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

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Publication date: 
30 January 2012

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

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