Sunday, February 1, 2009

Economic Stimulus Includes Whistleblowing Protections for Scientists

All eyes in the United States have been on the $813 billion economic stimulus package passed last week by the US House of Representatives. One line item that many may have missed is an amendment that provides for strong protection from retaliation for scientists who "blow the whistle when they report distortions, changes or delays in their research."

The amendment essentially attaches a whistleblower protection bill that was passed by both the House and Senate in 2007, but stalled after the Bush administration issued a veto threat. The amendment would add to the definition of abuse of authority "any action that compromises the validity or accuracy of federally funded research or analysis; the dissemination of false or misleading scientific, medical or technical information; any section that restricts or prevents an employee or any person performing federally-funded research or analysis from publishing in peer-reviewed journals or other scientific publications or making oral presentations at professional society meetings or other meetings of their peers..."

Clearly this is an attempt to protect scientists from what had been perceived as a science-unfriendly environment in the past administration. While so far there is no comment, it seems likely that the current administration would support the measure, given that President Obama and EPA Administrator Jackson have both stressed the important role of science and scientists as we move forward.

However, this was only an amendment in the House version of the stimulus bill. The Senate has yet to vote on a stimulus bill and it may or may not include the whistleblowing provisions. Furthermore, once the Senate passes a bill the two versions will have to go to conference to negotiate a final bill that would then be sent on to the President for signature or veto.

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