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House Republicans Vote Against Protecting Government Scientists From Censorship

As it is commonly described, H.R. 1004, the Regulatory Integrity Act, sounds like a reasonable piece of legislation. The bill is usually described as prohibiting government agencies from publishing materials designed to promote proposed rules for the implementation of legislation. The Republicans who advocate for H.R. 1004 say that this restriction on communication by government agencies will create a neutral political environment in which people can decide for themselves whether they support a proposed rule.

In federal legislation, however, it’s important to pay attention to the details. What H.R. 1004 actually says is that communications by government agencies may not “be directly or indirectly for publicity or propaganda purposes”.

The important word to pay attention to in this context is “indirectly”. What does that mean?

Many scientists are concerned that the Regulatory Integrity Act would in fact censor government scientists from publishing scientific data relevant to proposed rules, on the grounds that the data could be used “indirectly” by other, non-governmental groups or individuals, for publicity or propaganda.

It’s telling what the reaction by Republican members of Congress has been to these scientists’ concerns.

U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee introduced an amendment to H.R. 1004 to ensure that this aggressive form of censorship could not take place. Jackson Lee’s amendment proposed to create an exemption from censorship for information that is supported by scientific data. So, under the amendment, government scientists would still be able to inform the American public about the verified facts relevant to proposed rules, but could not engage in opinionated propaganda or advocacy.

What happened next?

All but five Republicans in the House of Representatives voted against Sheila Jackson Lee’s pro-science, anti-censorship amendment. In doing so, the House GOP made it plain that the purpose of the Regulatory Integrity Act is not to create a neutral arena for the consideration of proposed rules, but to censor scientists and prevent the American people from being informed about the facts related to federal rules.

Why would they do this? In the absence of scientific information related to proposed rules, powerful corporations and their well-funded lobbyists would become the dominant public voice on any proposed rule. If a child safety rule had scientifically support, but would be unprofitable for corporations, the American people would only hear the corporate side of the argument. If an anti-pollution protection could be explained during scientific data, that data would be censored under the Regulatory Integrity Act, but corporate misinformation about the anti-pollution protection would be unrestricted.

By voting against the amendment from Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Republicans showed that the Regulatory Integrity Act is about destroying integrity in the regulatory process, not about protecting it.

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