The Federal Government needs to strengthen procedures that guide agencies in selecting scientific advisers, says a report released last week by the General Accounting Office.
GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, says improvements in the process would reduce actual or perceived conflict-of-interest concerns about federal scientific advisory boards.
One GAO recommendation would impact most advisory panels at the Departments of Energy, of the Interior, and of Agriculture. These departments generally appoint advisers as "representatives" who reflect the advice of a particular group, such as industry, labor, or consumers. Representatives are not subject to federal conflict-of-interest standards, and GAO recommends limiting the use of this type of adviser.
In contrast, science advisers to agencies such as NIH and EPA are classified as special government employees who must undergo conflict-of-interest screening and disclosure. Special government employees provide advice based on their best professional judgment and do not represent views of a particular group.
GAO says the government also needs clear guidance about the type of information each agency should collect from potential advisers to assess their points of view about an issue. This data will help the agencies balance the views of their advisory boards' members, GAO explains.
Also, agencies should solicit nominations for advisory boards from the public and lay out their conflict-of-interest processes in advance, GAO said.
The report is available at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04328.pdf.