Science Communication in the U.S. Federal Government

Sunday, 15 February 2015: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room 220C (San Jose Convention Center)
Rick Borchelt, Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC
Government communicators struggle to both remain credible to external stakeholders and the media while at the same time conveying messages favorable to their respective agencies.  In part, this is a reflection of the changing role of government communications offices, which over time have morphed from the traditional Public Information Model of communication to an overt Institutional Advancement Model based on campaign communication models.  Morever, the landscape of government communications is an uneven one, with some agencies (especially, although not only, regulatory agencies) requiring very explicit clearance of all news products, interviews with scientists, or posting of public-facing content, and others taking a much more hands-off approach to interactions between their researchers/grantees and the media and other publics. 

In theory the White House Scientific Integrity Directive of 2010 clarifies and should have standardized agency management of media-public/scientist interactions, in that it:

  • establishes principles for conveying scientific and technological information to the public, and
  • clarifies government scientists’ right to share their research and scientific analyses with the public and the press

In practice, however, uncertainty and direct prohibitions continue to color the ability of federal scientists and contractors to speak directly to members of the press or public about their published research without impediment or monitoring.  The White House should review again both the policies publicly adopted by various science agencies in response to this directive, and ensure that practices at those agencies are in fact consonant with those policies and the directive.