IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Biden task force to probe science manipulation under Trump

In a letter to federal agencies, the panel aims to “prevent improper political interference in the conduct of scientific research."
Image: President Joe Biden's motorcade arrives at the White House on March 28, 2021.
President Joe Biden's motorcade arrives at the White House on March 28, 2021.Al Drago / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A new White House task force will examine instances where the Trump administration may have distorted or suppressed science in critical government decisions, with an eye toward creating fail-safes to prevent it from happening again, the White House said Monday.

In a letter to federal agencies, obtained by NBC News, the White House said the task force’s mandate would include identifying whether current policies effectively “prevent improper political interference in the conduct of scientific research” and “prevent the suppression or distortion of scientific or technological findings.”

“Restoring and safeguarding scientific integrity will require the participation and contribution of scientists from across government, who will bring their diverse perspectives to the endeavor,” the letter states, which was signed by Jane Lubchenco and Alondra Nelson, two officials in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy.

It is the latest attempt by President Joe Biden’s administration to erase the remnants of former President Donald Trump, who Biden aides say diminished the federal government’s credibility with the public on critical issues by disregarding facts to fit the former president’s message. Under Trump, the White House offered conflicting recommendations about the need for masks to fight Covid-19 and the severity of the pandemic, while pushing aside experts in government who sounded the alarm about climate change.

Julia Krieger, a spokeswoman for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the task force would take a “whole-of-government, forward-looking review of science across federal agencies, in part by examining practices that were antithetical to that mission over the last four years.” She said that would include “Trump-era policies that eschewed scientific integrity in favor of politics.”

Formally announced on Monday, the task force was first called for in a January 27 memorandum Biden signed that declared that critical decisions should not be “distorted or influenced by political considerations.” The White House is asking federal agencies to nominate members for the task force by April 2.

In a sign that the White House was looking beyond the traditional bureaucracies, like the Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency, a lengthy list of divisions that handle national security, financial and health-related issues were invited to nominate members to the task force. Among those receiving the White House letter on Monday were the Justice, Treasury and Defense departments, as well as the Office of Director of National Intelligence, National Institutes of Health, and the State Department.

The White House effort to look broadly across the federal government comes after the EPA last week launched its own effort to review environmental policies and decisions to see where scientific data may have been manipulated or intentionally suppressed, and to update those policies if needed, NBC News reported.

“When politics drives science rather than science informing policy, we are more likely to make policy choices that sacrifice the health of the most vulnerable among us,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan wrote in a letter to staff last week.

Under Trump’s EPA, the agency was frequently accused of distorting science and data for political purposes and to justify laxer regulations on polluting industries whose emissions contribute to global warming. During Trump’s years in office, the EPA removed climate change data from its website, and scores of top scientists and long-serving policy experts left the agency.