WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is trying to take an ax to federal advisory committees, ordering that their numbers be slashed.
Trump signed an executive order Friday that directs every federal agency to evaluate the need for all of its advisory committees created under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And it gives agency heads until September to terminate at least one-third of current committees created by agency heads.
Federal advisory committees are typically made up of private citizens who offer advice and assistance to the executive branch.
The White House did not immediately provide any justification for the order. But it appears to assume that many of the committees are redundant or have been convened to address issues that are now obsolete. It says that committees will be eliminated if their "stated objectives" have been accomplished, if the "subject matter or work of the committee has become obsolete," if their "primary functions have been assumed by another entity" and if the agency determines "the cost of operation is excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government."
A government-wide review of FACA committees has not been done since the early 1990s, according to the White House.
"The president believes it is time to once more review and eliminate ones that are not relevant and providing valuable services so that we are good stewards of the taxpayers' money," said Judd Deere, a White House spokesman.
The order does not apply to merit review panels, like those that reward grants to the National Institutes of Health or provide scientific expertise to agencies about product safety. Agencies may request waivers from the Office of Management and Budget, and those with fewer than three eligible committees will be exempt.
The U.S. General Services Administration, which helps oversee FACA implementation, says there are approximately 1,000 federal advisory committees and 50 federal agencies with FACA programs in effect at any given time. The order seeks to cap the total number of committees at 350, and will bar agencies from establishing new committees without waivers until the number drops.
"Advisory committees have played an important role in shaping programs and policies of the federal government from the earliest days of the Republic," the agency says on its website, adding that: Since President George Washington sought the advice of such a committee during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, the contributions made by these groups have been impressive and diverse."
Rush Holt, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said he was concerned about the move to cut back on advisory panels, especially ones involved with health and the environment.
"Advisory committees help the government become better informed, and making smart decisions should not be seen as optional or dispensable," he said.
GSA, which is also tasked with conducting annual reviews of the committees, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Under the order, agency heads will also have until Aug. 1 to weigh in on whether they believe any advisory committees established by the president at their agencies should live on.