The mission of the Department of State (department) is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere. The strategy calls for the department to become more efficient, accountable, and effective in a world in which rising powers, growing instability, and technological transformation create new threats but also opportunities.
This report recommends steps that the department should embrace in order to carry out its mission more effectively by taking full advantage of the unmatched science and technology (S&T) capabilities of the United States. These capabilities provide the department with many opportunities to promote a variety of the interests of the United States and its allies in a rapidly changing world wherein S&T are important drivers of economic development at home and abroad. S&T also play critical roles in preventing and responding to efforts of hostile governments and rogue organizations determined to disrupt international security of importance to the United States and its allies. Thus, the department should continuously update its capabilities to keep abreast of S&T developments at home and abroad and be prepared to anticipate and respond promptly to S&T-related challenges on many fronts.
Advancements in S&T are heightening aspirations of societies throughout the world at an unprecedented pace while dramatically changing the way personal and business affairs are conducted. More than one-half of the world’s population is now able simply to reach in their pockets to be informed, to be in touch, and to call for assistance when available. The biological and health revolution is providing the basis for extending human life, improving agricultural productivity, and protecting essential ecological resources. Geoscientists are leading global efforts to strengthen the resiliency of population centers and infrastructure that can withstand the shocks of tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods.
However, population growth and unrestrained industrialization are threatening valuable ecosystems, changing climate patterns, and redirecting ocean currents where fisheries have thrived. The same Internet that unites
families and businesses also allows drug gangs and cyber criminals to prosper. Violent extremists effectively use the Internet and increasingly gain access to advanced destructive technologies.
Thus, international cooperation based on S&T is rapidly becoming a key dimension of foreign policies of a number of nations. The department is the critical focal point in the United States for addressing an ever-growing array of complex global challenges, drawing on contributions from many organizations in Washington and across the country. Such leadership by the department is essential as other like-minded governments also (a) adopt innovative approaches to promote economic growth, at times challenging the economic interests of the United States, (b) exercise restraint in reconfiguring the landscape created by nature, restraint that often depends on major U.S. commitments, (c) strengthen capabilities to prevent the spread of contagious diseases at home and across international borders, and (d) seek limitations on proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other technology-driven threats to peace and security.
In recent years, the department has increasingly recognized the important role that S&T should play in development and implementation of U.S. foreign policy, and particularly the need to strengthen the S&T capabilities of its workforce. The department asked the National Academies (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and National Academy of Medicine) to undertake an assessment and to make recommendations concerning the changing environment for the conduct of diplomacy in the years ahead, with a focus on the role of S&T in the development and implementation of U.S. policies and programs.
In response, this report concludes that prompt steps by the department’s leadership are essential to increase comprehension throughout the department of the importance of S&T-related developments throughout the world and to incorporate this understanding into the nation’s foreign policy for the 21st century. The department should accelerate its efforts to engrain within the Foreign Service an appreciation of the significance of the S&T advances taking place at home and abroad. It needs to support more fully our front-line diplomats with strong contingents of civil servants who are up-to-date on the technical dimensions of numerous issues on the department’s agenda. Also, it should increase the cadre of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) with technical backgrounds and provide increased training and education for all FSOs to prepare them for handling S&T-related issues, including assignments to positions that focus on S&T issues.
This report urges the adoption by the department of a broader whole-of-society approach in carrying out its responsibilities at home and abroad—extending beyond traditional interagency coordination and the narrow band of current external partners as it engages with these and other organizations in
search of fresh ideas, additional S&T assets, and achievable aspirations. Foundations, universities, research centers, non-governmental organizations, and private-sector companies are extending their international reach; and S&T engagement across geographic borders that has long-been pioneered by researchers now deserves greater recognition than ever before. The department needs to complement its focus on immediate-action in-boxes with greater attention to important global S&T trends that are increasingly recognized both internally and by others who are concerned of the consequences of neglect.
