Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House and Senate on March 16 would change the Federal Advisory Committee Act to make more transparent the work of advisory committees that provide expert advice to Federal agencies.

The bill would, among other steps, ensure the disclosure of detailed minutes from advisory committee meetings, require that agencies inform committee members of applicable ethics requirements, and clarify that the law applies to subcommittees and to committees set up by a contractor.

The Federal Advisory Committee Transparency Act was introduced by: Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee; Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., ranking member of House Oversight; Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee; and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., chair of the Emerging Threats and Spending Subcommittee.

“Advisory committees provide expert advice to Federal agencies on a range of topics,” said Rep. Maloney. “For years, agencies have used loopholes to avoid making the work of these advisory committees transparent to the public.”

“Under this bill, agencies would have to disclose more information such as how advisory committee members are chosen and whether the experts who serve on those committees have conflicts of interest,” she said.

“American taxpayers deserve greater transparency and accountability from their government, and improving the transparency of Federal advisory committees is essential to accomplishing that goal,” said Sen. Portman. “At the end of the day American taxpayers deserve evidenced-based, rather than interest-based, decisions by their government, and this bill helps to ensure that.”

Similar legislation passed the House last, but did not make it out of the Senate Homeland Security committee.

Introduction of the bill follows the Pentagon’s move in February to put a halt to the work of 42 defense-related advisory boards, including influential bodies such as the Defense Innovation Board and the Defense Policy Board. The action by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin temporarily suspended the work of the advisory panels, and ended the service of all panel members. Federal advisory panel members are often drawn from industry and academia, and serve without compensation.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.