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When is a whistleblower not a whistleblower?

On Behalf of | Feb 7, 2023 | Whistleblower Protection

The Biden administration recently released its roadmap for greater scientific integrity in government agencies. The response to the roadmap, however, has been mixed. Some appreciate the administration’s efforts to ensure greater scientific integrity. Others say the plan doesn’t go far enough.

So, what does the roadmap offer? What are the gaps? And where does the plan fail to protect would-be whistleblowers?

The roadmap for greater scientific integrity

As the White House noted in its press release, the roadmap aims to strengthen scientific integrity throughout all government agencies. Titled A Framework for Federal Scientific Integrity Policy and Practice, the document works toward this goal in five main ways:

  • Introducing a definition of scientific integrity to remain consistent across all government agencies
  • Providing a model roadmap of activities for agencies to follow to develop better policies, transparency and accountability
  • Offering agencies a set of metrics to help them track their progress
  • Requiring all agencies to place an official in charge of scientific integrity and requiring certain agencies to name a chief science officer
  • Establishing a central committee to oversee each agency’s work toward scientific integrity

Notably, the roadmap leaves many of the details to the individual agencies.

Three criticisms of the new framework

This new framework may be welcome in an age when government scientists have faced an unprecedented measure of public scrutiny and political pressure. However, there are critics who feel it doesn’t go far enough. According to these critics, the roadmap falls short in three key ways:

  • Fails to articulate specific consequences for those who don’t work toward scientific integrity
  • Does not provide clear rules to prevent agencies from suppressing research they find unflattering
  • Leaves scientists vulnerable to reprisal while they’re researching and publishing but have not yet reported policy violations

This last point is notable because whistleblowers enjoy legal protection from retaliation. However, as critics note, scientists are not whistleblowers until they report government wrongdoing. While the new government roadmap may push agencies toward more scientific integrity, it does not set firm standards. Instead, it leaves scientists to wonder if their agencies are violating policy or working within the confines of their own policies.

Good policy needs good science

Of course, there’s a reason the White House bothered to create and promote this roadmap in the first place. It’s because agencies have sometimes placed politics ahead of good science. The problem is that science is based on observable and repeatable data. It’s based on facts and clear analysis. Politics sway back and forth with the whims of those in charge.

This new roadmap may not go so far as its critics would hope, but it reinforces the need to govern based on facts and data. The federal government’s activities influence countless lives every day. We need to protect the scientists whose research informs those decisions. We need to protect the integrity of their research.


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