Federal Research:

Agency Actions Could Strengthen Scientific Integrity Policies

GAO-19-674T: Published: Jul 17, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2019.

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Contact:

John Neumann
(202) 512-6888
neumannj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

How do agencies protect the integrity of scientific research?

Federal guidance on scientific integrity includes principles to ensure the open exchange of information and prevent the distortion of research findings.

We testified that all 9 agencies we reviewed have policies based on those principles. However:

2 agencies have not provided scientific integrity training for staff

1 does not have a scientific integrity official

5 do not monitor or evaluate activities under their scientific integrity policies

2 do not have procedures to address alleged violations of their policies

We made 10 recommendations in a related report.

A scientist using a microscope.

A scientist using a microscope.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

John Neumann
(202) 512-6888
neumannj@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The nine selected agencies GAO reviewed have taken various actions to help achieve the objectives of their scientific integrity policies in three areas:

  • Educating staff. Seven of the nine agencies have taken some actions to educate and communicate to staff about their policies, consistent with the 2007 America COMPETES Act. However, the Office of Fossil Energy (FE), which follows the Department of Energy's (DOE) policy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have not taken action.

  • Providing oversight. Eight of the nine agencies have a designated official, or the equivalent, to oversee implementation of their scientific integrity policies. However, FE does not have such an official because DOE has not appointed one and currently has no plans or timeframe to do so, although DOE policy states that DOE will appoint an official for oversight.

  • Monitoring and evaluating implementation. Four of the nine agencies have monitored and evaluated implementation of their scientific integrity policies, consistent with federal standards that call for such control activities. However, FE, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NIST, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have not undertaken such activities.

Seven of the nine agencies have specific, documented procedures for identifying and addressing alleged violations of their scientific integrity policies. Although the details of agencies' procedures vary, they generally include the steps shown below. However, two agencies—FE, following DOE's policy, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—do not have documented procedures for identifying and addressing alleged violations. A 2009 presidential memo on scientific integrity states that agencies should have procedures to identify and address instances in which the scientific process or the integrity of scientific and technological information may be compromised. Without procedures, FE and NASA do not have assurance that their staff understand how to report allegations and that investigations are conducted consistently.

General Procedure for Identifying and Addressing Alleged Violations of Agencies' Scientific Integrity Policies

General Procedure for Identifying and Addressing Alleged Violations of Agencies' Scientific Integrity Policies

Note: The seven agencies that have procedures similar to this figure are the Agricultural Research Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Geological Survey.

Why GAO Did This Study

This testimony summarizes the information contained in GAO's April 2019 report, entitled Scientific Integrity Policies: Additional Actions Could Strengthen Integrity of Federal Research (GAO-19-265).

For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.

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