Federal Research:

The National Academy of Sciences and the Federal Advisory Committee Act

RCED-99-17: Published: Nov 13, 1998. Publicly Released: Nov 25, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the committee process at the National Academy of Sciences, focusing on the: (1) reasons the Academy sought relief from the Federal Advisory Committee Act; (2) Academy's committee procedures for providing advice to the federal government; and (3) Academy's implementation of the new requirements for providing information to the public.

GAO noted that: (1) according to Academy officials, the Academy sought relief from the act for a number of reasons; (2) central to its concerns was the Academy's ability to maintain sole authority in appointing committee members and to conduct its work independently from sponsoring agencies' influence; (3) in addition, the Academy opposed opening deliberative meetings on the grounds that such an action could stifle open debate and could impact the Academy's ability to recruit committee members; (4) finally, the Academy was concerned about the amount of time and expense to perform the administrative requirements of the act, which could render the Academy unresponsive to the government; (5) prior to the enactment of the amendments, the Academy developed a number of procedures governing its committees' activities, including project formulation, committee selection, committee work, report review, and the release and dissemination of reports; (6) according to Academy officials, these procedures are intended to help ensure the integrity of advice provided to the federal government; (7) for example, committee selection includes procedures for identifying conflicts of interest and potential bias of committee members; (8) the committee work phase provides an opportunity for some public participation, and committee reports are reviewed by an Academy review committee before they are released to the sponsoring agency and the public; (9) in response to section 15, the Academy developed a web site to increase public access to current project information, however, GAO found that some descriptive information on current projects was not always posted in a timely manner and was not always complete; and (10) during this audit, the Academy addressed these problems and developed additional written guidelines regarding the posting of committee information as well as additional quality assurance procedures.

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