Here is an interesting story about the National Park Advisory FACA Committee from NBC News. Maybe Interior is different, but in USDA, FACA committee members are approved by political appointees, which is one of the problems with FACA committees, in my view. If you need to be considered OK by an administration of a different color, what are the chances that the exact same people will be considered OK by the administration of the opposite color? Did NBC news leave this part out of the story, or did it not fit in with the narrative “Trump people do uniquely awful things”, or did they just accept it at face value because the sources said so and details of how the government works are too complicated to go into? Notice the”news” story includes a tweet from the League of Conservation Voters. Makes you wonder “whose tweets count as news?” and how do reporters decide? But the story made me think some more about FACA committees in general and whether they could work better.
If you go to the National Park advisory board website here, you find out “Congress passed the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) in 1972 to create an orderly procedure by which Federal agencies may seek advice and assistance from citizens. In general, any council, panel, conference, task force, or similar group utilized by NPS officials for the purpose of obtaining consensus advice or recommendations on issues or policies will likely fall within the purview of FACA.” And yet on the same page it has the Board expiring in 2007 (guess other agencies have trouble keeping up their websites also.) You can also see the folks appointed and their backgrounds, and the report the Board generated with the help of 120 outside folks.
I had the challenging experience of being the Designated Federal Official for the Forestry Research Advisory Committee, which required working with the Office of White House Liaison with USDA (at the time, don’t know how it is now). I’ve also been involved in recruiting folks for various USDA advisory committees.
To me, getting approval from unknown levels of unknown folks is really difficult and keeps these groups from being as effective as they could be. And which ones really accomplish much? Do more focused ones (like the Black Hills FACA committee) do better than the broader, national ones?
The Roadless FACA committee did stuff (at least those of us working on the state Roadless Rules had to pay attention), I am not so sure about the Ag Biotech FACA committee USDA used to have. What has the planning rule FACA committee done?
Should the FS have a national FACA committee?
When the State of Colorado worked on the Colorado Roadless petition, I believe it was Josh Penry’s (state legislator and wonk extraordinaire) idea to have the taskforce who worked on it composed of (1) some people selected by individual parties, (2) some people both parties could agree on. Maybe in this hyperpartisanized era we seem to be in, we could somehow engineer the partisan-ness out of advisory committees (Congress picks them? or would that be against the Constitution?.but if they are only advisory? How about Governors?).
I think it would also help if some outside groups (say, a cooperative effort of schools of Public Administration) regularly (10 years) reviewed each FACA committee according to some criteria of utility, and made suggestions for improving its value to the government. These could then be send out for public comment and discussion, including among thoughtful blogging communities like ourselves. And of course, ways for streamlining the process. But perhaps now that it is so easy to get people’s opinions, we could dream up another way to do what advisory committees do by involving a broader range of people in some more structured and online process. What are your ideas?