The Trump administration on Friday ordered agencies to eliminate at least one-third of their advisory committees, a move that has government watchdogs and science advocacy groups concerned.
“It’s incredibly disheartening,” said Genna Reed, lead science and policy analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy for the non-profit advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists.
Advisory committees help the federal government create new rules on everything from oil and gas drilling to national park protections. There are approximately 1,000 such committees, which are often composed of private citizens, scientists and industry leaders.
Reed argued that the executive order is the latest example of the Trump administration’s attempts to silence scientific experts.
“It’s clearly a political maneuver to get rid of information — especially inconvenient information — that these agencies would be forced with reconciling with as they continue their deregulatory agenda,” she said.
But the White House said a government-wide review of advisory committees is long overdue. The last one happened in 1993 under the Clinton administration, according to White House spokesman Judd Deere, and some may have already fulfilled their intended purpose.
“The president believes it is time to once more review and eliminate ones that are not relevant and providing valuable resources so that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” he said in a statement.
Advisory committees are far from perfect, according to Sean Moulton, senior policy analyst with the Project On Government Oversight. He said some panels are tilted toward including more industry voices than academic or scientific ones. But Moulton believes that the executive order could make the federal government less transparent because advisory boards are required to make meetings public and to keep minutes.
“The agencies are going to continue getting advice but it will be behind closed doors,” he said. “We won’t know who they are hearing from or what they are hearing.”
Federal agencies have until September 30 to eliminate at least one-third of their advisory committees.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.