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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration INTRODUCTION The needs of the nation are at the forefront of public discussions in 2008—a time of leadership transition in the United States. Almost every aspect of modern public policy is touched by science and technology, including those involving national security, economic development, health care, the environment, education, energy, and agriculture. Rarely has there been such an opportunity for the nation’s S&T enterprise to contribute to the nation. The nation needs 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 not only national, but also poised to meet global, state, and local challenges. The United States research enterprise is the largest in the world and leads in innovation in many fields. The rapid globalization of the economy and of S&T cannot obscure the fact that competition is fostering a positive response from all levels of American society. Science and technology are creating better lives for all as many nations seek to improve opportunities for themselves and for people around the world. As a result, the S&T community ought to be fully engaged in discussions and decisions in S&T policies and S&T-dependent
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration policies. Scientists and engineers1 are important to meeting the nation’s needs, as was emphasized in the landmark 2007 report from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future: Since the Industrial Revolution, the growth of economies throughout the world has been driven largely by the pursuit of scientific understanding, the application of engineering solutions, and continual technological innovation. Today, much of everyday life in the United States and other industrialized nations, as evidenced in transportation, communication, agriculture, education, health, defense, and jobs, is the product of investments in research and in the education of scientists and engineers.2 The relationship between science and technology, on the one hand, and the ability of the nation to meet economic and social goals on the other hand, is now clear from the American experience and that of other high-achievement countries. This is reinforced not only by reports of the National Academies, but also through the valuable work of other organizations such as the Council on Competitiveness.3 For example, a central theme in all of these analyses is the key role of strengthening education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Upgrading the STEM skills of our young people at all levels (K-12, undergraduate, and graduate) 1 When this report refers to scientists and engineers or to the S&T community, the entire range of fields that bring evidence-based knowledge and decision making to public debate and decision making is included: from astronomy to zoology, from mathematics to medicine, from industry and to academia, and irrespective of the terminal degree obtained. 2 National Academy of Sciences/National Academy of Engineering/Institute of Medicine. Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, 2007, p. 41. 3 See, for instance, the Council on Competiveness report in 2005: “Innovate America,” available at http://www.compete.org/publications/detail/202/innovate-america/.
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration is now recognized as the sine qua non for sustaining U.S. competitiveness in a globalizing world. Meeting the educational challenge will not be achieved by more of the same. Only national leadership on the issue combined with action at the state, local, and family levels will bring about the necessary change. Amidst this powerful force for change, the challenge for government is to recognize when S&T expertise is needed and to find the best means of managing S&T and incorporating it into government programs and policies.4 Our most critical asset in meeting this goal is our intellectual capital—the hundreds of thousands of highly trained and expert scientists, engineers, and health professionals who work with what is known in the world of S&T and recognize what is not known. At no other time in the past 50 years has it been so vital to attract people who understand science and engineering into the highest levels of public service, as presidential appointees in top leadership positions or as members of the many advisory committees that provide scientific and technical advice to executive branch agencies. Presidentially appointed executives in fewer than 100 positions form the core leadership of the government’s role in S&T. Those positions reside in the Executive Office of the President and in the agencies and departments that support scientific, engineering, and industrial research and development; manage large-scale defense, space, energy, health research, and environmental programs; and regulate activities that have large technology components. Most of the top S&T positions would ideally be filled by scientists, engineers, or health professionals with the specific expertise necessary for fulfillment of their responsibilities. They are often recruited into public service from academic or industrial research 4 See David Z. Beckler. 1991. “A Decision Maker’s Guide to Science Advising. ” In William T. Golden, ed., Worldwide Science and Technology Advice to the Highest Levels of Government. pp. 28-41. NY: Pergamon.
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration organizations. These high-level officials make critical decisions at the point where government policies intersect with S&T and need the management skills to ensure they will be effective in government. They need the ability to place their particular S&T expertise within a systems perspective (e.g., interfaces; immediate and long-view impacts; cost-benefits). It is essential that the pool of potential appointees not be narrowed by avoidable obstacles, such as the appointment process itself, unreasonably burdensome restrictions on pre-government and postgovernment activities, and an unwillingness to cast the net more widely to include more women and members of underrepresented groups. In addition to presidential appointments, the government often calls on outside scientists and engineers to provide objective independent advice on matters ranging from research funding priorities and awards to strategic planning for entire segments of federal investment in research. Nongovernmental scientists and engineers are asked to serve in an advisory capacity on committees considering policy issues that have critical S&T components, for example, setting priorities for biodefense capabilities, establishing drinking water standards, and conducting drug approvals. The members of the committees may be appointed by the President, by an agency head, or by other senior executive staff. Today, more than 1,000 federal advisory committees5 managed by federal agencies advise the federal government on a diverse array of issues, including the application of scientific and technical knowledge to policy. Through legislation enacted in 1972, Congress recognized the merits of seeking the advice and assistance of our 5 As defined by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) of 1972, Public Law 92-463 and implemented by the General Services Administration (GSA) under Executive Order 12024 of 1976. There are other kinds of advice received by agencies that are not covered by the GSA definition.
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration nation’s citizens. Congress also sought to ensure that advisory committees would provide advice that is relevant, objective, and open to the public. Transparency and accountability of those who provide advice are as essential as the quality of their work. The United States has sustained a long-standing commitment to this type of public input into critical policy decisions. The database maintained by the General Services Administration for federal advisory committees includes more than 150 committees under the heading of “applied sciences” and 65 committees that include “mathematics” in their mandates. The government’s capacity to perform these functions could be seriously impaired by increasing the difficulty of recruiting people to those positions or by fostering the perception that the composition of advisory committees is being intentionally skewed to achieve a predetermined outcome. A failure to attract qualified people to top S&T posts or misuse of the federal advisory committee system would compromise the effectiveness of our government with respect to important S&T issues in general. To address the challenges of the twenty-first century, we need sound science, sound scientific and technical leadership, and sound scientific and technical advice. These are nonpartisan goals. This report, the fourth6 in a series issued by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (a joint committee of the National Academy of Sciences, the National 6 There are several ways in which this report differs from earlier versions: (1) With regard to the treatment of advisory committees, that section is shorter than in the 2004 report, not because the problem is less important in ensuring the integrity of scientific advice for the federal government, but rather to delineate the issues applicable to any administration now or in the future. (2) For the list of key appointments, the committee decided to include presidential appointments in economics that had been excluded in prior versions, given the centrality of economic challenges in 2008 and beyond. (3) A lesson learned from the last two administrations is the central importance of the early appointment of the APST; thus that recommendation is given prominence in this report.
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Science and Technology for America’s Progress: Ensuring the Best Presidential Appointments in the New Administration Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine), is being delivered in advance of the presidential election with the intention to make it possible to achieve those goals.7 7 Panel on Presidentially Appointed Scientists and Engineers, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. 1992. Science and Technology Leadership in American Government. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy. 2000. Science and Technology in the National Interest: The Presidential Appointment Process. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy. 2005. Science and Technology in the National Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.