We are scientists and public health experts who have dedicated our careers to promoting the health of all Americans. In the past, we have pursued that mission within different components of the federal government, whether in advisory roles to Congress or within the executive branch under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The offices in which we served had different roles but shared a common goal of saving lives and advancing public health through scientific research, public education, and informed policy.
We have gathered with one voice because the clear and present danger of the continued spread of COVID-19 hangs above us. Unless science and expertise guide our preparation and response to the serious and growing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, our nation will again suffer avoidable death and disruption. Together, we commend our fellow scientists and public health experts currently serving in government who are holding steadfast to the principles of scientific integrity and independence. We call on them to continue pursuing their mission to advance public health, regardless of politics.
Having served in these same roles, we understand the immense responsibility of controlling the spread — and potential resurgence — of COVID-19, which has already killed more than 129,000 Americans and 530,000 people worldwide. As our society and economy reopen, the American public, healthcare workers, and state and local officials across the country are looking to the federal government to ensure that we put the worst behind us. The federal government, after all, plays the lead role in pandemic preparedness and response activities, from stockpiling essential medicines and supplies, to coordinating hospital surge capacity, to supporting vaccine development and providing guidelines on mitigating the spread of disease.
For the federal government to fulfill this role, independent and sound science must be the driving force behind its efforts. Research and data must inform production and allocation decisions for vital supplies such as personal protective equipment and ventilators; basic accounting for new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths; and plans to develop vaccines and treatments. Science should steer decision-making and policy, even as our elected leaders weigh competing priorities. Scientists working for the United States government are some of the best in the world, and their work has been vital in combating many of the epidemics in the 20th and 21st centuries, from HIV to SARS, from H1N1 influenza to Ebola. They are working tirelessly right now to save lives in the face of this novel coronavirus.
But at great cost to our country, science and expertise have been marginalized in our government’s response to the pandemic thus far. Far too often, political expediency has won out over scientists’ advice. The federal pandemic response has muzzled key public health experts within the government and pushed them aside in decision-making processes. In short, the independence of our public health institutions has been compromised. If we continue to cast aside the scientific advice of our own experts, the consequences for the nation will be dire. Indeed, sidelining science has already cost lives, imperiled the safety of our loved ones, compromised our ability to safely re-open our businesses, schools, and places of worship, and endangered the health of our democracy itself.
The novel coronavirus has starkly reshaped our global reality. It is highly likely to continue spreading, either through one large, sustained wave, or resurging in multiple waves. To save lives, we must let science guide us and let scientists speak. Congress must more rigorously oversee the pandemic response and any attempts at political inference in scientific decision-making, while federal inspectors general must be allowed to conduct their oversight functions without fear of retaliation. Data from our federal agencies must be more accessible to outside experts, and the processes generating data on the pandemic more transparent. When federal employees speak out about interference in science, the law must better protect them. Finally, this global pandemic demands a global solution. Our scientists must be free to coordinate with their peers around the world to surmount COVID-19.
To the federal employees working on the frontlines of this pandemic, preparing our country for any resurgence of COVID-19, we say: keep speaking out. We support you. You stand as a bulwark against the spread of misinformation and the diversion of public health policies and programs to suit political goals. The health of the American public and the integrity of our august scientific and public health agencies depend on you.
(If you are a former government scientist or public health official and would like to add your name to this statement, please complete this form. Protect Democracy will update this list with new signatories until July 20th.)
Signatories have been vetted to the best of our ability.