Scientific Integrity: HHS agencies should develop procedures and train staff to report and address political interference

What the GAO found

In its April 2022 report, the GAO found that the four select agencies it reviewed did not have procedures outlining how political interference in scientific decision-making should be reported and addressed. These agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary. for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).

The absence of specific procedures may explain why the four selected agencies did not identify any formally reported internal allegations of potential political interference in scientific decision-making from 2010 to 2021. Through semi-structured interviews and a confidential hotline , CDC, FDA, and NIH employees told the GAO they observed incidents they perceived as political interference, but did not report them for various reasons. These reasons included not knowing how to report problems, believing that agency leaders already knew about it, and fearing retaliation.

The four selected agencies – CDC, FDA, NIH and ASPR – train staff on certain topics related to scientific integrity, such as public health ethics, but only the NIH includes information on political interference in the scientific decision-making as part of his training.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since 2007, Congress and several administrations have taken steps to ensure that federal science agencies have scientific integrity policies and procedures that, among other things, protect against the suppression or alteration of scientific findings for scientific purposes. policies. The GAO has defined scientific integrity as the use of scientific evidence and data to make policy decisions based on established scientific methods and processes, which are not inappropriately influenced by political considerations and which are shared with the public if necessary.

This testimony summarizes the April 2022 GAO Report on Scientific Integrity (GAO-22-104613). This report examined the procedures in place at the CDC, FDA, NIH, and ASPR to deal with allegations of political interference in scientific decision-making and the extent to which agencies have received such allegations. It also examined the training provided by the selected agencies on scientific integrity policies and procedures, including those related to political interference. GAO analyzed agency science integrity policies, procedures, and training; interviewed agency managers and employees, which included executives and non-executives; and deployed a confidential hotline.

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