Government Still Struggling with FACA Committee Balance
There continue to be complaints that some technical and scientific FACA committees are imbalanced because too many members were appointed for their "ideology" rather than their expertise.
The Government Accounting Office released a report in 2001 on these complaints and on the general issue of achieving FACA committee balance. The GAO followed up with a 2004 report on the issues.
The 2004 report is entitled Federal Advisory Committees: Additional Guidance Could Help Agencies Ensure Independence and Balance. It focused on three areas, including the following:
"the extent to which governmentwide guidance and agency-specific
policies and procedures for evaluating committee members for
conflicts of interest and points of view ensure independent members and
balanced federal advisory committees; and... practices that
could better ensure that committees are, and are perceived as being,
independent and balanced."
The General Services Administration FACA Secretariat has been delegated responsibility for monitoring and reporting executive branch compliance with FACA. The Office of Government Ethics has responsibility for establishing government-wide conflict of interest rules for government employees. The OGE and GSA have developed government-wide rules and guidance for achieving FACA committee balance. Most federal agencies have also developed their own rules and guidance.
The 2004 GAO report found significant flaws and omissions in GSA and OGE guidance. The report recommended new guidance that would further the goal of balanced FACA committees. In the report's own words:
"Additional governmentwide guidance could help agencies better ensure the independence of federal advisory committee members and the balance of
federal advisory committees. For example, OGE guidance to federal
agencies has shortcomings and does not adequately ensure that agencies
appoint individuals selected to provide advice on behalf of the government
as special government employees subject to conflict-of-interest
regulations. In addition, GSA guidance to federal agencies and agency-specific
policies and procedures could be improved to better ensure that
agencies collect and evaluate information that could be helpful in
determining the viewpoints of potential committee members regarding the
subject matters being considered and in ensuring that committees are, and
are perceived as being, balanced."
The 2004 GAO report at pages 5 to 6 provides specific examples of new guidance GAO deems necessary.
The 2004 GAO report prompted a flurry of activity. For example, on July 19, 2004, OGE issued a DAEOgram that identified steps agencies should take to address ethics and conflicts-of-interest concerns about FACA committee appointments. In October, 2004, OGE amended its ethics program review guidelines for FACA committees. On August 18, 2005, OGE issued another DAEOgram on the issue. Links to these documents and to the 2004 GAO report are provided below for the readers' convenience.
This new guidance is all well and good, but other agencies might also look to what GAO identified as examples of model FACA committees. One of these was EPA's Science Advisory Panel review of the herbicide atrazine. The SAP conducted its review under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. As the 2004 GAO report explains, EPA took effective measures to ensure that the atrazine SAP committee members were expert in the field, balanced in range of opinions, and independent in judgement. Other agencies should adopt similar measures.
Click here for 2004 GAO report
Click here for July 19, 1904 DAEOgram
Click here for October 2004 revisions to OGE Ethics Program Review Guides
Click here for August 18, 2005 DAEOgram