On Friday June 14, 2019, President Trump issued an Executive Order entitled "Evaluating and Improving the Utility of Federal Advisory Committees" that orders the executive branch to cull at least one third of all non-mandatory expert advisory committees advising the executive branch agencies by September 30 of this year.
As the Congressional Research Service explains, "Congress, Presidents, and executive branch agencies create federal advisory committees to gain expertise and policy advice from individuals outside the federal government. Federal advisory committees have historically been created on an ad hoc, provisional basis to bring together various experts—often with divergent opinions and political backgrounds—to examine an issue and recommend statutory, regulatory, grantmaking, or other policy actions."
At present, the federal government has convened and seeks the advice of about 1,000 scientific and other expert advisory committees, on subjects ranging from acceptable levels of airborne pollutants to how best to secure our borders. These fall into three categories: Presidential (created by the President); statutory (created by Congressional statute); and non-mandatory agency-level (created by an agency head to help the agency perform its statutory duties).
The Executive Order takes particular aim at the third, non-mandatory category of advisory committees, instructing each agency to, by September 30, 2019, "terminate at least one-third of its current [non-mandatory] committees" if those committees have concluded their work, are working on subjects that are "obsolete," have had their functions assumed by another entity, or are more costly than beneficial for the federal government to operate. It also caps the number of non-mandatory agency-level committees at 350.
The Executive Order also, however, asks that the executive branch agencies make an effort to cull Presidential and statutory advisory committees, directing agency heads to recommend whether the former should be continued, and providing a plan for the latter. Because statutory advisory committees are created by Congress, the executive branch is not free to simply disband them. Instead, the Executive Order demands that each agency create "a detailed plan, for each advisory committee required by statute, for continuing or terminating such committee," and with it draft "recommended legislation for submission to the Congress" that would presumably authorize the committee's disbanding.
The scientific community has reacted with dismay to the Executive Order. Rush Holt, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has criticized the order, saying that "Advisory committees help the government become better informed, and making smart decisions should not be seen as optional or dispensable." The Union of Concerned Scientists, which has been tracking how scientific advisors have fared in the current administration, has issued a statement expressing concern that with this move, the Trump Administration is "removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice."