Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • A Promising Pilot to Help Student Borrowers

    Investing in postsecondary education is among the smartest choices Americans can make. College completion opens doors and expands economic opportunity, leading to lower rates of unemployment and higher earnings over the course of a career. But tuition rates have risen significantly in recent decades, and obtaining a college degree increasingly depends on students’ ability to take out loans and manage repayment after leaving school. While most borrowers are able to repay their student loans, many struggle, and some fall behind.

    That’s why last month the President and his Administration announced a series of executive actions to help reduce the burden faced by student loan borrowers and make postsecondary education more affordable and accessible to American families. A centerpiece of this action plan is to improve the effectiveness of communications to borrowers about flexible repayment options the U.S. Department of Education offers to help ensure they stay on track with their payments. This includes income-driven repayment plans – Income-Based Repayment, Pay As You Earn, and Income-Contingent Repayment – that link monthly payments to borrower incomes.

    We know borrowers are busy and that decisions about student loan plans can be complex and challenging. That’s why the Office of Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education has teamed up with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, a group of experts who focus on effective, innovative strategies for helping government programs and communications better serve citizens. 

    In November 2013, Federal Student Aid, in collaboration with the White House Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, launched an e-mail campaign to increase awareness of Income-Driven Repayment and help borrowers make more informed decisions about loan repayment options given their circumstances. The campaign sent emails to borrowers who had fallen behind on their payments, had higher-than-average debts, had grace periods coming to an end, had deferred or entered forbearance because of financial hardship or unemployment, or some combination of the above. In total, the campaign sent emails to over three million borrowers last year and 221,000 submitted applications.

    The team embedded a rigorous, randomized-control pilot into the broader campaign, which measured the impact of e-mails designed based on insights from the behavioral sciences on action among borrowers in delinquency for 90-180 days. These e-mails indicated income-driven repayment eligibility criteria, the benefits associated with taking action and the costs associated with inaction, and the relevant web-links and servicer contact information. Behavioral science research demonstrates that timely, clear and low-cost informational messages of this kind can help citizens better understand their options, make more informed decisions, and follow through on their intentions. 

    Results of the pilot are promising. Sending e-mails to borrowers in delinquency for 90-180 days resulted in a statistically significant, four-fold increase in completed income-driven repayment applications. This effect translates into roughly 6,000 additional completed applications in just the first month after sending among the 841,442 borrowers in the pilot.

    We are working together to use insights from this trial to inform future communications and develop even more effective ways of reaching borrowers to help them stay on track.

    Maya Shankar is Senior Advisor for the Social and Behavioral Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    Ajita Talwalker Menon is the Senior Policy Advisor for Higher Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council.

     

  • Making for a Stronger Africa

    This month, the first class of the President’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Mandela Washington Fellows converged on Washington, D.C. for their inaugural Presidential Summit.  During the Summit, many of the Fellows joined the US Global Development Lab and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy at Fab Lab DC to discuss the role of making in Africa’s economic and community development.

    Making for a Stronger Africa

    Mandela Washington Fellows gather to discuss how making will help shape Africa’s future. (Photo by Mike Star)

    The Maker Movement is transforming the way we design and produce things – both here at home and overseas. At this year’s first-ever White House Maker Faire, President Obama described making as “a revolution that can help us create new jobs and industries for decades to come.” In recognition of the potential of young African visionaries to advance the Maker Movement, YALI is working to equip change-makers with the tools they need to foster progress across the continent.

    Community maker spaces are already springing up around the world, providing public access to tools and technologies like 3D printers, laser cutters, and low-cost modular electronics, which dramatically change the rules of invention - anyone with an idea can bring that idea to life. By democratizing the means to create, digital manufacturing lowers the barrier to entrepreneurship around the world, including in developing regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.

    In 2012, Togolese entrepreneur Sename Koffi Abdojinou founded WoeLab, a bootstrapped maker space and business incubator built on an ethos of community design and open-access hardware in low resource settings. Illustrating the power of this philosophy in action, WoeLab member Afate Gnikou invented a 3D printer made primarily from discarded electronics, or e-waste, scrapped from landfills. The invention’s design has been openly published, so makers across Africa and the rest of the world can leverage his ingenuity to sow the seeds of digital fabrication in their own communities.  This year at the Fab10 maker conference, WoeLab’s e-waste 3D printer was awarded the Global Fab Award.

    Maker spaces like Abdojinou’s WoeLab promote hands-on STEM education; they empower ordinary people to develop local solutions to the challenges faced in their communities; they encourage entrepreneurship.  In October 2013, Togo celebrated its ten most promising young entrepreneurs. Three of them came from WoeLab.

    Making for a Stronger Africa 2

    WoeLab inventor Afate Gniko with his e-waste 3D printer. (Photo by woelabo.com)

  • Outcomes of the Fifth US-China Innovation Dialogue

    On July 8, U.S. Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Dr. John Holdren and Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang co-chaired the fifth U.S.-China Innovation Dialogue in Beijing, China.

