The Scientific Integrity Act (HR 1709, 116th Congress) clarifies the rights and responsibilities of federal research agencies and their employees in upholding scientific integrity. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, scientific integrity is a set of professional values that promote objective and reproducible science and discourage practices such as data fabrication or falsification, plagiarism, and censorship. The bill would overwrite Section 1009 of the America COMPETES Act (42 U.S.C. 6620), which provides a broad set of guidelines to promote scientific integrity, such as requiring federal research agencies to develop policies to ensure open and accurate exchange of research findings. The Scientific Integrity Act replaces the former text with new text that provides a more specific outline of the steps the government must take to promote scientific integrity in research, research communication, and employee training.
According to the Scientific Integrity Act, federal employees or contractors who conduct, supervise, or communicate research, as well as all other federal employees who use scientific information to make policy decisions, are not permitted to engage in research misconduct or prevent accurate communication of research findings. These employees may communicate research findings via conferences and scholarly publications or participate in media interviews about their research, provided that they disclose any conflicts of interest. They may also hold leadership positions in scientific advisory boards and professional societies or serve as peer reviewers and editors for scholarly publications. Federal agencies that fund or conduct scientific research may request to review scientific findings for accuracy and evidence of misconduct before the results are communicated publicly.
Within 30 days of the Scientific Integrity Act’s enactment, each federal agency that funds, conducts, or oversees research must appoint a Scientific Integrity Officer to oversee scientific research and integrity at the agency. Within 90 days, each federal research agency must develop a scientific integrity policy consistent with the Scientific Integrity Act and make the policy available to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (who will make it available to the public), the United States Congress, and all employees of the agency. The policy must provide specific guidance for permitted behaviors and corresponding procedures at the agency, such as ensuring that scientific conclusions are not politically biased, that the agency’s employees are hired based on their expertise, that employees refrain from engaging in research misconduct, and that procedures have been developed to maintain scientific integrity within the agency. Finally, within 180 days, each federal research agency must implement a scientific integrity training program for employees and publish an annual report that includes the number of cases of research misconduct.
The Scientific Integrity Act follows nearly a decade of efforts to improve scientific integrity regulations in the United States law following the America COMPETES Act in 2007. In 2009, President Barack Obama released a memorandum that ensured the executive branch would maintain scientific integrity in hiring practices, research protocols, and policymaking. In 2010, the Office of Science and Technology Policy released another memorandum that provided further guidance on how federal agencies should enact the procedures outlined in the 2009 memorandum. By the conclusion of the Obama administration, 24 agencies had developed policies to address these scientific integrity guidelines. However, according to a 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office, several of these agencies have not enforced the policies properly. In addition, in some instances politicians and federal agencies have manipulated the results of scientific studies to match their political agendas.
In response, the Scientific Integrity Act establishes increased regulations to promote scientific integrity in the federal law. In October 2019, the bill was passed by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology with bipartisan support. According to the bill, promoting scientific integrity at the federal level will help science influence policy in areas such as public health, environmental protection, and national security.