Objectivity of DOD's Senior Scientific Advisory Committees Can Be Better Assured

GGD-83-76: Published: Sep 21, 1983. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the operations of the Defense Science Board, the Army Science Board, the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and the Naval Research Advisory Committee to determine: (1) whether the Department of Defense (DOD) is following appropriate legal procedures and ethical standards in operating the committees; (2) whether members of the advisory committees appear to have conflicts of interest; (3) whether all relevant points of view are represented in the advisory groups and their panels; (4) the degree to which the same individuals participate in multiple advisory groups within DOD; and (5) the full cost of such committees.

GAO found that the services do not always follow appropriate procedures in the operation of their scientific advisory committees. Although the services have procedures for reviewing committee members' financial disclosure statements, these procedures do not provide for documenting determinations regarding potential conflicts of interest. GAO found that 32 panel members were employed by or had financial interests in areas that could be affected by their panels' recommendations. The Navy does not require its panel members to submit financial disclosure statements. GAO found that, although the services attempt to achieve balanced representation on these committees, the methods of selecting members vary, the services do not document the selection process, and military personnel sometimes participate in panel decisionmaking processes. In addition, DOD panels do not always comply with a Federal Advisory Committee Act requirement to announce meetings beforehand and prepare minutes. GAO found that about 15 percent of the panel members served on more than one of the panels established from 1978 through 1982. Due to the lack of sufficient records, GAO could not determine all of the costs of the scientific advisory committees.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD provided guidance to all components utilizing advisory committees and established a program to periodically review the records of each committee to ensure compliance with applicable regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the services to: (1) document the review of financial disclosure information when members are selected for specific panels; (2) document the resolution of potential conflicts of interest or the appearance of such conflicts; (3) comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act's requirements relating to announcing meetings and preparing minutes; and (4) document the steps followed in selecting individuals for panels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A senior DOD official has been appointed to ensure that the Naval Research Advisory Committee follows appropriate orders and regulations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should require the Secretary of the Navy to: (1) appoint Naval Research Advisory Committee panel members as special government employees and make them subject to the same conflict of interest standards as other committee members; and (2) apply the same standards of balance, independence, and openness to the Naval Research Advisory Committee panels that apply to the advisory committee panels of the other services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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