Is a tax-supported federal regulatory agency – such as the Environmental Protection Agency – subject to public oversight? Is EPA obliged to make public the scientific data on which its regulatory policies are based? For NAS, the answer to both questions is unequivocally affirmative. President Peter Wood recently joined a group of academics and scientists to sign a letter endorsing the Secret Science Reform Act, just approved this week by the House Committee on Space, Science and Technology.
According to committee chairman and co-sponsor Lamar Smith (R. Texas), the bill is necessary because the EPA’s “regulatory process is both hidden and flawed. It hides the data and then handpicks the scientists to review it. Unfortunately, the EPA continues to resist basic accountability.” At issue are the specific data cited by EPA in support of controversial greenhouse regulations, data which Smith and the bill’s supporters charge that the agency refuses to divulge.
Not everyone favored this appeal to transparency and accountability. Ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D. Texas) denounced the bill as “anti-science and anti-health,” and accused to the committee’s majority of harassing the agency. Several major organizations lined up with Johnson, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Lung Association.
But NAS, where we’ve frequently made use of public information laws, has long favored public accountability for public agencies. That’s not to say that disclosure should be unrestricted, but the data requested from EPA fall well within the bounds of proper public scrutiny. Taxpayers are entitled to know how their money is being used.