    The day before the Innovation Dialogue, on July 7, experts from the United States and China met to discuss reports on ongoing research on the best means to spur innovation through policy.  A group of Chinese experts and a group of American experts reached joint conclusions about their research related to China's High and New Technology (HNTE) tax incentive program.  The experts reports are posted at the following link: http://igcc.ucsd.edu/publications/igcc-in-the-news/news_20140714.htm.

  • Delivering a Customer-Focused Government Through Smarter IT

    As technology changes, government must change with it to address new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities. This Administration has made important strides in modernizing government so that it serves its constituents more effectively and efficiently, but we know there is much more to do.

    Last year, a group of digital and technology experts from the private sector helped us fix HealthCare.gov – a turnaround that enabled millions of Americans to sign up for quality health insurance. This effort also reminded us why the President’s commitment to bringing more of the nation’s top information technology (IT) talent into government is so critical to delivering the best possible results for our customers – the American people.

    A core part of the President’s Management Agenda is improving the value we deliver to citizens through Federal IT. That’s why, today, the Administration is formally launching the U.S. Digital Service. The Digital Service will be a small team made up of our country’s brightest digital talent that will work with agencies to remove barriers to exceptional service delivery and help remake the digital experience that people and businesses have with their government.

    We are excited that Mikey Dickerson will serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Digital Service and Deputy Federal Chief Information Officer. Mikey was part of the team that helped fix HealthCare.gov last fall and will lead the Digital Service team on efforts to apply technology in smarter, more effective ways that improve the delivery of federal services, information, and benefits.

  • New Request for Information to Inform Strategy on Critical Materials

    A century ago, plentiful elements like iron, lead, and copper fueled our Nation’s transition to an industrial economy. Today, the next generation of natural resources — such as rare earths, indium, and lithium —  are just as essential to the industrial cutting-edge, yet many of these materials are not as naturally abundant or easy to access as their predecessors. The rapid expansion of materials-intensive industries like clean energy puts this new cohort of so-called “critical materials” at risk of unpredictable moments of short supply. As both criticality and dependency on materials shifts over time, studying early warning signs and underlying forces of material supply disruption can inform proactive policy development around the emerging critical materials that power economic growth and prosperity.

    Four years ago, the Administration chartered a new National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Critical and Strategic Minerals Supply Chains (CSMSC), which has maintained a responsibility for coordinating critical materials policy development and executing different elements of a mitigation strategy across twelve Federal agencies. The group has been responsible for a number of proactive steps since its establishment, including: the formation of the Department of Energy’s $120 million Critical Materials Institute; a successful revision to the Harmonized Tariff Schedule, administered by the U.S. International Trade Commission to increase the level of detail of rare earth trade data; and analytic support that contributed to the success of a World Trade Organization case, filed by the U.S. Trade Representative, Japan, and the European Union, addressing critical mineral export restrictions and market manipulation by China.

    To build on this momentum, the CSMSC is developing a methodology for identifying critical materials and monitoring changes in criticality, delivering “early warning” to policymakers and other stakeholders. Providing earlier awareness about materials that will be critical to the economy and industry enhances policymakers’ ability to plan for the future and to ensure continued growth. Several weeks ago, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy published a request for information (RFI) soliciting feedback from industry and other stakeholders to inform the CSMSC’s characterization of anticipated future demand for critical materials. This new RFI gathers information about issues related to mining, demand, supply chain structure, market dynamics and mitigation. Data about which raw materials are of interest to the public are instrumental in safeguarding and preparing the American economy for the future. Today, the deadline for submission has been extended and OSTP will continue to accept responses until September 30, 2014.

    Click here to view the full RFI.

    Cyrus Wadia is Assistant Director, Clean Energy and Materials Research and Development at OSTP

  • More than 1,500 people participate in the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day

    Disaster Demo Day 7_29_14 panorama

    Under Secretary for Science and Technology Dr. Reginald Brothers speaks to technologists, entrepreneurs, and members of the disaster response community at the Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day in South Court Auditorium, July 29, 2014. (Credit: DHS Science and Technology)

    On Tuesday, more than 250 emergency managers, first responders, tech entrepreneurs, and local, state, and Federal officials came to the White House to participate in the Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day. The event was live-streamed to more than 1,250 people interested in leveraging tech and innovation to improve disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

    In the morning, participants attended six workshops to identify challenges where open data, social media, predictive analytics, sharing economy platforms, standards, and user-centered design can be applied to improve disaster preparedness, and disaster response and recovery efforts. Innovation facilitators from the Ideation Community of Practice, the global design firm IDEO, and several federal agencies led the workshop participants in drafting challenge statements — such as, “The Homeland Security Enterprise of over 3.5 Million first responders and emergency managers must make difficult decisions in the field to safeguard our nation, often triaging multiple streams of information.  How might we provide ‘Social Media, Unplugged’' — a means for response organizations to easily and securely extract emerging insights to better inform and coordinate disaster response?” The challenge statements will continue to be refined over the coming weeks with stakeholder input for inclusion in the upcoming disasters.data.gov site focusing on disaster response and recovery.