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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The new presidential administration and Congress elected in November 2008 will face immediate challenges. Events will not permit a leisurely leadership transition. The prompt appointment of senior advisers and the nomination of top officials in the new administration with the knowledge and experience to address complex problems will be essential. The concerns of the nation regarding jobs and economic growth, health care, national security, energy, and the environment demand informed action. Each of these concerns—from national security, economic development, health care, and the environment, to education, energy, and natural resources—is touched in essential ways by the nation’s science and technology enterprise. The nation requires exceptionally able scientists and engineers in top executive positions and on federal advisory committees to weigh available data, to consider the advice of scientists and technical specialists, and in the case of presidential appointees, to make key management, programmatic, and policy decisions. The opportunities to serve are global as well as national. The U.S. research enterprise is the largest in the world and leads in innovation in many fields. The rapid globalization of the economy and of science and technology is a fact of life, fostering a healthy competition that is driven by technology-enabled gains in productivity. These advances are creating better lives for many in diverse nations around the world.
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration White House leadership in science and technology requires three steps. Immediately after the election, the President-elect should identify his candidate for the position of Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (APST). This individual will provide advice, identify, and recruit other science and technology presidential appointees. After inauguration, the President should promptly both appoint this person as APST and nominate him or her as the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The director of OSTP should be a cabinet-level position, with an office in the Old Executive Office Building. Selection of a confidential adviser on S&T immediately after the election is essential to ensure that assistance is available to the incoming President in identifying the best candidates for key S&T appointments and to provide advice in the event of a crisis or for early implementation of the President’s agenda. As a second step, that person should be named APST immediately after the inauguration so that he or she will have the stature that the S&T portfolio warrants. The APST should have credibility and the respect of the S&T community; an understanding of large research and educational enterprises; background as a practicing researcher (academic or nonacademic); awareness of a wide variety of public policy issues; familiarity with issues in technology and national security, economic development, health and the environment, and international affairs; and the ability to work and communicate with others, including policy makers. Because the position, by itself, does not require Senate confirmation, the APST should be formally appointed immediately after the presidential inauguration. However, because the APST cannot undertake the duties of OSTP director without Senate con-
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration firmation, the President should send forward the nomination and then seek rapid confirmation to integrate the two roles. The President and the Senate should streamline and accelerate the appointment process for S&T personnel—indeed, all key personnel—to reduce the personal and financial burdens on nominees and to allow important positions to be filled promptly. Because of the critical need for input by high-level S&T leadership in program implementation and current policy debates, key positions should not sit vacant for long periods. In addition to identifying candidates early in a new administration, efforts must be made to streamline and accelerate the appointment process. Candidates often have to put their careers on hold during the lengthy confirmation process. Streamlining proposals include such mechanisms as relying on one system of background checks rather than separate systems for the White House and the Senate, clarifying the criteria for the position in question and the principles for questioning nominees, requesting only relevant and important background information, and keeping the process timely and on track with the goal of completing the appointment process within 4 months from first White House contact to Senate confirmation. Congress and the Office of Government Ethics should consolidate and simplify appointment policies and procedures to reduce the financial and vocational obstacles to government service. Mechanisms for consolidating and simplifying the process include standardizing and clarifying pre-employment requirements and postemployment restrictions, reducing unreasonable financial and professional losses for those who serve by simplifying
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration financial disclosure reporting requirements (for example, evaluating a de minimis rule), eliminating many of the restrictions associated with the use of blind trusts, and ensuring continuing health insurance and pension plan coverage. Scientific and professional societies should more actively reach out to the APST and other senior administration leadership to provide input that broadens the pool of potential candidates for S&T appointments. As a means of seeking this input and building a strong pool of candidates with policy experience now and in the future, accomplished and recognized S&T leaders and professional science, engineering, and health societies should propose emerging leaders in their fields to serve in government positions and should expand junior and senior internship and fellowship programs that provide their members with government and policy experience. Continuing efforts should be made to identify women and members of underrepresented groups for such positions. Criteria for candidates should include not only specialized expertise, but also management skills to be effective in government. The President should ensure that his administration makes the process for nominating and appointing people to advisory committees explicit and transparent. The administration should examine current federal advisory committee appointment categories to see that they are appropriate to meet the nation’s needs. When a federal advisory committee requires members with scientific or technical proficiency, persons nominated to provide that expertise should be selected solely on the basis of their scientific and technical knowledge and credentials and their professional and personal integrity.
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration S&T issues frequently pose ethical and societal questions that may require regulation or policy solutions, and many critical policy choices in national security, the environment, the economy, agriculture, energy, and health depend on a deep understanding of S&T. Many factors—including societal values, economic costs, and political judgments—come together with technical judgments in the process of reaching advisory committee recommendations. Essential viewpoints needed for appropriate committee balance and scope should be represented by accomplished people in that policy arena, but scientists, engineers, and health professionals nominated primarily to provide S&T input should be selected for their scientific and technological knowledge and credentials, for their professional and personal integrity, and for their ability to articulate the issues. Achieving a balance of policy perspectives may be appropriate for those placed on committees for their policy insights, but it is not a relevant criterion for selecting members whose purpose is to provide scientific and technical expertise. Most people are likely to have opinions on S&T issues with which they are experienced and familiar. For this reason, excluding S&T experts from serving on advisory committees solely on the grounds that their opinions are known is inappropriate and could leave the federal advisory committee system devoid of qualified candidates. Administration officials should broadly announce the intent to create an advisory committee or appoint new members to an existing committee and should provide an opportunity for relevant and interested parties to suggest nominees they believe would be good committee members. Efforts are also needed to clarify and identify the conflict-of-interest principles that will be applied to committee membership and the categories of individual members. As a first step toward public disclosure, the General Services Administration should post on its Web site and elsewhere the appointment status of appointees—that is, whether a committee member is to be classi-
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration fied as a “special government employee,” a “regular government employee,” a “consultant,” or a “representative” since there can be great variance in conflict-of-interest procedures. Staff who process advisory committee membership nominations and who manage advisory committee operations should be properly trained senior employees familiar with the importance and nuances of the advisory committee process, including a clear understanding of the appropriateness of the questions that candidates should and should not be asked. ****************** The nation needs exceptionally able scientists, engineers, and health professionals to serve in executive positions in the federal government and on federal advisory committees. Such persons, when serving as presidential appointees, make key programmatic and policy decisions that will affect our lives and those of our children. Similarly, skilled scientists and engineers are needed for advisory committees to provide advice on the myriad issues with complex technological dimensions that confront government decision makers. Our nation has been well served by its ability to draw qualified S&T candidates to government service because of the opportunities for intellectually challenging work that affects the world in which we live and that encourages and protects the scientific process. We must continue to enlist the best candidates for these important positions and ensure that unreasonable obstacles to their service are minimized.