At the core of the ever-rising global interest in S&T are the prospects for new opportunities for nations to advance their economies and provide better livelihoods for their populations. In industrial and middle-income countries, innovative achievements often lead to improved economic competitiveness abroad. In less fortunate countries, locally produced goods and services that incorporate modern technologies frequently enhance the lives of some. The United States has opportunities to advance mutual interests through participation in both of these circumstances.
More broadly, the United States remains the leading nation in terms of military capabilities and economic prowess. But globalization has produced rising powers; and the United States is not able to establish global or regional security, political, or economic agendas unilaterally. Europe and Asia, in particular, have important S&T centers in a number of fields that rival or exceed U.S. capabilities. However, the U.S. capacity to use its S&T capabilities to support peace and prosperity in other countries remain unrivalled in scale and impact.
Governments and populations of almost all countries respect the S&T capabilities of the United States. A record number of science, engineering, and medical students from throughout the world seek admission to U.S. universities, with more than 300,000 foreign students addressing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) throughout the United States in 2014. A green card has long been a prized possession of many established and emerging scientists with roots in other countries. However, with the spread of S&T capabilities in many countries, a growing number of energetic and talented foreign students and young researchers at U.S. universities and research centers are returning home as suitable laboratories and other facilities increasingly offer opportunities.
The activities of multinational firms with headquarters or research affiliates in the United States have considerable influence on the effectiveness of U.S. foreign policy and particularly trade policy. In particular, private sector investments in S&T with important economic outcomes at home and abroad are expanding in some areas, such as energy development, pharmaceuticals, and advanced manufacturing.
In 1999, the National Research Council released a report titled The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State, which was also requested by the department. It has served as a timely starting point for consideration of future strategic directions—and related program initiatives—to achieve diplomatic goals, with particular attention to the S&T dimensions of these goals.
A principal recommendation of the 1999 report was to establish the position of Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State (S&T Adviser). The recommendation was widely accepted and incorporated in legislation; and during the past 14 years, the activities of the newly established Office of the S&T Adviser (STAS) have complemented activities of a number of other units throughout the department, which have policy and implementation responsibilities for S&T-related issues. However, the potential of STAS is far from being realized, and this report proposes steps that would upgrade the role and activities of STAS.
Other important upgrades in the S&T capabilities and interests within the department in Washington have been triggered in part by recommendations of the 1999 report. The changes include:
- The issuance by the Secretary of periodic directives concerning S&T components of important foreign policy issues.
- Expansion of S&T capabilities of a number of bureaus and offices of the department through the hiring of additional technically skilled civil servants.
- Encouragement of talented FSOs to assume S&T-related responsibilities that provide opportunities for them to broaden their skill sets.
- Support for programs that place one-year and two-year technically trained Fellows in important positions in the department (e.g., American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellows and Jefferson Fellows).
- Assignment of technical specialists from interested U.S. departments and agencies to U.S. embassies for periods of up to 90 days to carry out short-term assignments proposed by the embassies.
- Expansion of public diplomacy efforts that capitalize on the S&T strengths of the United States.
The S&T Advisers have played particularly important roles with regard to recruitment and guidance of Fellows, support of public diplomacy efforts that emphasize the mutual benefits of cooperation in S&T, and encouragement of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other
agencies to develop innovative S&T programs abroad. Now the S&T Adviser needs increased authority and additional resources to play a more effective role in policy debates and in leading department-wide assessments of the intersections of S&T and foreign policy.
While the department has taken important steps in strengthening S&T capabilities in Washington, a “tale of two States” emerges when assessing activities at U.S. embassies abroad. Progress at the embassies in embracing S&T as a key component of diplomacy has lagged seriously behind. This report proposes steps to correct this weakness.
In recent years, several large program initiatives of U.S. Presidents and Secretaries of State have been based on S&T capabilities. For example, the department has led the interagency implementation of (a) the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) with about $45 billion committed to this program during the past decade, and (b) global efforts to address climate change at the political, economic, environmental, and technical levels. The department has also strongly supported several other major initiatives, led by USAID, including (a) reducing infant mortality, (b) enhancing food security, (c) reducing malaria, (c) African education and energy initiatives, and (d) establishing the Global Development Lab.
