ASA Comments on House and Senate Bills, "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014"

By Steve Pierson posted 09-09-2014 15:51



ASA President-Elect David Morganstein sent letters to both House and Senate leaders in early September regarding H.R. 4012 and S. 2613both titled "Secret Science Reform Act of 2014"expressing concern and urging major revisions to the bills before further consideration. While generally applauding the bills' intent to make data underlying EPA rulemaking more available, Morganstein's letter (House version; Senate version) states,

Our concerns include those voiced by others (especially the American Association for the Advancement of Science) that the bill’s statements do not account for the complexities common to the scientific process on research that involves biological materials or physical specimens not easily accessible, combinations of public and private data, longitudinal data collected over many years that are difficult to reproduce, and data from one-time events that cannot be replicated...  We also agree with the point that it would be prudent to see the EPA’s data access policy—in accordance with the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010—expected by year’s end before further action on H.R. 4012.

Our nation should be striving for transparency in government and, as noted above, data accessibility, but these goals also must be balanced with the necessity to protect individuals’ and businesses’ privacy. The bill’s language of “publicly available” except when “prohibited by law” acknowledges this balance, but that language is vague and may be insufficient to protect individuals and businesses.

The letter goes on to discuss in more detail privacy and confidentiality matters, a topic on which many ASA members have expertise:

some data sets may not fall under "prohibited by law," yet the data are still collected under a pledge to protect the identifiability and confidentiality of the reported values. For example, the government, as well as private and nonprofit sectors, routinely collects data—including private business information and private health information—under strict pledges to protect confidentiality. In some studies, this is backed up with penalties for violating those pledges. Such data should not be publicly available to every person who might ask for them. Rather, data subjects’ confidentiality should be protected, for example by policies and procedures that provide data access to trusted users (i.e., approved users committed to appropriate protections of the confidentiality of study participants) while discouraging breaches of confidentiality and/or by data redaction techniques developed in the statistical and computer science communities. Under the current wording, a choice may have to be made between maintaining data confidentiality and issuing needed regulations.

To see the AAAS letters referenced in Morganstein's letter, see AAAS Expresses Concerns About 'Secret Science' Act. The AAAS letters were cosigned by dozens of scientific societies and universities. For some context on this bill, see this August 2013 Science article, House Subpoena Revives Battle Over Air Pollution Studies.

The bill is very short and is pasted below.

The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee advanced the bill on party-line votes in June. The Democrats have posted numerous letters (including the ASA letter) voicing concerns on the bill on their website. I'm not aware of letters of support being posted anywhere but Chairman Lamar Smith's opening statement from the June 24 full committee markup can be found here.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has requested it review the bill but it is not clear if that will happen before possible House floor consideration this fall. The Senate companion bill was introduced July 16 by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) with seven cosponsors. Senate consideration by the Environment and Public Works Committee is unlikely this fall.

Morganstein's letter was written with input from three ASA committees (with the first taking the lead): Scientific and Public Affairs Advisory Committee, Data Sharing and Reproducibility Ad Hoc Committee, and Privacy and Confidentiality Committee. In addition to conferring with the chairs of the committees, all the members of the committees were asked for input.

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

2d Session
H. R. 4012

To prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing,
finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon
science that is not transparent or reproducible.



February 6, 2014

Mr. Schweikert (for himself, Mr. Smith of Texas, Mr. Hall, Mr. Broun of
Georgia, Mr. Culberson, Mr. Bridenstine, Mrs. Lummis, Mr. Rohrabacher,
Mr. Collins of New York, Mr. Burgess, Mr. Olson, Mr. Cramer, Mr.
Bucshon, Mr. Hultgren, Mr. Neugebauer, Mr. Palazzo, Mr. Brooks of
Alabama, Mr. Salmon, and Mr. Franks of Arizona) introduced the
following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Science, Space,
and Technology



To prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing,
finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon
science that is not transparent or reproducible.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the ``Secret Science Reform Act of 2014''.


Section 6(b) of the Environmental Research, Development, and
Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 (42 U.S.C. 4363 note) is
amended to read as follows:
``(b)(1) The Administrator shall not propose, finalize, or
disseminate a covered action unless all scientific and technical
information relied on to support such covered action is--
``(A) specifically identified; and
``(B) publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for
independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research
``(2) Nothing in the subsection shall be construed as requiring the
public dissemination of information the disclosure of which is
prohibited by law.
``(3) In this subsection--
``(A) the term `covered action' means a risk, exposure, or
hazard assessment, criteria document, standard, limitation,
regulation, regulatory impact analysis, or guidance; and
``(B) the term `scientific and technical information'
``(i) materials, data, and associated protocols
necessary to understand, assess, and extend
``(ii) computer codes and models involved in the
creation and analysis of such information;
``(iii) recorded factual materials; and
``(iv) detailed descriptions of how to access and
use such information.''.