FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Report Offers Recommendations on Future Role of OSTP

Richard M. Jones
Number 88 - September 5, 2008  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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"The next president's ability to meet key challenges facing the nation will depend upon a high-quality team in the White House to evaluate and shape the government's approximately $142 billion investments in Science and Technology as well as the broader S&T underpinnings of complex national and international issues." - Lee H. Hamilton, president and director of the Woodrow Wilson Center

With the conclusion of the Democratic and Republican conventions and the official nomination of their parties' presidential candidates, a set of recommendations on strengthening the role of the next President's Assistant for Science and Technology and the Office of Science and Technology Policy will draw increased attention. "Critical Upgrade: Enhanced Capacity for White House Science and Technology Policymaking: Recommendations for the Next President" was released in June by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The report's 28 pages contain recommendations that are wide-ranging, and indicate the many duties for which the President's Assistant for Science and Technology and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) are responsible. OSTP, established by President Gerald Ford and Congress in 1976, advises the President and the President's Executive Office, on science and technology policies and budgets. The Assistant is also the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The report was written by Jennifer Sue Bond, Mark Schaefer, David Rejeski, and Rodney W. Nichols. More than sixty interviews and discussions were conducted during the course of the study. All former living science advisors contributed to the report.

Three major recommendations were made at the outset, and organized the remainder of the report:

"The President should appoint a nationally respected leader to be Assistant for Science and Technology. This individual should serve at the cabinet level. The appointment should be made early in the new Administration, along with the appointments of heads of cabinet-level agencies.

"OSTP must be funded adequately, staffed fully, and integrated closely with other policy-making bodies within the White House.

"Robust mechanisms to obtain advice must be established and maintained through the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST), the President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the National Academies, and a proposed new Federal-State Science and Technology Council."

The topics covered in this report are "OSTP Director and Associate Directors," "OSTP Responsibilities and Activities," "External Councils," "OSTP Budget and Staff," "OSTP and the Office of Management and Budget," "OSTP and Other White House Policy Bodies," "OSTP and International Activities, "OSTP and Other Federal Agencies," "OSTP, the S&T Community, the States, and the Private Sector," and "Key Issues Facing the OSTP." Several recommendations are made for each topic, supported by excerpts from pertinent documents.

The section entitled "Key Issues Facing the OSTP" is of particular interest, and includes the following important point:

"Although science and technology can have an impact on many federal programs, in order to be most effective, OSTP should select a relatively small set of important issues to emphasize and then develop both a long-term and a short-term approach to these issues. Otherwise, OSTP likely will be swept up in the endlessly changing urgencies and issues of the day. The following areas - not in priority order - have been identified as important for OSTP to provide leadership and guidance.

"1. Environmental and energy challenges such as global climate change; technologies to increase the supply of cost-effective energy sources; the trusteeship of natural resources, especially water; and the advancement of innovative practices to respond rapidly to environmental crises and natural disasters.

"2. Enhancing U.S. global leadership in innovation, including the advancement of investments in basic research and transformative technology development, commercialization, and diffusion.

"3. Responding to national security challenges, including terrorism, failing states, nuclear nonproliferation, and pandemic disease outbreaks.

"4. Assuring that the United States has access to the best and brightest S&T talent in adequate numbers through improved S&T education at all levels and encouraging top students, scientists, and engineers to come to the United States to help overcome workforce shortages stemming from inadequate training and retraining programs.

"5. Improving health and health care delivery on a foundation of world-class biomedical research, prudent and efficient safety reviews of new drugs and devices, and the application of information technology.

"6. Finding means of ensuring greater public understanding of scientific issues and advances as well as technological opportunities."

The report can be read here.

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095