Many decisions (and their associated classifications) are made on the basis of the collective experience of experts. EPA has made extensive and regular use of expert committees (including this National Research Council [NRC] committee), advisory panels, peer review committees, and the like to help its staff (another assemblage of experts) make important policy decisions.
Clearly the composition of any expert group is critical to the outcome, and in recent years there has been a concerted effort within EPA to include a wide spectrum of “stakeholder” opinion in the expertise solicited (e.g., the September 1999 workshop to discuss EPA’s draft CCL Research Plan; AWWARF, 2000). This is a recognition that where a particular expert stands on the issue is often influenced by where he or she sits in the real world (e.g., organizational affiliations). Of course, the outcome of any expert panel may be influenced equally, though to a largely unknown extent, by the absence of persons who could not participate in such meetings. Often the reasons for the absence of a particular perspective are random or accidental, as when schedules or timing do not permit participation at the last minute or result in a substitution for similar reasons.
Yet even when matters external to the question at hand are set aside, the dynamics of expert committees often influences the outcome in crucial ways. Thus, when a particular subject comes up (e.g., at the beginning of a meeting versus the end of a long day), who advocates for or against a position (involving questions of articulateness, seniority, and status) or the juxtaposition or context of agenda items can lead to very different outcomes for reasons unconnected with the content of the issues at hand. The presence or absence of EPA experts and the relative force-fulness of their participation can frequently alter the direction of a discussion in important ways, for example, directing it toward or away from regulatory and policy concerns that may not be apparent or uppermost in the minds of non-agency experts. For the same reasons, discussions of committees comprised solely of EPA staff and consultants are likely to have a different character than those with significant or predominant participation from experts outside the agency.
One strategy to neutralize these adventitious effects is to use a formal