Blog Archives

Eric Lander Active in First Few Weeks as OSTP Director; Community Awaits PCAST Appointments

In the first few weeks since his confirmation on May 28, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Eric Lander has been active in advocating for President Biden’s ambitious science policy agenda, most notably the proposal for the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H), the DARPA-like research agency proposed to be housed within the National Institutes of Health (NIH). During the June 10-11 meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director of NIH, Lander presented a more thorough vision of ARPA-H’s role as a high risk, high reward vehicle to address specific societal questions. A recording of the presentation is available on the NIH website.

With Lander’s confirmation behind the Administration, the scientific community now awaits announcement of appointments to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). PCAST, which Lander will co-chair, is the nation’s highest-level advisory body related to science policy issues, advising the President and his Administration on all aspects of the STEM enterprise and ways to apply it to Administration priorities. The last Administration did not reconstitute and appointment members to PCAST until almost three years into its term. With President Biden’s laser focus on science and technology, it is expected that PCAST will be populated sometime this year. We will continue to report on new developments.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 22), Update, Volume 40 (2021)

White House Reconstitutes President’s Council of Advisory on Science and Technology

On October 22, the Trump Administration issued an executive order reconstituting the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). PCAST is comprised of experts from science and technology from outside the government who volunteer to advise the White House; it has not met since the Obama Administration. In addition to reconstituting the council, the President also appointed seven members to PCAST. The members primarily have backgrounds in the private sector: Dario Gill of IBM research, A.N. Sreeram of Dow Chemical, Sharon Hrynkow of Cyclo Therapeutics, H. Fisk Johnson of S.C. Johnson Inc., Catherine Bessant of Bank of America, and Shane Wall of HP. The lone appointee from a university is K. Birgitta Whaley, a chemistry professor of the University of California, Berkeley, and a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A press release from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), reported on by Science Magazine, noted that the “next wave of nominees, which includes several additional scholars from academia, is proceeding through the clearance process.” The executive order and list of appointees can be found on the White House website.

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Posted in Issue 21 (October 29), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

White House Announces Winners of Early Career Awards in Science and Engineering

On July 2, the White House released a list of recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The award recognizes scientists and engineers in the early stages of their research careers who show exceptional promise for the future of scientific leadership. Several social scientists were named among the recipients, showcasing expertise in fields such as economics, education, linguistics, public policy, psychology, sociology, and others. The full list of award recipients can be found on the White House website.

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Posted in Issue 15 (July 23), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

President Issues Executive Order to Reduce Number of Federal Advisory Committees

On June 14, the White House released an executive order directing federal agencies to eliminate at least one-third of their advisory committees by October 2019. The executive order applies to committees established under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and provides exemptions for committees authorized in statute and merit review panels that are “necessary to fund extramural research.” While merit review panels are exempt from the order, science advisory committees—important for delivering scientific advice and guidance to agency leaders across the government—are not.

Agencies are directed to terminate at least one-third of their advisory committees by the end of the fiscal year on September 30, 2019. Agencies can seek waivers from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) if committees are “necessary for the delivery of essential services, for effective program delivery, or because it is otherwise warranted by the public interest.” The order can be read on the White House website and a database of FACA committees is available online. COSSA will be monitoring these developments and will report on any changes within agencies important to the social science community.

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 25), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

White House Announces New Joint Committee on U.S. Research Community

On May 6, the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) announced the formation of a new Joint Committee led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) addressing the issues and burdens facing the U.S. research community. Specific issues the Joint Committee will address are administrative burdens on federally funded research, rigor and integrity in research, inclusive and equitable research settings, and protecting American research assets. The Joint Committee will also engage with the research community for input on policy making. The Joint Committee’s membership will be comprised of OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, National Science Foundation Director France Córdova, National Institute of Standards and Technology Director Walt Copan, and Undersecretary for Science at the Department of Energy Paul Dabbar. More information about the NSTC can be found on the OSTP website.

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Posted in Issue 10 (May 14), Update, Volume 38 (2019)

Kelvin Droegemeier Nominated to Lead OSTP

On August 1, President Trump nominated Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier to serve as the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The OSTP director has traditionally, but not always, held the title of Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, otherwise known as the president’s science advisor, but it is not clear if Droegemeier would fill this role as well. Dr. Droegemeier holds a Ph.D. in atmospheric science and has served on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma in Norman for 33 years and as the university’s vice president for research since 2009. OU is a COSSA member university. Additionally, he was nominated by President George W. Bush to the National Science Board in 2004, was reappointed by President Obama in 2011, and served as the vice-chair of the board for four years.

Droegemeier’s nomination now awaits approval by the Senate but has come as a relief to much of the scientific community. President Trump took twice as much time as any other modern president to name an OSTP Director and his administration has routinely eschewed scientific expertise in its decision making. OSTP is responsible for providing scientific and technological analysis and judgment to the President, leading interagency science and technology policy coordination efforts, and assisting the Office of Management and Budget with an annual review and analysis of Federal research and development in budgets.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

White House Outlines FY 2020 R&D Budget Priorities

On July 31, Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney, with Michael Kratsios, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), issued a joint memorandum to federal agency and department heads on “FY 2020 Administration Research and Development Priorities.” The R&D memo lays out key White House priorities as agencies begin working on their budget submissions for the next fiscal year.