A particularly significant initiative of the department was preparation in 2010 of the first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which identified major policy areas of interest to the department and USAID. Many S&T-related activities are explicitly identified in the QDDR. The QDDR provides an important organizational and policy framework for the department, and it identifies many issues for which S&T is an important factor. Additional S&T-related initiatives are set forth in the FY 2014-2017 Department of State and USAID Strategic Plan. What is missing, however, is the commitment by the department to provide adequate resources to reach the laudatory S&T goals that have been set forth in these documents.
Of special relevance for this report has been the reorganization of important components of the department. Several functional bureaus and offices with S&T responsibilities were consolidated under the purview of the Undersecretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment. These include the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), STAS, and a new Bureau of Energy Resources. Together with the previously existing Bureau of Economics and Business Affairs that includes offices for (a) telecommunications and information and (b) agriculture, the Undersecretary now has a formidable array of offices with responsibilities for various S&T-intensive policies and programs. Other undersecretaries also have responsibilities for S&T activities, and especially the Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security.
For several decades, and increasingly since 2000, the department has addressed S&T as an important appendage to the mainstream of foreign policy formulation and implementation. Now S&T responsibilities and skills are firmly embedded within a few components of the mainstream itself. Other units of the department are increasingly sensitive to the importance of including considerations of S&T-related opportunities to advance their programs. However, the department should incorporate S&T considerations into an even broader range of activities. From senior officials to desk officers and from ambassadors to junior embassy diplomats, understanding the potential of S&T can present new opportunities for international cooperation. At the same time, if misused, S&T can create new security risks.
The committee’s view on the overarching goal of efforts to upgrade S&T capabilities within the department is set forth in the subtitle of this report: Embedding a Culture of Science and Technology throughout the Department of State.
Four complementary paths toward achieving this goal are suggested in the objectives articulated in the four substantive chapters of the report: (a) Utilizing the department’s S&T resources more effectively in responding to the dramatic changes in the global landscape that are determining the future of societies, states, and populations; (b) Engaging more fully the widely dispersed S&T capabilities of the United States, which are embodied in both government and nongovernment organizations, in a whole-of-society approach to foreign affairs; (c) Upgrading S&T capabilities of U.S. embassies that are on the front lines of diplomacy; and (d) Increasing the stature and capabilities of department officials responsible for S&T activities and providing challenging opportunities for highly qualified S&T Fellows from academia and industry and for deeply experienced S&T specialists from other agencies who are on short-term assignments to the department.
Twenty-seven action-oriented recommendations will contribute to achieving the four objectives discussed in the report. Nine of these recommendations that warrant priority attention by the leadership of the department are set forth below. All 27 recommendations are discussed in the full report, and they are consolidated in the final chapter. The priority recommendations were selected to highlight near-term actions that can help (a) achieve each of the four objectives, (b) engage the leadership of the department more fully in S&T activities, (c) upgrade the status of STAS as a critical node that together with OES can add cohesion to expanded roles of many components of the department and of external partners that should work together on S&T issues, and (d) strengthen department capabilities in Washington and abroad both to promote and support S&T engagement with other countries and to draw on the nation’s broad range of S&T assets when appropriate.
The committee’s findings that led to these recommendations are based primarily on (a) the personal knowledge and experience of the committee members, (b) presentations to the committee and its working groups by officials of many of the department’s bureaus and by representatives of other interested organizations, (c) information concerning the international programs and activities of these and other organizations in response to requests for such information by committee members and staff, (d) reviews and analyses by the staff of authoritative reports of other organizations, and (e) responses to a survey of the activities of Environment, Science, Technology, and Health officers at a variety of posts. Also, staff analyses of relevant reports of experts and of databases of national and international organizations contributed to establishing the context for some key issues in this report.
