Obama Administration Science Integrity Memo includes Good News for ASA Governance and Government Statisticians: More Steps Necessary

By Steve Pierson posted 02-02-2011 14:22

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren issued a scientific integrity memo to the heads of administration departments and agencies on December 17. While the scientific community and others will welcome many parts of the memorandum, the following excerpt on promoting professional development of government scientists is especially welcome to ASA because of the integral role government scientists play in ASA governance:
"Allow full participation in professional or scholarly societies, committees, task forces and other specialized bodies of professional societies, including removing barriers for serving as officers or on governing boards of such societies."
With ASA’s practice of having a president and vice-president from the government sector every three years (with presidents and vice-presidents from academia and industry completing the cycle), the ASA Nominating Committee has reported difficulty in securing candidates from the government sector. Such restrictions can also apply to service in ASA sections, chapters and committees. The reasons vary from such service not being allowed to requiring the person to use personal leave time for the professional society service. The widely varying policies across agencies are partially influenced by differing interpretations of a criminal statute (18 U.S.C. §208) regarding business with private organizations where financial conflicts of interest might arise.

From ASA’s point of view, the restrictions are a hindrance because it is important for the professional needs of federal scientists be directly represented in ASA governance and because ASA would benefit from the perspective of federal scientists.

Joining with AAAS, the Ornithological Council, the Wildlife Society and the Society for Conservation Biology, ASA had meetings at OSTP, the Office of Government Ethics and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requesting a government-wide set of standards to guide federal employee participation on the boards of scientific professional societies and a legislative or regulatory measure to 18 allowing service on the scientific professional society boards.

To make our case, the groups cited the potential to raise the profile of a federal scientist’s department/agency as place for high-quality, cutting-edge research, thereby helping to recruit scientists to federal service. We also noted the converse, that current restrictions could dissuade the best scientists from entering federal service because of the role professional society governance can play in helping one advance professional stature. We also pointed out OPM’s Research Grade Evaluation Guide listing “invitations to address or to assume a leadership role in national professional organizations and associated committees” as a highest level factor for its evaluation system grading criteria.

Recognizing the important ethical issues, the groups also cited the current practice of government scientists to excuse themselves from any professional society discussion where a possible conflict of interest could apply.

Holdren’s memo, which was a follow up to Obama’s Presidential Memorandum on Scientific Integrity from March 9, 2009, is but a first step. A regulatory or legislative fix to U.S.C §208, on which we understand the Office of Personnel Management and Office of Government Ethics are working, is still an objective. Government agencies must also review and change their respective policies regarding government scientists serving in scientific professional society leadership.

I invite ASA Members to join the Science Policy Group in the ASA Community. I will send members of this group updates on ASA science policy actions, notifications of new blogs, and ask for input on ASA science policy activities.

[2/2: Here are some related links to this piece: