Here’s an interesting fact: Scientists hoping to be published in the journal Science are told in advance that they must agree to make available “all data necessary to understand and assess the conclusions of the manuscript." The stipulation is commonplace in the scientific and academic communities, where research results must be transparent and reproducible to be credible.
That’s supposed to be the way it is for the federal government, too. Here’s how the policy is described by the Administrative Conference of the United States: Federal officials are expected, to the maximum extent possible, to “identify and make publicly available (on the agency website or some other widely available forum) references to the scientific literature, underlying data, models, and research results that it considered. In so doing, the agency should list all information upon which it relied in reaching its conclusions, as well as any information material to the scientific analysis that it considered but upon which it ultimately did not rely.”
Unfortunately, “secret science” is the norm at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to witnesses at Tuesday's hearing of a subcommittee of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. As the committee's chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, said, “Transparency and independent verification are basic tenants of science and must inform sound environmental policy. When the EPA does not follow these basic steps, it fails in its obligation to the American people and raises suspicions about whether its regulations can be justified.”
The reality is that EPA routinely fails the transparency test. Smith's committee, for example, asked the agency for the data and associated scientific research upon which it bases current federal air pollution regulatory policies. After years of promising but failing to deliver the requested material, the EPA finally claimed it couldn't, either because it never possessed it or it had been lost or destroyed. At least the agency, however reluctantly, offered an explanation for its failure to make public such materials. Usually, as is the case with virtually every major regulatory initiative the EPA has launched in recent years, officials simply ignore or refuse such requests. It doesn't seem to matter whether the request comes from a congressional committee, a member of the news media, or a mere taxpayer.
As a result, Smith has introduced the Secret Science Reform Act of 2014, which, he explained during Tuesday's hearing, consists of two basic elements: First, it “prohibits EPA from issuing regulations unless all scientific and technical information relied upon is specifically identified." And second, it “requires that information be publicly available in a manner that is sufficient for independent analysis and reproduction of research results.” It is difficult to understand why anybody would disagree with such aims, especially officials appointed by a president who promised on his first day in office to have “the most transparent administration in history.” Congress should waste no time approving this proposal and sending it to the president for his signature.