American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Update on National Academy of Science Supreme Court Ruling (1-7-98)

Supreme Court Ruling
On November 3, the Supreme Court announced its refusal to rule on a lower court decision involving the National Academy of Sciences, thereby letting stand a decision that the Academy's committees are subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). FACA states that federal committees must be open to the public and assigns government officials certain roles in committee operations. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and its sister organizations the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine (all referred to collectively as "the Academy"), which are congressionally chartered but not part of the federal government.

The case was initiated by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and two other groups who sued for access to an Academy committee revising a manual for the care of laboratory animals. The groups argued that the Academy was a quasi-governmental body subject to FACA and therefore its meetings must be open. The plaintiffs lost in the Federal District Court, but the US Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, and the Supreme Court allowed the appeals court ruling to stand.

The Academy argues that FACA would give the government "an intolerable degree of control over the Academy's committee," undermine the credibility of the reports, and slow the response time of the Academy. Academy President Bruce Alberts contended that Congress did not intend for FACA to apply to the Academy because the Academy uses its own standards to ensure its reports "are independent from government...as well as outside political pressure and special-interest pressure."

Congressional Response
Two days after the court action, the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight held a hearing on the issue. In an unusually quick process, Committee Chairman Steve Horn (R-CA) introduced H.R. 2977, which amends FACA to exclude National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Public Administration, on November 9. The bill passed the House the following day and the Senate on November 13.

President Clinton signed the bill on December 17, 1997. Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences commented, "We are gratified that the President today signed legislation that exempts the National Academy of Sciences from procedures of the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 which would have placed our work under government control and made it subject to political and special-interest pressures. We recognize the importance of keeping the nation informed about our studies and satisfying the openness and public disclosure requirements of the Act. I want to assure the President, Congress, and the public that we will take all steps necessary to comply with the law and to provide substantial public access. Methods to achieve this are now being designed and tested. We are confident that we can accommodate the new provisions without jeopardizing our crucial role as independent adviser to the government, and we believe that the increased transparency of our processes will benefit both the Academy and the nation."

Academy Changes
Although the new law spares the Academy from having to comply with FACA, it does create several initiatives to increase the amount of information available to the public on federally funded committees. The Academy must:

Sources: Library of Congress, New York Times, Washington Post, National Academy of Sciences


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey and Dave Applegate, AGI Government Affairs
Posted November 26, 1997; Last Updated January 7, 1998

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