Coalition Letter regarding Federal Scientists and Whistleblowing

GROUPS ACROSS POLITICAL SPECTRUM URGE CONGRESS TO INCLUDE FEDERAL SCIENTISTS IN PENDING WHISTLEBLOWER BILL

March 18, 2008

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

In the next few weeks, House and Senate negotiators are working to reconcile bills to enhance whistleblower protections for federal employees. Your leadership on this issue will help to ensure that the final version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act contains specific protections for federal scientists who blow the whistle on the suppression or distortion of federal research or technical information. Such protections, which were incorporated into the House passed whistleblower bill, H.R. 985, are crucial for the health and safety of all Americans.

Federal government scientists play a crucial role in providing data and scientific analyses to policy makers so they can make the best, most informed decisions about our environment, health, and national security. Whether it is toy safety, drug efficacy, or air quality, we count on federal agencies to use independent and unbiased science to protect us from harm.

Federal law has defined a whistleblower as someone who reports waste, fraud and "abuse of authority." This definition, however, fails to address the problems facing too many federal scientists.

Surveys, investigations, and media reports increasingly show that federal science is being manipulated, suppressed, and distorted. Indeed, of the nearly 3,400 federal scientists across nine agencies who have responded to questionnaires by the Union of Concerned Scientists, more than 1,100 scientists report that they fear retaliation for openly expressing concerns about their agency’s mission-driven work.

Scientists who expose the suppression and distortion of their work should be protected for alerting the public to potential dangers. For this reason, any comprehensive whistleblower law that Congress approves this year must define "abuse of authority" to include the suppression and/or distortion of federal research and technical information.

Specific whistleblower protections would not give federal scientists the right to usurp legitimate supervisory oversight or policy making that appropriately is delegated to political appointees and senior managers, nor would it allow them to violate federal law shielding national security and proprietary information. Rather, they would afford a federal scientist whose work has been suppressed or distorted protection from reprisal if the scientist publicly reported these attempts.

At a time when Congress has serious concerns about an aging federal workforce and the United States is facing unique scientific and technical challenges, it is crucial that federal agencies do all they can to retain their most experienced and skilled scientists and technicians. Whistleblower protections for scientists and researchers would improve morale at federal agencies and help to retain and recruit dedicated civil servants.

We urge you to advocate for a final bill that would provide protection from retaliation for exposing attempts to censor, distort, or suppress any scientific or technical research. Congress must recognize that scientists must be able to work to protect the health and safety of Americans, without interference, and should be able to speak out about distorted or suppressed scientific findings without retribution.

Sincerely,

 

Mary Alice Baish

Acting Washington Affairs Representative

American Association of Law Libraries

 

John W. Curtis, Ph.D.

Director of Research and Public Policy

American Association of University Professors

 

Christopher Finan

President

American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression

 

Lynne E. Bradley

Director, Office of Government Relations

American Library Association

 

Patricia S. Schroeder

President & CEO

Association of American Publishers

 

Wayne C. Shields

President and CEO

Association of Reproductive Health Professionals

 

Terry Francke

General Counsel

Californians Aware

 

William Snape

Senior Counsel

Center for Biological Diversity

 

Paul Kurtz

Chairman

Center for Inquiry

 

Kirsten Stade

Program Manager, Integrity of Science Project

Center for Science in the Public Interest

 

Dave Werntz

Science and Conservation Director

Conservation Northwest

 

Sarah Dufendach

Vice President for Legislative Affairs

Common Cause

 

Rachel Weintraub

Director of Product Safety and Senior Counsel

Consumer Federation of America

 

Ellen Bloom

Assistant Director of the Washington Office

Consumers Union

 

Jamie Rappaport Clark

Executive Vice President

Defenders of Wildlife

 

Dr. Jim Murtagh

Doctors for Open Government

 

Susan A. Holmes

Senior Legislative Representative

Earthjustice

 

Jon Hunter

Policy Director

Endangered Species Coalition

 

John Richard

Director

Essential Information

 

George Anderson

Ethics in Government Group

 

Daniel Hirsch

Executive Committee

Concerned Foreign Service Officers

 

Steven Aftergood

Project Director, Project on Government Secrecy

Federation of American Scientists

 

Gwen Marshall

co-Chairman

Georgians for Open Government

 

Tom Devine

Legal Director

Government Accountability Project

 

Helen Salisbury, M.D.

Health Integrity Project

 

Brett Kimberlin

Director

Justice Through Music

 

Mike Kelly

Fish Biologist, Former Whistleblower

 

Michael D. Ostrolenk

Co-Founder/National Director

Liberty Coalition

 

Mary Treacy

Executive Director

Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

 

Joan E. Bertin, Esq.

Executive Director

National Coalition Against Censorship

 

Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D.

President

National Research Center for Women & Families

 

Amy Allina

Program Director

National Women's Health Network

 

Karen Wayland

Legislative Director

Natural Resources Defense Council

 

Kim Nelson

Research Wildlife Biologist

 

Rick Engler

Director

New Jersey Work Environment Council

 

Sean Moulton

Director of Information Policy

OMB Watch

 

Patrice McDermott

Director

OpenTheGovernment.org

 

Siobhan Reynolds

President

Pain Relief Network

 

Larry Siems

Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

PEN American Center

 

Danielle Brian

Executive Director

Project On Government Oversight

 

David Arkush

Director

Public Citizen's Congress Watch

 

Jeff Ruch

Executive Director

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

 

Kirsten Moore

President and CEO

Reproductive Health Technologies Project

 

James A. Landrith, Jr.

Founder

The Multiracial Activist

 

Ron Marshall

Chairman

The New Grady Coalition

 

Ellen Paul

Executive Director

The Ornithological Council

 

John W. Whitehead

President

The Rutherford Institute

 

Kevin Kuritzky

The Student Health Integrity Project

 

Dane vonBreichenruchardt

President

U.S. Bill of Rights Foundation

 

Francesca T. Grifo, Ph.D.

Director, Scientific Integrity Program

Union of Concerned Scientists

 

Bruce McIntosh

Staff Ecologist

Western Nebraska Resources Council

 

John Judge

9/11 Research Project

 

John Young

Retired Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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