Overall, however, the topic of this report covered a number of issues for which there are not well developed datasets or even significant reports; and the committee was well aware of the importance of rigor in considering anecdotal data in those cases wherein such data were an important resource. For this reason, a great number of sources were consulted for both official and informal views, consistent themes were extensively validated and cross checked; and all positions taken relying on such data were expressed carefully.
1. The Secretary should continue to provide both leadership and guidance on S&T-related policies and programs for addressing priority global issues and advancing U.S. bilateral and multilateral interests. (Chapter 2)
One topic of increasing interest throughout the department is technological innovation and economic entrepreneurship. A concise statement as to the essential aspects of the U.S. approach and sources for additional information would be of value to many offices within the department and at embassies. Also, the hosting by the Secretary and undersecretaries of broad-ranging international conferences wherein S&T play a critical role can continue to be significant. The conferences on higher education in 2011 and on the oceans in 2014 attracted wide-spread attention within the department and throughout the world. Other topics of possible interest include the declining condition of the world’s forests, preventing and fighting global pandemics, improving access to water resources, and responding to natural disasters.
2. The QDDR and other broad-ranging policy documents should underscore the importance of the department adopting a whole-of-society approach to diplomacy, which includes the capabilities and contributions of not only many government agencies but also non-governmental entities that are deeply vested in S&T. (Chapter 3)
To the extent possible, widespread involvement of public and private sector organizations throughout the country can play important diplomatic roles in
many areas involving S&T considerations such as Internet governance, foreign trade, global scientific research programs, and humanitarian assistance.
3. The department should carry out S&T-oriented foresight assessments. The Policy Planning Staff should have responsibility for this foresight effort with leadership provided by the S&T Adviser to the Secretary who would be double-hatted as a member of the Policy Planning Staff for such assessments. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the Bureau of Energy Resources, OES, and other interested bureaus should actively participate in such assessments. (Chapter 2)
The foresight program should be conducted by the department in collaboration with the intelligence community and other organizations. It should synthesize actionable conclusions of over-the-horizon S&T assessments and bring them to the attention of appropriate department officials. The program should not just identify challenges: advising on what to do is critical. Today, policy is too often reactive. We have the knowledge and competency to look out years ahead. We should take advantage of this capability.
4. The Secretary should establish a Science and Technology Advisory Board (STAB) of independent S&T experts of noted accomplishments and deep expertise to provide insights on S&T-laden non-defense issues that are or should be related to the department’s foreign policy agenda. (Chapter 2)
The board would be most effective if it established and provided leadership for small groups of experts, with each group focusing for a limited period on a specific issue of interest to the department’s leadership. Among the topics of possible interest are (a) the future of solar energy, including breakthroughs in thin-film receptors, (b) the search for better battery and other energy storage devices, (c) developments in robotics, with applications in manufacturing and in field activities, (d) affordable telemedicine in refugee camps, isolated communities, and remote locations, (e) advances in tropical medicine, (f) developments in synthetic biology and their potential for profit and harm, and (g) the international competition for high-tech talent. Of key importance is how such developments will impact on foreign policy.
5. The department should provide the S&T Adviser with organizational status equivalent to that of an Assistant Secretary. (Chapter 5)
Such elevated status would allow the S&T Adviser to support policy development and implementation related to S&T issues within the department. Also, with this enhanced status, the S&T Adviser would be better positioned to improve linkages between the department and external S&T-oriented
organizations with global networks that can provide important perspectives on developments throughout the world.
6. The department should maintain S&T Counselors (currently called Science Counselors) at embassies where S&T issues are particularly important components of the bilateral relationship. Only highly-qualified individuals should be placed in these S&T Counselor positions. In most cases these will be outstanding Foreign Service Officers with extensive experience in S&T-related issues and other qualifications such as language fluency, regional expertise, and excellent diplomatic acumen. Some S&T Counselors might be drawn from the department’s cadre of Civil Servants or exceptionally qualified outsiders. The department should also (a) ensure that S&T Counselors and other officers responsible for S&T activities at all embassies receive adequate training and preparation before assuming their duties, and (b) provide support for important efforts to initiate scientific collaboration by ensuring ready access by the embassies to available financial resources that could initiate or strengthen collaboration. (Chapter 4)
The department has relevant experience in all of these areas and should be able to quickly upgrade support of embassy staffs.
