ANSWERING President Barack Obama's call to craft scientific integrity policies in every federal agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it is one of the first departments to launch an online employee training course in the policy, plus a handbook to accompany it.
"USDA's bench of scientific expertise is deep, with thousands of scientists, researchers, veterinarians, economists and statisticians working on behalf of the nation's food safety and security," said Dr. Catherine Woteki, USDA's chief scientist and undersecretary for research, education and economics. "Launching our employee training will support the President's call for forging scientific integrity policies into the very structure of our agencies and give the public yet another reason to know they can trust what USDA science tells them."
The training will be launched in three phases between now and June 2014. The first is for all USDA employees who engage in, supervise or manage scientific activities, as well as those who communicate about them; the second is for additional people within the agencies who will be determined by area directors and supervisors, and the third is online training for all contractors, cooperators, partners, permittees, lessees and grantees. Depending upon the nature of the contract, the training may be required or voluntary.
USDA's scientists provide ongoing research into some of the most difficult threats to the nation's food supply and its safety. The department's cadre of experts includes veterinarians with specialties in poultry and livestock diseases; researchers focused on farming, ranching and forestry systems seeking to build resilience in the face of global climate change; microbiologists who study how to reduce food safety challenges such as antimicrobial resistance, salmonella and a host of serious health and food safety concerns, and researchers, economists and statisticians whose work provides data used in commodity markets, nutritional guidance and policy analysis for federal agencies.
Key elements of the policy include:
* Guidance on what actions scientists and researchers should take if they feel that their work is being revised to fit a political agenda;
* Instructions to ensure the quality, accuracy and transparency of information when considering scientific or technical information in deriving policy decisions;
* Establishment of agency scientific integrity officers in every USDA agency, and
* Parameters for employees on communicating about scientific research and findings.