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February 23, 2024
EPA seeks public comments on draft policy to strengthen scientific integrity

On January 24, 2024, the EPA released draft updates to its Scientific Integrity Policy for public comment.

Scientific integrity at EPA is the adherence to professional practices, ethical behavior, and the principles of honesty and objectivity when conducting, managing, using the results of, and communicating about science and scientific activities,” the Agency Scientific Integrity website states. “Inclusivity, transparency and protection from inappropriate influence are hallmarks of scientific integrity. Scientific integrity is the responsibility of every EPA employee, political employee, contractor, grantee, volunteer and collaborator who conducts, utilizes, supervises, manages, communicates or influences scientific activities.”

All EPA employees are required to follow the Scientific Integrity Policy when engaging in, supervising, managing, or influencing scientific activities; communicating information in an official capacity about Agency scientific activities; and using scientific information in making Agency policy or management decisions.

The EPA Scientific Integrity Policy, according to an Agency fact sheet, promotes a culture of integrity by:

  • Fostering an honest investigation, open discussion, refined understanding, and a firm commitment to evidence.
  • Requiring adherence to applicable Agency information quality, quality assurance, and peer review policies and procedures, ensuring the Agency produces scientific products of the highest quality, rigor, and objectivity for use in policy decisions.
  • Recognizing the distinction between scientific information, analyses, and results from the policy decisions made based on that scientific information.
  • Prohibiting all EPA employees, including scientists, managers, and other Agency leadership, from suppressing, altering, or otherwise impeding the timely release of scientific information.
  • Requiring all Agency employees to act honestly and refrain from acts of scientific misconduct.
  • Facilitating the free flow of scientific information. The EPA will expand and promote access to scientific information, including access to data and nonproprietary models underlying Agency policy decisions.
  • Prohibiting managers and Agency leadership from intimidating or coercing scientists to alter scientific data, findings, or professional opinions.
  • Requiring adherence to Agency policies or procedures that address the use and characterization of scientific information in Agency policy development.

The EPA’s first Scientific Integrity Policy was issued in 2012, and the Agency appointed its first full-time Scientific Integrity Official in 2013 based on requirements in both the 2009 Scientific Integrity Presidential Memorandum and the 2010 Office of Science and Technology Policy Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity. Those documents, together with the 2021 Presidential Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-based Policymaking, guided the draft updates of the 2023 Scientific Integrity Policy.

In addition to the above documents, draft updates were also derived from the collective experience of federal agencies and the informed engagement of stakeholders both inside and outside of government captured in the actions of the 2022 National Science and Technology Council Scientific Integrity Fast Track Action Committee and its report, Protecting the Integrity of Government Science and the National Science and Technology Council 2023 A Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice.

“The draft SI Policy updates include but are not limited to the adoption of a new Federal definition of scientific integrity as well as the introduction and clarification of roles and responsibilities, such as the new role of the EPA Chief Scientist. In addition, the draft policy updates will significantly strengthen several policy elements (e.g., protecting scientific processes, reviewing science, ensuring the free flow of scientific information, supporting decision making processes, ensuring accountability, etc.) that will help ensure a culture of scientific integrity at the Agency,” states the EPA notice of the public comment period.

Industry is encouraged to review the draft policy and associated support documents, advises Bergeson & Campbell PC in a Lexology article. This policy guides EPA decision-making Agency-wide and is particularly relevant to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

“The draft Policy states that ‘Scientific integrity is the responsibility of the entire EPA workforce.’ We note, however, that members of the public also have a role to play with ensuring scientific integrity,” the Bergeson article notes. “For example, EPA’s process for ‘Reporting an Allegation of a Loss of Scientific Integrity’ is available to individuals (entities) that are internal or external to the Agency. … [T]he draft Policy when issued in final will apply to EPA’s decisions under TSCA and the other statutes that EPA administers.”