Recently the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued a new edition of its report Grading Government Transparency (H/T Nextgov). The first edition came out in 2013, and it expands on a previous report, Freedom to Speak?, from 2008, that focused on agency media policies (15 agencies and 2 federal departments). Grading Government Transparency includes social media policies along with traditional media policies.
The scorecards from the 2013 and 2015 reports suggest slight improvement in policies, or at least maintaining the status quo. Agencies in the report that didn’t have social media policies in 2013 have them now, so the progress is forward.
The report recommendations in 2015 aren’t that different from 2013. The UCS still encourages agency media policies to place free and open communication ahead of political principles. As the organization strongly advocates for a fundamental right to scientific free speech, this is not a surprise.
For agencies where there was improvement in agency policies, the UCS noted several key changes in many cases: the existence of a social media policy, whistleblower protections, a personal-views exception (provisions that allow for government scientists to state personal opinions if they are clearly noted as their personal opinion and do not use unreasonable amounts of government time or resources), and a dispute resolution process.
What is still lacking in many cases, according to UCS, are a right of last review (of written product going under their name or relying on their research) and a right to access drafts and revisions of written materials using contributions from the scientists’ research.
The agencies and departments covered in the report are only part of the government, and do not cover all scientists and engineers employed by the government. And I don’t think the UCS finds every agency’s grades in the reports satisfactory. So there remains work to be done. Media and social media policies for scientists and engineers need to be in more agencies, and need to be strengthened in those where they already exist.