FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

PCAST Briefed on Science and Technology Activities and a New Report on US Competitiveness

Aline D. McNaull
Number 11 - January 30, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology were briefed earlier this month on the science and technology activities at the State Department and were also given an overview of the activities of the US Chief Information Officer.  Also discussed at the meeting was the Commerce Department’s new report on “The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States.” 

Office of Science and Technology Policy Director and PCAST Co-Chair John Holdren opened up the meeting by introducing each of the speakers: E. William Colglazier, Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State at the US Department of State; Steven VanRoekel, US Chief Information Officer, Officer of Management and Budget, The White House; and John Bryson, Secretary of Commerce. 

In his overview of the advisory office at the State Department, Colglazier emphasized that there is a desire to increase the capacity of science and technology expertise within the State Department and that many countries would like to engage with the US on science issues as it is still seen as a leader in the sciences.  Colglazier went on to summarize ten science-related initiatives at the State Department:

  • Strengthening innovation policy dialogues – Foreign countries have consistently demonstrated that they want to discuss the role of science and technology in their economic development.  These countries would like to engage in a dialogue with the US on how to strengthen their science and technology innovation programs.
  • Sourcing innovation - Finding creative ways to stimulate innovation in the US would aid in the effort to find new sources of innovation.  Connecting the State Department with the entrepreneurial and venture capital sector could help find solutions to problems faced by many bureaus within the State Department.
  • Encouraging more global scientific knowledge engagement and capacity building on behalf of the US – The assets found in other countries could be used to support and ease barriers faced by the United States.  Even countries with strained diplomatic relations can engage with the US on scientific efforts, therefore benefiting the US relationship with countries like North Korea, Cuba, and Burma.     
  • Maintain support for the fellowship programs within the State Department – In the current climate of budget cuts, the fellowship program needs to have necessary financial support since fellows are vital to the human capacity within the State Department that deal with science and technology.
  • Building structures for scientific advice to foreign governments - Developing relations with scientific organizations in foreign countries could encourage all governments to seek the independent and objective advice of the global scientific community.  This is especially important as each country works on larger scientific efforts to combat disease or other common interests.
  • Science advice inside the State Department - The work of State Department science advisors is well-respected and the State Department hopes to continue relying on this scientific community to tackle global challenges. 
  • Public diplomacy – The State Department would like to work with professional science societies to provide information as to when distinguished American scientists will be travelling abroad. Specifically, the State Department hopes to facilitate and set up meetings between scientists and foreign officials and invite American scientists to speak at public diplomacy events abroad.  
  • Partnerships with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) - Reinvigorating the role of science and technology within USAID will contribute to solutions of global scientific projects.
  • Support women in science and engineering – The State Department supports increasing the number women in science and engineering fields.  One program that was discussed was a partnership between 37 women’s colleges and Muslim-majority countries which would allow women from those countries to attend US women’s colleges where they could study science and engineering. 
  • Disruptive and transformational technologies and foresight – Technologies that are of particular interest to the State Department are those which have the capability of transforming the way things occur around the globe, for example cell phone technology or the development of new manufacturing tools.  This last initiative would support developing countries to develop their own science infrastructure to contribute to the development of these new technologies. 

In his description of the role of technology within the Office of Management and Budget, VanRoekel emphasized how technology and social media has changed the way that people interact with government.  New technology allows for changing ways of delivering government services to the general public.  It can also increase efficiency and close the productivity gap.  He described how new developments in information technology infrastructure have led to better citizen engagement initiatives.  Lastly VanRoekel emphasized that technology plays a part in many programs and that investment in technology programs can improve government across many agencies.

Commerce Secretary Bryson presented highlights from the recently-released Commerce Department report, “The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States”.  He stated that much of the report focuses on problems that led to where we are today.  He offered three areas where, with strong public investment, the United States could make large improvements: education, infrastructure, and research.  The economic reality is that the private sector under-invests and that federal investments have softened.  The combined result of this is that US economic competitiveness has eroded.  This competitiveness report is a “call to arms” guide to policy makers describing why this administration has made the decisions it has regarding ways to increase US competitiveness. 

A discussion of the competitiveness report will be the subject of an upcoming FYI. 

The reaction of the PCAST members to these presentations was overall quite positive and there was support for the initiatives presented by the speakers. 

The agenda of the meeting can be found here and the webcast is available here.  

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics