On Friday, Donald Trump issued an executive order that slashes about 1,000 scientific advisory committees by a third. According to Buzzfeed News, the White House wants to cut the panels that provide government guidance on everything from pollution and nuclear waste disposal to the safety of products sold to Americans.
“Each agency shall, by September 30, 2019, terminate at least one-third of its current committees,” the order reads. “If the combined total number of eligible committees exceeds 350, an agency may not establish a new advisory committee.”
These vital panels are often called “the fifth arm of the government” because they are so essential to providing data that guide government decisions. They were formally established in 1972 under the Federal Advisory Committee Act and have been used to provide input on the AIDS crisis, housing issues, nuclear waste disposal, air pollution, and schooling.
Since taking office, Trump has been working to limit and reduce the work of these committees, but the latest step is a drastic one. Gretchen Goldman, the research director at the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists weighed in on the order.
“Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It’s no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular,” she said, according to NBC News.
The Union of Concerned Scientists completed a study last year that revealed that the number of these panels has decreased by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017 and that 14 percent of the people working in these agencies have left.
Three Republican former heads of the EPA are accusing the agency's current leadership of supporting the "undermining of science" and a potentially "catastrophic" approach to climate change, ABC News reports.https://t.co/wdWNZbg8iT— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 11, 2019
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists spoke to Buzzfeed News about the order, explaining that the panels are not expensive to run and the information that they provide doesn’t force the government’s hand on any decisions – it is simply there to help guide the decision-making process. All told, the budget for all of the agencies comes to $416.4 million. By comparison, the military budget in 2020 is projected to be $718 billion, according to the Department of Defense.
“They’re escalating by saying they will get rid of a third of them arbitrarily,” Goldman added. “This is really nonsensical because there is not any reason to do that. It’s not costing the government much money because they’re not compensating people for their time or expertise, just mostly paying their travel expenses.”
The order does provide an exemption for any panel whose primary purpose is to provide data on product safety, including drug approvals at the FDA.