The FY 2020 memo shares many priorities with the FY 2019 memo, including acknowledging the important role of science and technology to America’s global leadership and emphasizing national security, American energy dominance, and medical innovation as research and development priorities. The memo also adds new priorities including space exploration, artificial intelligence, quantum information sciences, advanced communication networks, and agriculture. Specific science priorities for the Trump Administration in FY 2020 include research “to improve the security and resilience of the Nation and its critical infrastructure from natural hazards, physical threats, cyber-attacks, and emerging threats from autonomous systems and biological agents;” fundamental and applied artificial intelligence (AI) research; research to “safely and efficiently integrate autonomous driving systems and unmanned aircraft systems;” and basic medical research for personalized medicine, areas underserved by industry, disease prevention, and health promotion.”

Unlike the FY 2019 memo, the FY 2020 memo does not include specific language about federal funding for research and development playing a supporting role to that of industry. The memo does reiterate, however, the administration’s view that federal research and development dollars should be used primarily on basic and early-stage applied research.

Additional details can be found in the memorandum.

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Posted in Issue 16 (August 7), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

Trump Administration Releases Proposal to Reorganize the Federal Government

The Trump Administration released its comprehensive plan to restructure and reorganize the federal government on June 21, Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century, which includes proposals to make major changes to the federal bureaucracy and social safety net programs. This plan continues efforts by the Administration to restructure and reduce the size of the federal government. Implementing the majority of the reforms proposed would require Congressional action—and are therefore unlikely to be realized—but they provide clear insight into the priorities of the Administration and serve as a blueprint for possible actions over the next few years.

The plan proposes sweeping reorganization and consolidation of federal departments and agencies, including combining the Departments of Labor and Education into a single “Department of Education and the Workforce,” and moving several public assistance programs into the Department of Health and Human Services and renaming it the “Department of Health and Public Welfare.” Generally, with a few notable exceptions, agencies important to the social and behavioral sciences are left largely intact. Of the major changes in the plan, the proposals most likely to affect the social and behavioral sciences (each discussed in detail below) would:

  • Merge the Departments of Education and Labor and change federal student aid servicing at the Department of Education.
  • Consolidate the administration of graduate fellowships from multiple agencies under the National Science Foundation.
  • Move the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the Department of Commerce.
  • Establish a public-private government effectiveness research center.
  • Set government-wide polices for evaluation.

Read on for COSSA’s full analysis of the government-wide reorganization proposals, keeping in mind that most of the changes would require Congressional action, which is not likely at this time. As for next steps, the report states that the Administration will now “begin a dialogue with Congress to prioritize and refine proposals to best serve the American people.”

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Posted in Issue 13 (June 26), Update, Volume 37 (2018)

White House SBS Team Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

On September 15, the White House’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team (SBST) celebrated its one-year anniversary. SBST, a group of behavioral scientists within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), is chaired by the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It also includes the participation of federal agencies, departments, and White House offices.
The 2016 Social and Behavioral Sciences Team Annual Report cites the progress made by the team in implementing President Obama’s Executive Order 13707, “Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People” (see Update, September 22, 2015). The 2016 report explains that over the last year the SBST’s portfolio has grown to include more than 40 collaborations throughout the federal government. The collaborations fall under three major themes: (1) undertaking significant policy challenges (e.g., affordable health insurance, expanding economic opportunities, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions); (2) leveraging strategies to enhance the effectiveness of programs, including addressing how programs are communicated, changing the ways programs are administered, “informing the design of policy;” and (3) using the best available evidence along with testing its impact to determine which programs to scale up and discern what needs improving.
Project areas addressed by SBST over the last year include promoting retirement security, advancing economic opportunity, improving college access and affordability, responding to climate change, supporting criminal justice reform, assisting job seekers, assisting families in obtaining health coverage and staying healthy, and improving government effectiveness and efficiency.
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Posted in Issue 18 (September 20), Update, Volume 35 (2016)

White House Releases First-Ever Working Group Report on Language and Communication

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Subcommittee on Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences recently released the first ever, Report from the Interagency Working Group on Language and Communication, “an inventory of current programmatic activities across Federal agencies and departments that relate to the scientific and technological aspects of language and communication.” The report explains why the government and the American people benefit from its investments in R&D activities relating to language and communication. A key feature of the report is the Language and Communication R&D Taxonomy providing a “common framework for developing a Language and Communication R&D Inventory Survey for collecting, cataloguing, and classifying the various R&D efforts across the Federal Government.” A main finding of the report, resulting from the application of the taxonomy, is that there are a number of cross-agency leveraging opportunities. It also includes an important recommendation that agencies should identify and develop opportunities to optimize the available Language and Communication R&D resources. The Interagency Working Group is comprised of 20 agencies and departments. It is led by Elizabeth R. Albro, Institute of Education Sciences (Department of Education), and CDR Joseph Cohn, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Research & Engineering).

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Posted in Issue 11 (May 31), Update, Volume 35 (2016)


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