scientific policies issued specifically after January 20, 2017, which was when Trump was inaugurated. 

“The White House is recruiting experts from the [National Institutes of Health] and more than two-dozen other federal agencies” for the task force, Politico reported on Tuesday.

Agencies have until April 2 to nominate officials to be on the task force, said OSTP.

Although the letter does not mention former President Trump specifically, Nelson told The New York Times that the scientists across the government are going to review “Trump-era policies that eschewed science for politics” and establish new safeguards to prevent interference going forward. 

Also, Julia Krieger, OSTP spokeswoman, said the task force "will be taking a whole-of-government, forward-looking review of science across federal agencies, in part by examining practices that were antithetical to that mission over the last four years," as they are "dedicated to building on lessons learned to better serve the American people with practical, science-based results.”

Other related, recent actions Biden officials have taken include: ordering an internal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review that found some Trump-era coronavirus guidance was not “primarily” written by agency staff; the reversal of a 2018 policy at the Interior Department that restricted the scientific research employees could use; and a review of attacks on science at the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration. 

During a COVID-19 briefing on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said, “When I first started at CDC about two months ago, I made a promise to you: I would tell you the truth, even if it was not the news we wanted to hear.” 

Monday’s memo comes in the wake of new revelations from former Trump administration officials offered in a CNN report “COVID War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out.” Several former top administration officials described how White House officials suppressed or manipulated information for political purposes. In response, the former president on Monday evening issued a 587-word statement blasting Drs. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Deborah Birx, former White House coronavirus coordinator, as “two self-promoters trying to reinvent history to cover for their bad instincts and faulty recommendations, which I fortunately almost always overturned.” Said Trump: “I only kept Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx on because they worked for the U.S. government for so long—they are like a bad habit!” 

Update: This article has been updated with comments from OSTP.