Whitehouse in winter
On Wednesday, a policy institute at Rice University in Houston, Texas, offered recommendations on science and technology to the next U.S. president, who will move into the White House this winter. Credit: iStock.com/Dave Newman

The next U.S. president should move quickly to appoint a nationally recognized scientist or engineer as science adviser, according to a new set of recommendations from an academic policy think tank on the presidential transition.

The incoming administration should also rapidly install a leadership team for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and ensure that the office has access and resources to help integrate science and technology (S&T) advice at the White House and across federal agencies, according to “The Vital Role of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the New Administration.”

The Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, in Houston, Texas, issued the recommendations Wednesday.

Why Focus on OSTP?

“The next administration will need to address a number of public policy challenges necessitating immediate [science and technology] expertise.”

The document says that “the next administration will need to address a number of public policy challenges necessitating immediate S&T expertise,” including environmental concerns and natural disasters. It adds that “the presidential transition is a critical period for ensuring S&T is responsibly and effectively represented in policymaking in the White House.”

The Rice University recommendations call OSTP “the one place in the federal government that focuses on the efficiency and impact of the collective federal S&T effort.” It urges the White House to have OSTP promptly draft an administration strategy paper on S&T goals. The new president should also seek counsel from the White House science adviser, who heads OSTP, in filling other senior positions relating to S&T.

Steering Clear of Policy Recommendations

Neal Lane presenting a set of science transition recommendations for the next president at a Washington, D. C. briefing.
Baker Institute senior fellow Neal Lane presenting a set of science transition recommendations for the next president at a 14 September briefing in Washington, D. C. Credit: Nathan Mitchell/National Press Club

The Rice document avoids providing the next administration with guidance about how to deal with specific S&T issues, although the conclusion lists a sampling of policy areas warranting attention, including climate change.

“It’s a nonpartisan document. What we are trying to say, in a way that doesn’t create kneejerk reactions, negative reactions, is [that climate change] is a very important issue,” said Baker Institute senior fellow Neal Lane at a 14 September briefing. Lane was OSTP director and science adviser to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001.

Lane told Eos that because of the significance of climate change and because there are laws, regulations, and international agreements about it, “whatever your political stripe is coming in, you’re going to have to deal with [climate change]. It’s just a fact. That’s how we tried to treat it, and not use this document to try to push a priority in some area of health care, some biomedical or geosciences [area], or anything else.”

Science and Technology Embedded in Issues

At the briefing, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D. C., said that science and technology “are embedded in almost every issue that the president deals with,” including issues not traditionally associated with science such as justice, diplomacy, and social welfare. “We want this person and this office fully integrated in that process, for the president’s own good, and for the country’s,” he said

Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of the aerospace company Lockheed Martin, said that the Rice recommendations deserve serious consideration. Now is “a very critical moment in the nation’s history” for U.S. research and competitiveness, he asserted, because of falling funding as other nations are increasing their investments.

Although neither Augustine nor Holt was a contributor to the recommendations, they reviewed them and appeared at the briefing to show their support, a Rice spokesperson said.

Specifically regarding space research, Augustine—who once advised OSTP on the subject—told Eos that a new administration should resist the temptation to “start from scratch” in defining NASA’s goals. He added that NASA’s goals should be matched with adequate funding and other resources. “If we don’t, it’s just a way to waste money,” he said.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer


Showstack, R. (2016), Next president must name science leaders fast, report urges, Eos, 97, https://doi.org/10.1029/2016EO059533. Published on 16 September 2016.

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