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.