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Office of Government Ethics Final Rule Provides Good News for ASA Governance and Government Statisticians

By Steve Pierson posted 03-06-2013 09:22

The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has issued a final rule that will make it easier for federal statisticians to serve in ASA leadership (and federal scientists to serve in professional associations more generally.) The ASA welcomes the news because of the important role federal statisticians play in the ASA, both as members and as officers in our leadership, committees, sections and chapters. We thank the OGE, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for their work making this rule change a reality.

The OGE final rule, for which the ASA has advocated the last three years, facilitates the service of federal statisticians in ASA governance by "creating a new exemption that permits Government employees to participate in particular matters affecting the financial interests of nonprofit organizations in which they serve in an official capacity as officer, director or trustee, notwithstanding the employees' imputed financial interest under 18 U.S.C. 208(a)." 18 U.S.C. §208 is, as described on the OGE website, "the basic criminal conflict of interest statute, [which] prohibits an executive branch employee from participating personally and substantially in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests ..."

In order for this rule to be fully implemented, tovernment agencies must review and change their respective policies regarding government scientists serving in scientific professional society leadership.

For those interested in the background and steps leading up to this OGE pronouncement, the final rule text provides a detailed and informative background. In 2006, for example, OGE issues a report concluding "the potential for a real conflict of interest is too remote or inconsequential to affect the integrity of an employee's services under these circumstances." Rather than proposing a rule change then, they opted to place the issue before Congress.  

OGE proposed this rule change in May 2011. Providing the ASA's comments, then President-Elect Bob Rodriguez and Executive Director Ron Wasserstein cited the important role of government statisticians in ASA governance and the difficulty the ASA Nominating Committee has experienced in finding government nominees, writing
Without federal statisticians in its governance, the ASA would not be able to serve fully the needs of the government sector, since there would not be an active voice from that sector in our decision-making process. The ASA would also be deprived of the perspective of the government sector for its broader mission.

Furthermore, the rules precluding a federal scientist’s professional society activity hinder his/her ability to achieve the professional stature afforded by professional society leadership experience. Finally, such rules could dissuade scientists from entering federal service and/or prevent federal scientists from serving in high-profile professional society positions, thereby undermining the overall stature of an agency’s scientific work.
For those of you interested in reading more, please see the following ASA Community blog entries:

In the final push, the ASA signed onto letters to the OPM and OGE Directors urging completion of the rule: OPM 2/7/13, OGE 2/7/13. We thank all the other societies involved in this effort and especially appreciate the leadership of Ellen Paul, Executive Director of the Ornithological Council. With these other societies, the ASA joined onto a group letter with comments to the OGE proposed rule change: 6/30/11.

See other ASA Science Policy blog entries. For ASA science policy updates, follow @ASA_SciPol on Twitter.