Report Urges State Department to Place Higher Value on S&T Expertise
At an October 7 press conference, members of a National Research Council committee unveiled a long-awaited blueprint for improving scientific and technical expertise within the State Department. The report was requested last year by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in response to concerns both within the State Department and from the science community that the Department lacked the capability to foresee relevant developments in science and technology and incorporate those issues into its foreign policy-making process. The final report elaborates on, but does not vary significantly from, an interim report released by the 17-member committee last September (see FYI #130, 1998).
"Issues involving science, technology, and health (STH) have moved to the forefront of the international diplomatic agenda," the report declares. "Precisely because STH developments are such a pervasive force, they cannot be isolated from the fundamental workings of foreign policy." The report lists 56 examples of issues within the State Department's purview that possess "significant STH content."
The committee chose to emphasize the role of scientific and technical expertise in the development of foreign policy rather than the role of diplomacy in furthering international scientific agreements, believing that improvement in the former would lead to improvement in the latter. The committee's recommendations focus on raising awareness of the importance of STH at all levels of the Department, from the Secretary to Foreign Service Officers to Ambassadors. While the report calls for improvement of the Department's in-house STH capability, it recognizes the reality of budget constraints and also suggests tapping into outside expertise, including an STH Advisory Committee and rotating specialists from other departments and agencies. The Department is urged to hand off responsibility for some common activities associated with international scientific agreeements to the departments or agencies involved, such as NASA, DOE, and NSF. The committee's recommendations and explanations are summarized below:
1. "The Secretary should articulate and implement a policy that calls for greater attention to the STH dimensions of foreign policy throughout the Department," to demonstrate a commitment to improving the Department's capabilities.
2. "The Department's leadership should expect all...officials of the Department to achieve a minimum level of STH literacy and awareness..." and should provide "career incentives for successful service in STH-related positions."
3. "...the Secretary should delegate to an undersecretary responsibility for ensuring consideration of STH factors in policy formulation," and amend that undersecretary's title to include "for Scientific Affairs."
4. "The Secretary should select a highly qualified STH Senior Advisor to the Secretary and to the selected undersecretary to provide expert advice, drawing on the resources of the American STH communities, as necessary," with rank and title appropriate to this responsibility.
5. "The Department should adopt the most appropriate organizational structure for the relevant bureaus and offices in order to meet its expanding STH responsibilities," by legislation if necessary. "The current structure is inadequate for the task."
6. "The Department should establish an STH Advisory Committee...and take other steps to further expand the roster of external experts actively engaged in advising the Department's leadership on emerging STH-related issues."
7. "The Department should increase the resources available to meet the essential STH-related requirements that are recommended in this report."
8. "The Department should assign at least 25 carefully selected Science Counselors" to embassies and missions where STH is of major interest or significance, to reverse declining trends in the number and technical literacy of Science Counselors.
9. "The Department should increase its use of specialists from other departments and agencies as rotating employees" to gain access to additional STH expertise.
10. To help handle an overloaded portfolio, "the Department...should transfer responsibilities for STH activities to other appropriate and willing departments and agencies whenever there is not a compelling reason for retaining responsibilities within the Department."
11. "The Department, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget...should streamline the Circular 175 process, which calls for interagency reviews of proposed international agreements and bilateral memoranda of understanding (MOUs)."
12. "The Secretary, the Administration, and Congress should ensure that the Department's five-year information technology modernization plan stays on course and is fully funded for its successful implementation...."
"In sum," the report says, "the nation's foreign policy agenda is constantly facing new challenges, many driven by STH developments at home and abroad; but the culture of the Foreign Service, the Department, and indeed the foreign affairs community in general places relatively low value on STH skills. Although the Department can draw on the extensive STH resources of the country, there must be greater STH awareness throughout the Department and adequate mechanisms within it for utilizing external STH resources in a timely and effective manner."
The 111-page report, entitled "The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State," can be purchased from the National Academy Press at 1-800-624-6242 or http://national-academies.org
Audrey T. Leath
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics