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Trump Directs Agencies to Cut Federal Advisory Committees - Action Could Limit Science Informed Decision-making

Amerikanische Flagge

President Trump signed an Executive Order on June 14, 2019, directing federal agencies to terminate a large number of current federal advisory committees that advise agencies on everything ranging from research priorities to public health, environmental, security, and economic policy.

The Executive Order on Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committeesinstructs agencies and departments to “evaluate the need” for each of their current advisory committees, whether established by a congressional statute, by the President, or by the head of the agency under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).  Based on this evaluation, the Order requires agencies to terminate by September 30, 2019 “at least one-third” of their federal advisory panels established not by law but by agency heads, including panels for which the objectives have been accomplished, the assigned work has become obsolete, and the primary functions have been absorbed by another body.  The Order also targets committees where “the cost of operation is excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government.”  
Agencies can, however, obtain a waiver from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for committees deemed “necessary for the delivery of essential services” or “warranted by the public interest.”  Agencies with fewer than three advisory panels are exempt from the target of eliminating one-third of these panels.  
The Administration is also seeking recommendations from agencies on terminating advisory panels established by the President or required by law.  Agencies have until August 1, 2019 to submit their recommendations for such panels on whether they should be continued or terminated along with a detailed legislative plan for terminating statutory committees that the OMB Director could include in the President’s FY 2021 budget request to Congress. 
Merit review panels that provide scientific expertise for policy decisions related to product safety are exempt from the provisions of the Order, as well as advisory committees of independent regulatory agencies.
Additionally, the Order caps the government-wide combined total number of federal advisory committees, not including the panels of independent regulatory agencies, at 350.  An agency will not be able to create a new advisory committee if the combined total number of committees exceeds this cap, unless the agency obtains a waiver from the OMB Director.
The new policy has been criticized as another attack on science by the Trump Administration.  “For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees.  Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice,” said Gretchen Goldman, Research Director at the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy.  In an opinion piece in Nature, Goldman warned that “cuts to science advisory panels for federal agencies will haunt the United States long after the current administration finishes.”  She urged scientists to “use the power of constituency, urge Congress for oversight, and even go to court if necessary.”