Read the full GAO Report.
"In recent years, controversies regarding the federal advisory committee system have included concerns about the appointment of specific individuals to committees and agency decisions to create or terminate some committees. Although a variety of concerns have been raised, the overarching concern was that ideological bias was influencing the selection of experts for scientific and health advisory panels. Publications such as Science, The Lancet, and Chemical and Engineering News have published editorials and articles containing criticisms of decisions seen as injecting ideology into a committee system that should be nonideological. Further, some current and potential federal advisory committee members reported being asked about their political views in the context of decisions regarding their appointment or reappointment to committees." (pages 7 & 8)
"Generally composed of individuals from outside of the federal government, federal advisory committees play an important role in the development of public policy and government regulations by providing advice to policymakers on a wide array of issues. In fiscal year 2003, 54 agencies sponsored approximately 950 committees with about 62,000 members to provide advice by performing peer reviews of scientific research; developing recommendations on specific policy decisions; identifying longrange issues facing the nation; and evaluating grant proposals, among other functions. Their advice—on issues such as stem cell research, space exploration, trade policy, drinking water standards, and drug approvals—can enhance the quality and credibility of federal decision making." (page 14)
"To address controversial and other important matters, scientific and technical advisory committees—which are the primary focus of this report—play a number of different roles on behalf of agencies. One role of science committees is to advise agencies on how to address a set of particular problems." (page 15)
"OGE and GSA governmentwide guidance and the policies and procedures of the nine departments and agencies we reviewed have limitations that reduce their effectiveness in ensuring that advisory committee members are independent and that advisory committees are, and are perceived as being, balanced." (page 17)
What GAO Recommends:
"GAO recommends that GSA and/or OGE, as appropriate, give direction to agencies on: the proper use of representative appointments; information that would help ensure committees are, and are perceived as, balanced; and practices that would better ensure independence and balance and enhance transparency in the advisory committee process. GSA agreed with GAO’s findings and agreed to work with OGE to implement the recommendations. OGE agreed that representative appointments need review but disagreed that its guidance has limitations. GAO continues to believe the guidance could be improved to better ensure that agencies are appropriately appointing committee members." GAO Highlights
This report, of the U.S. General Accounting Office, includes descriptions of the practices and measures by which several U.S. government agencies and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences use to ensure independence and balance and to promote transparency in the federal advisory committee system. Some practices, the report suggessts, should be more widely adopted, such as obtaining nominations from the public and making public information about how members are identified and screened.
Wider use of these practices—particularly for committees addressing sensitive or controversial topics—could reduce the likelihood that committees are, or are perceived as being, biased or imbalanced.
The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO is a duely constituted Federal Advisory Committee, and its charter would seem to include the wide range of scientific and technological issues that engage UNESCO. Thus, the GAO report might well bo of interest to the NatCom members and staff.
Moreover, UNESCO itself as an important function under its charter, gathers scientific and technological advisory groups. Americans are often invited to participate in such groups, and indeed the NatCom may be expected in the future to have a role helping UNESCO to find such participants, as well as to encourage UNESCO toward independence, balance, and transparency in the selection of participants. Note especially, that scientific and technological expertise in the topics under discussion are critical, but not sufficient. U.S. agencies seek scientific balance, as well as geographic, ethnic and gender balance. The GAO report might well also be of interest to UNESCO staff and advisors.