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Protecting Government Whistleblowers

New draft policies for safeguarding government research from political influence—and protecting those who bring such misconduct to light—could be improved, according to advocacy groups.

By | August 24, 2011

The White HouseWIKIMEDIA, TINA HAGER

The government's deadline for improving policies to shield scientists from political agendas came and went August 5th, with only five of the of the 18 agencies posting their drafts for public comment, according to The New York Times. In addition to offering ways to prevent political influence in the first place, the draft policies are intended to give whistleblowers more protection for shedding light on the potential misuse of power.

The Obama administration sent a memo requesting the agencies draft their new plans after numerous cases of government interference in scientific reports during the Bush administration, on science ranging from stem cells to climate change and industrial pollution.  Although all agencies met the deadline, the drafts didn't all appear to be polished documents, with one agency submitting a progress report rather than a draft.

As an example, although NASA posted their draft online, their recommendations were mostly a restatement of policies already in place. Though NASA said these policies should be sufficient, Wired Science reports that only 3 out of 206 cases have gone in favor of the whistleblower since 1994, when NASA's most recent provisions were drafted.

Advocacy groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists provided NASA with guidelines for closing loopholes in its current policy, which NASA says it will consider.  "We would not discourage such a process," a NASA spokesperson told Wired.

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