The Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies and departments June 14 were directed by President Donald Trump to eliminate at least one-third of their advisory committees, which have traditionally provided regulatory advice on a host of regulatory, scientific, and policy matters.

The White House executive order directs agencies to make those cuts by Sept. 30. Federal advisory committees required by statute are essentially exempted from the executive order, as are advisory committees that provide input to regulatory agencies created to be independent from the executive branch, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

Many federal agencies rely extensively on the advice of advisory committees. At the EPA those advisory panels include the Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee (CHPAC); the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee (CAAAC) and the EPA Science Advisory Board.

For those advisory panels not required by law, agencies and departments under the order are directed to evaluate the need for each advisory committee it has established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, enacted in 1972 to formalize the roles of such panels and ensure their actions are transparent to the public. Such advisory committees have swelled in recent years to roughly 1,000 panels with more than 60,000 members, according to the General Services Administration, and have advised administrations on issues ranging from the disposal of high-level nuclear waste and depletion of atmospheric ozone to efforts to address Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

‘Knife to the Jugular’

Environmental and public interest groups said the move is only the latest salvo by the Trump administration targeting science.

“For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees. Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice,” Gretchen Goldman, research director with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, said in a press statement. “It’s no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular.”

Under the executive order, agencies are directed to terminate those committees if the “stated objectives of the committee have been accomplished” or the committee’s work or subject matters “had become obsolete.” Agencies also should review whether a committee’s primary functions have been assumed by another entity and whether the panel’s cost of operation exceeds its benefits to the federal government, according to the executive order.

Each agency can request a waiver to shield an advisory panel from elimination if that agency deems the committee necessary to deliver “essential services” or because the panel ensures an effective agency program, or because the exemption is “otherwise warranted by the public interest.” The White House Office of Management and Budget would determine whether such exemptions are warranted, according to the directive.