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Project on Government Oversight




Making Sure Advisory Committees Don't Go To Waste

January 22, 2010 


One of the virtues of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is that it requires the membership of advisory committees to be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed by the advisory committee. But as Bradford Plumer at The New Republic reports, that requirement is considered to be a hurdle to Energy Secretary Steven Chu establishing a nuclear waste policy commission. From The Vine blog:

In March, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that he'd set up one of those ubiquitous blue-ribbon commissions to set a new course for the country's waste policy. But months later, it still hasn't materialized. And no one's sure why, though one possibility I've heard is that Chu's bogged down by the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires a wide variety of different viewpoints on any of these panels. Chu might simply be trying to figure out how to create a commission that isn't just destined for deadlock—not an easy task, given how contentious the waste issue is.

While it's (kind of) understandable that Secretary Chu wants to avoid deadlock, what's the point of establishing a committee with a foregone conclusion? As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) points out, the controversies over these committees examining contentious issues have surrounded concerns "that some appointments have been based on ideology rather than expertise or were weighted to favor one group of stakeholders over others."

This is precisely why the FACA requires a wide variety of different viewpoints — so any contentious issues will be dealt with and/or resolved. To again quote the GAO: "To be effective, advisory committees must be — and, just as importantly, be perceived as being — independent and balanced as a whole." And that might lead to a deadlock, but if there isn't a clear consensus among experts, that's a message that the Department of Energy (DOE) and taxpayers need to hear. 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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