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White House science office needs upgrade

WASHINGTONThe science and technology policymaking capacity of the White House must be enhanced so that the next president can better address key issues facing the nationfrom energy and the environment, to national security, and the ability of the United States to compete and collaborate internationally. The report's primary recommendations are that:

  • The next President quickly appoint a nationally respected leader to be Assistant for Science and Technology Policy who will serve at the Cabinet level.
  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) be funded adequately, staffed fully, and integrated closely with other policymaking bodies within the White House.
  • Robust mechanisms to obtain expert and timely advice 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 Federal-State Science and Technology Council.

"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 (2008) investments in Science and Technology as well as the broader S&T underpinnings of complex national and international issues," said Lee H. Hamilton, president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which today released the report Critical Upgrade: Enhanced Capacity for White House Science and Technology Policymaking.

"The President will need to appoint an extraordinary individual with the breadth of knowledge and sound judgment to chart advice on matters of sweeping national importance," added David Abshire, president of both the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Lounsbery Foundation, the latter of which was a sponsor of Critical Upgrade. Dr. Abshire emphasized that "to be effective the science advisor must have ready access to, and the total trust of, the President in order to be fully involved in cabinet-level policymaking." In addition to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Lounsbery Foundation, this study was supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Golden Family Foundation.

"Innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America's success through the 21st century," stated Deborah Wince-Smith, president of the Council on Competitiveness. She added that "the President's science advisor should play a pivotal role in setting priorities for funding frontier research and for fostering a vibrant environment for technology-based entrepreneurship in the United States. The next president will want to strengthen the Office of Science and Technology Policy and quickly select an outstanding leader who will mobilize the cooperation of leaders throughout the public and private sectors."

Critical Upgrade offers recommendations designed to ensure the OSTP has the capacity to help define and implement the President's programs. The analysis benefited from the result of more than 60 interviews, comments, and meetings with many of the nation's top science policymakers, including all living former presidential Science Advisors.

The report's recommendations focus on lessons learned from the past as well as suggestions for the future regarding "best practices" in ten major areas. The points include responsibilities and activities of OSTP, relations with other White House entities, external science advice, coordination of programs across the federal government, programs of international scope, and interactions with the private sector and the states.

Although the position of Special Assistant for Science and Technology had existed since the Eisenhower administration, President Gerald Ford worked with the Congress to establish OSTP officially in the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-282). The Act provides OSTP with a broad mandate to advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The 1976 Act also authorizes OSTP to lead interagency efforts to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets, and to work with the private sector, state and local governments, the science and higher education communities, and other nations toward this end.

Over the past fifty years, the President's Assistant for Science and Technology and OSTP fostered the development of policies that proved to be of great benefit to the nation and the world. Policies formulated in the White House science office helped to put a man on the moon, encouraged private sector innovation that has become a major driver of the U.S. economy, and ensured the federal funding that made U.S. academic institutions global leaders. The authors hope that this report will lead to an even more effective and upgraded OSTP that can assist the President and the nation.


Contact: Sharon McCarter
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies

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