WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has accepted a request from lawmakers, led by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s process for selecting federal advisory committee members.

The review comes after the agency abruptly dismissed 12 scientists from its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) earlier this year. In May, it was reported that EPA Administrator Pruitt intended to replace the scientists with officials from the industries that EPA is charged with regulating. Following the announcement, Senator Carper sent a letter to Mr. Pruitt seeking more information as to why the scientists were dismissed, but the agency has so far failed to provide adequate answers to that inquiry.

The EPA is home to 23 such committees, which advise the agency on environmental science, public health, safety, and other subjects central to the EPA’s work. Federal law requires the committees to remain balanced in the viewpoints they represent and functions they perform. 

“I expect GAO will take a close look at whether the Pruitt EPA is doing enough to protect the scientific integrity of its advisory committees,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Given Scott Pruitt’s long-standing, cozy ties to industry, the public has a right to ask just who Mr. Pruitt is clearing these seats for.”

“I’m pleased that the Government Accountability Office is going to look into how President Trump’s EPA is getting scientific advice, including the process that led to the agency’s abrupt, unprompted dismissal of scientists from more than a dozen advisory positions,” said Senator Carper, top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I fear that the dismissal of non-partisan scientific advisors, combined with other steps EPA has taken to remove any mention of climate change from its website, censor the analysis of career staff and deny the consensus scientific views about the cause of climate change, represents a broader approach of denying the science that forms the basis of sound environmental policy. The best science available has always been, and must continue to be, the foundation for EPA’s work, and any attempts to politicize or silence the non-partisan conclusions of scientists will only endanger the health of Americans across this country.”

The request to GAO was also signed by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Michael Bennett (D-Colo.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The decision to dismiss long-serving academic scientists in advisory roles is part of a pattern in the Trump administration to delegitimize science. In a new report released today, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) highlight the troubling actions this administration has taken in just the first six months of the Trump presidency to erode “the ability of science, facts, and evidence to inform policy decision, leaving us more vulnerable to threats to public health and the environment.” The report documents additional tactics being used by the Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress to “diminish the role of science in our democracy,” including leaving key science positions vacant, undoing science-based safeguards, including safe drinking water standards and protections to prevent worker exposure to harmful chemicals, reducing public access to scientific data, and weakening science-based pollution standards. The full report, Sidelining Science Since Day One: How the Trump Administration Has Harmed Public Health and Safety in Its First Six Months, is available here.