7. The department, while continuing to expand the use of new dialog mechanisms to reach large foreign audiences on U.S. values, interests, and policies (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other emerging mechanisms), should increase efforts to better understand the composition, reactions, and influence of the audiences. (Chapter 4)
The department maintains about 1,000 official social media accounts around the world, representing hundreds of ambassadors, embassies, consulates, Washington bureaus, and the department as a whole. The department’s flagship twitter account (@StateDept) recently broke the 1 million audience threshold, and the department’s combined social media audience is over 40 million people world-wide. Given the extent and importance of the endeavor and the steady expansion of activities, assessments of the composition of audiences, their reactions, and their impacts are overdue.
8. While the most important factor in supporting S&T engagement should continue to be the advancement of science, engineering, and health capabilities in the United States and partner countries, the department, along with USAID, should give greater weight in determining allocation of funds for S&T engagement to the secondary impacts in the development and strengthening of civil society and good governance in partner countries. (Chapter 2)
Scientists, engineers, and medical specialists constitute large portions of the intellectual capital of most countries, often having considerable experience in managing important organizations. They are very significant members of civil society, frequently serving as cabinet ministers and other leaders of governments. Scientists in positions of authority in a number of middle and low-income countries, in particular, are increasingly committed to internationally accepted principles of responsible science based on transparent, objective, and evidence-based decision making, which are important attributes of good public sector governance. However, funds explicitly designated to be used for strengthening democratic institutions should not be used to support S&T engagement activities since this practice could raise serious international concerns about the legitimacy of S&T engagement.
9. The department should continue its efforts to increase its staff so that time available for training and professional development of both Foreign Service and Civil Service officers can increase from the current level of 5 to 7 percent of total available time (the float), with the goal of reaching as soon as possible 15 percent. (Chapter 5)
A larger float will provide more time for training, pre- and post-assignment briefings by and for U.S. S&T agencies, and professional development for all employees. Those with special S&T interests will be able to stay abreast of S&T advances along with opportunities for other officers interested in other specialties to also update their capabilities. To expand the knowledge base, the Foreign Service Institute should continue to broaden the scope and number of its classes and online offerings with significant S&T content to help achieve the goal of providing opportunities for continuing education for every employee of the department wherever located.
In short, the entire workforce of the department should recognize that the breadth and pace of technological advancement throughout the world, along with the needs and aspirations of the global population, are increasing every day. In 2015, mobile phone subscribers will exceed 5 billion, with smartphone users surging to 2.4 billion and mobile–Internet use rivalling traditional cellular telephony. By 2030, the demand for food will increase by 35 percent over the demand in 2014 and for energy by 50 percent, with nearly one-half of the global population living in areas of severe water stress. In the near future, the Arctic region will be opened for new maritime routes and for resource exploration and exploitation of considerable economic and environmental significance. A series of dams is being planned to convert the Congo River basin into the world’s largest hydrological water complex, with environmental consequences of enormous proportions. The research and industrial communities need support by
the department in investigating scientific challenges and investing resources in distant regions of the world, often with more difficult operating environments than in the past.
The related foreign policy considerations of S&T advances are driving diplomatic agendas throughout the world on a daily basis. The department needs to upgrade its S&T capabilities and related policies and programs accordingly. The recommendations set forth in this report, if supported by policy and budgetary commitments, should open new opportunities for the department to draw upon the expertise and ingenuity of the nation’s S&T assets embedded in many institutions within and outside the government. S&T capabilities are the trump cards that are held by the United States, and we should not hesitate to use these capabilities when necessary to advance our nation’s interests in a manner that in time will lead to peace and prosperity for the broader global community.
As reflected in the title to this report, a cultural change within the department is essential so that S&T competence will be considered equal in importance to language fluency and area expertise as a critical aspect of diplomacy that will be practiced throughout the world during the 21st century.
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