NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Secret Scientific Data Violates The Public's Right To Know

August 11, 1999

Policy makers often rely on scientific research, much of which is funded by the federal government, in making important policy decisions. Faulty research can result in bad policy. For example:

  • Scientist Robert Liburdy faked data that resulted in costly efforts to mitigate the effects -- later found not to exist -- of high-tension electric lines.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to impose new, expensive and possibly hazardous air quality standards based on scientific data it claimed were not available for review.

To ensure open access to publicly funded scientific data in the future, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) inserted a provision into the Fiscal Year 1999 Omnibus Spending Bill making it available to the public. Now a move is afoot to repeal or delay the Shelby requirement.

Congress directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to draft regulations requiring "Federal awarding agencies to ensure that all data produced under an award will be made available to the public through procedures established under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)." In response, the OMB drafted a narrower set of regulations requiring only that data from published federally funded research actually used in developing policies or rules be made available.

Aside from promoting scientific integrity, the new rules would promote open government and better informed democratic decision making. In addition, it promotes fiscal responsibility. Regulations cost Americans more than $700 billion, or more than $6,000 per household, each year.

Some legislators wish to rescind or delay the Shelby provision. The late Rep. George Brown (D-Calif.) sponsored a bill to repeal it, and Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and James Walsh (R-N.Y.) attempted to attach an amendment to appropriation bills that would delay its implementation for a year.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett (NCPA Senior Policy Analyst), "Secret Disservice: Covering Up Scientific Data Violates the Public's Right to Know," Brief Analysis No. 304, August 11, 1999, National Center for Policy Analysis, 12770 Coit Rd., Suite 800, Dallas, Texas 75251, (972) 386-6272.

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