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FYI Number 13: February 9, 2001

Secretary of State's Science Adviser Discusses S&T in State Department

Norman Neureiter, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, drew a full house for a February 6 seminar on science at the State Department. He talked about his aspirations for the Department, his outreach efforts to both the public and private sectors of the science community, and the enthusiastic response he has received.

Neureiter spoke at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in a seminar sponsored by the Washington Science Policy Alliance. He acknowledged that it was largely through many years of effort by AAAS, as well as others in the science community, that the State Department is now taking actions to boost its scientific capacity and strengthen mechanisms for receiving expert advice from outside the Department. The position of S&T adviser to the secretary was only created last year as part of the Department's response to a National Research Council report that highlighted the need for greater integration of S&T into the foreign policy process (see FYIs #54, 2000 and #148, 1999). Neureiter, formerly vice president of Texas Instruments Asia, assumed this position in September 2000. An organic chemist, he worked as International Affairs Assistant in the White House Office of Science and Technology from 1969-1973. Prior to that, he served as Deputy Science Attache in the US Embassy in Bonn, Germany, and then as the first US Science Attache in Eastern Europe. He has also spent time in NSF's International Affairs Office, and has headed numerous public and private sector committees and groups dealing with international research cooperation.

Neureiter first outlined the circumstances leading to the current situation, saying that diminished resources, new burdens and more embassies in the early 1990s led to "triage" within the Department, and "science was the loser." The Department is now trying to rebuild its S&T capability. As science adviser, his goals are to raise the science consciousness within the Department and introduce greater S&T literacy, to ensure that S&T considerations are fully taken into account in the making of foreign policy, and to ensure that the best scientific advice in the world is fed into the policy-making machine. He spoke of creating a "zero-impedance circuit" for the transmission of advice and expertise from the science community into the department.

Neureiter described his outreach to universities, scientific societies and organizations: "To tell the truth, the response from these institutions has been embarrassingly effusive.... Every institution has offered to help." AAAS and the National Academy of Science have already sponsored their first science roundtable to brief State Department officials on genetically modified agricultural products, which he said enabled them to go into international negotiations "far better prepared" than ever. He added that much of the work in incorporating S&T into foreign policy, such as preparing background papers and briefings, needs to be done well before the negotiating stage. Neureiter also remarked that AIP is currently advertising to select its first State Department Science Fellow, who will provide scientific and technical assistance within a bureau or office (see FYI #12 or http://www.aip.org/mgr/sdf.html for details on applying), and that other organizations and industry groups are considering ways to contribute expertise.

His discussions with other federal science departments and agencies were equally productive. He found them all pleased with the new emphasis on science at the State Department and eager to pledge their support. NSF and NASA have offered to lend professional scientists to spend time working within the Department or at posts overseas.

Neureiter posed the question: "Is the State Department such a desert of science and technology?" While noting that bureaus such as Arms Control, and Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, have highly-qualified technical staff, he added that to be really successful in his mission, he had to reach into the regional bureaus also. He found it of great value that his office is located outside of the bureau structure, so he can "stick...my nose into really any issue and try to make a contribution," as well as serve as an "honest broker" between bureaus. He has just established a Science Policy Network to discuss S&T concerns and provide assistance, to which every bureau has designated a representative. It is "a key thing," he said, that in such a complex department, with bureaus reaching into every corner of the world, there is now someone with the responsibility to be "our person" in each bureau. In this manner he hoped that science and technology would be integrated into the planning process of all the bureaus.

Neureiter talked about the need to get more technically trained people into the Foreign Service, to provide science expertise at embassies abroad, and eventually to compete for ambassadorial positions. The embassies recognize this need, he said, and are eager for professional scientists. He reported that the Department is working with AAAS on recruitment and incorporating more S&T in the Foreign Service entrance exam.

Addressing the question of how the change of Administration might affect his role, Neureiter said new Secretary of State Colin Powell had told him "everything is fine for now." Because he reports to the Secretary through the Under Secretary for Global Affairs, Neureiter said much will depend on whether that position is filled, and by whom. He expressed optimism that S&T "will continue to be important" to the Department.

In closing, Neureiter reminded his audience that the three pillars of US national security are intelligence, diplomacy, and warfighting capability. Diplomacy, he said, "is the last stop before war." He concluded by citing dozens of foreign policy issues with S&T dimensions, from satellite export controls to mad cow disease to nanotechnology. "So we ain't bored!" he declared.

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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