Bipartisan Policy Center Unveils Options to Strengthen Transparency at the EPA

February 25, 2020 by Kate Michael

WASHINGTON – A new report released by D.C.-based think tank Bipartisan Policy Center hopes to strengthen transparency at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by suggesting options for growing a culture of data and evidence. 

On the cusp of the EPA’s 50th anniversary, BPC has published the second in a series of reports to improve the use of science in regulatory policymaking. In November 2019, BPC published the report Meaningful Transparency at EPA, providing an overview of a suite of policies that relate to transparency, open science, and data use at EPA. This second report, Strengthening Transparency at EPA: Growing the Data and Evidence Culture, released February 24, 2020, identifies 25 separate strategies for improving the decision-making of an agency that is often highly politicized, but is also recognized as essential for public health protection.

Strengthening Transparency at EPA contains options that go beyond the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, which requires that the government leverage data as a strategic asset. In this report, BPC has identified other significant opportunities for EPA’s future. 

The launch of the report coincided with a bipartisan discussion with former policymakers about their views on realistic next steps.

“All of these options require resources that the agency currently doesn’t have,” said Stan Meiburg, Former Deputy Administrator of the EPA, noting that President Trump’s 2021 budget reduces EPA funding by $1 billion.

“They [also] require leadership that genuinely wants to learn from data… [because] we are living in an age in which data is exploding on us.”

Among the suggestions are options for removing limits on how experts share scientific perspectives, creating the position of a Chief Data Officer and a statistical unit for data standards, establishing an evaluation function, and ideas for establishing public trust and communication for credibility with the American public. 

“The report has identified the right big picture themes of a learning culture, data, policy analysis and evaluation programs, and public trust and communication,” said Susan Dudley, former administrator at the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Mathy Stanislaus, former associate administrator, EPA Office of Land and Emergency Response, felt the report’s options had implementation challenges.  

“No one trusts the government, so how can we enable and empower external stakeholders?” asked Stanislaus. In a time when scientific information is opaquely conveyed to the public, “how do we disclose data for [collaboration] and also for problem-solving?”

“Science and institutions are increasingly distrusted,” he said.

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