The Bush administration has opened yet another front in its ongoing battle to undo years of environmental, health and safety protections. The newest battle is over efforts by the White House Office of Management and Budget to limit the influence of independent research on the regulatory process, while simultaneously giving more weight to research funded by regulated industries.
December 15 was the deadline for comments on OMB's most recent salvo – a proposal to require that independent research submitted to regulatory agencies undergo government peer review. OMB's idea is that the agencies would establish panels of reviewers, who would function as gate-keepers for the agency, deciding which research is sufficiently credible, and which is not. Comments on the proposal filed separately by the Center for Progressive Regulation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, OMB Watch, Professor David Michaels of George Washington University, and Rep. Henry Waxman and other Members of Congress, point out that OMB's plan has at least two glaring failings. (Other comments are available here.) First, by OMB design, the peer review panels would slant toward industry. The proposal warns agencies away from using panelists who have received federal funding for research, and from those who are deemed sympathetic to regulation, thus shrinking the universe of eligible non-industry researchers. Second, research conducted by industry for such things as pesticide-licensing or to request permission to fill in a wetlands area as part of a construction project would simply be exempt from peer review.
Representative Waxman and his congressional colleagues write, "Under the guise of promoting sound science, OMB is advancing a far-reaching policy that will impede efforts to protect health and the environment and open the door to conflicts of interest in the regulatory process." Notably, OMB in its proposal cites not a single example of research from government-funded sources that it found lacking. Of course, there is a problem with tainted research in the regulatory process, but as the experience with the tobacco and asbestos industries demonstrates, it is with research that has been bought and paid for by industry. Nevertheless, OMB's approach would give industry a leg up, while devaluing research conducted independently.
• Center for Regulatory Effectiveness
• Federation of American Scientists
• Office of Science & Technology Policy
• Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard University
• Victor J. Kimm, Senior Regulator, Environmental Protection Agency
• Stuart Shapiro Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Rutgers; David Guston Ph.D., Associate Professor, Rutgers
• Association of American Medical Colleges
This material was produced in cooperation with the Center for Progressive Regulation.