June 16, 2019 Liz Borkowski, MPH 0Comment

I’ve written many times before about how the Trump administration ignores and mischaracterizes evidence when it conflicts with their preferred political stance. Now their apparent discomfort with expertise has taken an especially obvious and pernicious form: President Trump has issued an executive order instructing federal agencies to cut the number of federal advisory committees (FACs) by one-third.

FACs play a crucial role in public health by lending agencies their expertise on a wide range of issues, from air pollution to vaccines. Each FAC member provides analysis and informed opinions that would cost many thousands of dollars if the government paid consultants or employees for them — and most members do so without compensation (though the government usually covers their travel costs).

FACs are a low-cost way to obtain valuable advice that helps government function more effectively. But the Trump administration seems averse to effective government functioning when those functions include things like controlling pollution and preserving public lands. Last year, a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists documented “an unprecedented level of neglect, disrespect, and cancelled meetings for scientific advisory boards, with profound implications for our health and safety.” With this latest executive order, the Trump administration moves from ignoring available expert advise to cutting itself off completely from much of that expertise.

“For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees,” UCS’s Gretchen Goldman said. “Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It’s no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular.”

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