Liveblog: BRDI: Government Transparency

I’m liveblogging the first meeting of the new Board on Research Data and Information today and yesterday. Standard liveblogging disclaimers apply. The presentation slides are on the meeting site. Because some of the slides are online, I’ll focus on what’s not on the slides.

Government Transparency and the “Right-to-Know Agenda”
Issues in publicly funded research data and information

Tim Donaghy, Union of Concerned Scientists
Scientific integrity program — political interference in science

Why transparency matters
21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda
Implications for science

  • Classification and Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI)
  • Use of government databases in research
  • Scientific information regulatory context
  • Scientists who are federal employees

Censorship and agency communication policies
Making government science available to the public

Censorship of federal scientists:
Federal scientists have been prevented from speaking to the public, replaced in media interviews with other scientists or political appointees, prevented from presenting results at scientific conferences
1,400 scientists told UCS they feared retaliation (out of 3,400 returned survey)
UCS investigation found policies and practices vary widely across federal agencies: some allow employees to speak (as a citizen) on any issue, others have “message control”

Q: To what extent is this a matter of who’s President vs. traditions within agencies? A: Mostly about traditions — NOAA had a strong tradition of freedom to speak, reacted vocally to administration’s attempt to weaken it
Q: Why did NSF get an “incomplete”? A: We couldn’t find their media policy.

Making government science public

Science in the regulatory process

  • Confidential Business Information (CBI)
  • Regulations.gov
  • Ensuring all relevant scientific information is in the docket
  • Addressing data gaps

One-stop shopping for government data

  • Science.gov
  • Innovative ideas for sharing data
  • Federal monitoring programs

Q: The government distributes its data at cost sometimes; other times it gives its data to a private party to be re-sold for profit.
A: I’m not sure if our report addresses this. It does talk about making contractor data available.

Q: What about contracting out data collection, bought by the government, with restrictions on re-distribution? Also: De-classification data with scientific value.
A: Recommendations on de-classification, but broad.

Q: What about Google?
A: There is competition on interfaces. That’s the point in making data open.

Q: Does executive privilege extend to departments?
A: I don’t know.

Q: You said “agencies should”. Are you accepting that different agencies will have different approaches, or should there be an assumption that data is sharable and you have to justify exceptions?
A: Guiding principle is presumption of openness. We’ve seen trouble with one-size-fits-all policies for the government. But guidelines could be useful.

Q: On transparency — TransparencyCamp. Unconference model might work for scientific community.

Q: What can this board do to help?
A: We need help — from somebody — on implementation, on how to make data available.

Q: Have you talked to Congress?
A: Yes — we’re putting together our policy recommendations now.

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