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Press Release

Task Force on Abuses of Power by Executive Branch Proposes Solutions to Stop Violations of Scientific Integrity and Misuses of Presidential Appointments

Co-Chaired by Preet Bharara and Christine Todd Whitman, the Nonpartisan Group Proposes Legislative Reforms to Protect Government Science and Fill Executive Branch Positions with Qualified People

October 3, 2019
Contact: Alexandra Ringe, Media Contact, ringea@brennan.law.nyu.edu, 646-925-8744

New York, NY – A nonpar­tisan task force of eight former govern­ment offi­cials from both Repub­lican and Demo­cratic admin­is­tra­tions released a report today examin­ing two crit­ical func­tions of the federal govern­ment that have been hobbled by abuses in the exec­ut­ive branch: object­ive scientific research, and the appoint­ments process used to fill senior admin­is­tra­tion posi­tions. 

The National Task Force on Rule of Law & Demo­cracy, led by former U.S. attor­ney Preet Bhar­ara and former New Jersey governor and EPA admin­is­trator Christine Todd Whit­man, proposes legis­lat­ive reforms to rein­force the norms and unwrit­ten rules that once ensured that these govern­ment func­tions were carried out without excess­ive politi­ciz­a­tion. The task force is a project of the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

“The Trump pres­id­ency has high­lighted pres­sure points in Amer­ican demo­cracy where rules and norms are not strong enough to stop abuses of power,” said task force co-chair Preet Bhar­ara. “It’s long past due for Congress to take action to rein­force these rules and prevent these abuses going forward.”

The task force’s report contains an extens­ive digest of recent pres­id­en­tial admin­is­tra­tions’ viol­a­tions of scientific integ­rity, includ­ing restrict­ing public access to data and retali­at­ing against govern­ment research­ers for their scientific conclu­sions.

“Sharpie­Gate is just one of many examples of recent pres­id­en­tial admin­is­tra­tions distort­ing the work of scient­ists,” said task force co-chair Christine Todd Whit­man. “When exec­ut­ive branch offi­cials alter or suppress govern­ment data and research, it can jeop­ard­ize the public’s safety and impede our nation’s economic progress. Scientific research by the federal govern­ment has led to safer road and air travel, life-saving drugs, and so much more. We must protect its inde­pend­ence and integ­rity.”

Incid­ents of pres­id­en­tial admin­is­tra­tions hinder­ing govern­ment science include:

  • An aide in the George W. Bush White House who was a former oil industry lobby­ist edited govern­ment reports to down­play links between carbon emis­sions and climate change. 
  • EPA offi­cials in the Obama admin­is­tra­tion tried to change the exec­ut­ive summary of a draft public report on the impact of frack­ing on drink­ing water, minim­iz­ing the risks. 
  • During the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, after EPA research­ers produced a study show­ing economic bene­fits to protect­ing wetlands from pollu­tion, aides to the agency’s admin­is­trator told them to produce a new study show­ing no such bene­fits.

To address such prob­lems, the task force calls on Congress to pass legis­la­tion that would, among other things:

  • Create scientific integ­rity stand­ards at exec­ut­ive agen­cies
  • Prohibit polit­ic­ally motiv­ated manip­u­la­tion or suppres­sion of research
  • Increase public access to govern­ment research and data 

In its exam­in­a­tion of the hiring process for senior admin­is­tra­tion posi­tions, the task force analyzes the impacts of a dysfunc­tional system: increas­ing numbers of jobs that are vacant, filled with acting offi­cials, or filled with indi­vidu­als appoin­ted largely due to partisan or personal ties rather than qual­i­fic­a­tions. 

The task force proposes legis­la­tion that would make it harder for pres­id­ents to side­line the Senate’s role as a check on the process for filling senior posi­tions. The group also recom­mends laws to fix the back­logged White House secur­ity clear­ance process and stream­line the confirm­a­tion process for exec­ut­ive branch nomin­ees, among other reforms. 

Today’s report is the second to be published by the task force. The first was released in Octo­ber 2018 and proposed legis­la­tion related to improper inter­fer­ence by pres­id­en­tial admin­is­tra­tions in law enforce­ment invest­ig­a­tions and conflicts of interest in the White House. Click here to read the group’s first report.  
 
The members of the National Task Force on Rule of Law & Demo­cracy are:

  • Preet Bhar­ara – Task Force Co-Chair, former U.S. Attor­ney for the South­ern District of New York, Distin­guished Scholar in Resid­ence at NYU Law
  • Christine Todd Whit­man – Task Force Co-Chair, former Governor of New Jersey, former EPA Admin­is­trator
  • Mike Castle – former Governor of Delaware, former U.S. Repres­ent­at­ive from Delaware 
  • Chris­topher Edley, Jr. – the William H. Orrick, Jr. Distin­guished Professor at U.C. Berke­ley School of Law and former Dean of the school, former senior policy and budget expert under Pres­id­ents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clin­ton
  • Chuck Hagel – former Secret­ary of Defense, former U.S. Senator from Nebraska 
  • David Iglesias – Director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Polit­ics, and Econom­ics; former U.S. Attor­ney for the District of New Mexico; former team leader, spokes­per­son, and senior prosec­utor with the U.S. Milit­ary Commis­sions 
  • Amy Comstock Rick – Pres­id­ent and CEO of the Food and Drug Law Insti­tute, former Director of the U.S. Office of Govern­ment Ethics, former Asso­ci­ate Coun­sel in the White House Coun­sel’s office 
  • Donald Verrilli – Part­ner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, former Soli­citor General of the United States 

The task force’s report, released today, on scientific integ­rity and the exec­ut­ive branch hiring process is avail­able in full here.

More inform­a­tion on the task force is avail­able here


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