Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Kevin Pearce: "I may never get to stand on the Olympic podium, but:"

    Yesterday, at the White House, some of America’s leading researchers, scientists, and technologists met to discuss how to answer one of our next grand challenges -- the human brain.

    In fact, the 3-pound mass between our ears, remains one of the greatest mysteries in science. Nearly 100 trillion neural connections, which help drive our thoughts, emotions, and actions, remain uncharted.

    But just like scientists mapped the human genome, catalyzing breakthroughs, creating jobs, and birthing industries, we are now poised to capture a dynamic image of the human brain.

    The President’s BRAIN Initiative has amassed more than $300 million in commitments from the private, public, philanthropic, and academic sectors in an all-hands-on-deck effort to accelerate the development and application of new technologies to produce dynamic pictures of the brain that show how cells and circuits interact at the speed of thought. These technologies will open new windows into the world of the brain, and help us tackle disorders like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.

    That’s why students and scientists, companies and citizens -- and even former competitive snowboarder Kevin Pearce -- are coming together to answer the President’s call to action to take the next great leap in human discovery by unlocking the mysteries of the human brain.

    Read the message that Kevin sent to the White House email list this morning about the BRAIN initiative -- and why it's personal for him:

  • PCAST Examines Technology for Targeting Job-Skills Training and Matching Talent to Jobs

    Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a letter report to the President about opportunities for information technology (IT) to improve the way the labor market works and to help get more people into jobs. The report – which focuses on “middle-skill” workers, people whose jobs require post-secondary training, but not a conventional college degree – describes how IT can be used to enhance interactions among workers, trainers, and employers, and to help boost the performance of the labor market as a whole.

    Getting more people into jobs calls for closing the gap between the kinds of skills potential workers have and the kinds of skills needed for jobs that are currently available.  IT can play a role in assessing skills of a potential employee or workforce and helping to facilitate targeted training opportunities, beginning with students and other individuals who are already investigating job and training options.  IT can also be deployed to help analyze, at a large scale, what kinds of jobs are available, where they are available, and what skills are available admits the talent-pool that is actively seeking work. Building on such analyses, it can help in the matching of workers with jobs.

    In its new report, PCAST recommends three steps the Federal Government can take to enhance the performance of the U.S. middle-skill labor market:

    • Improve the operation of the worker-trainer-employer ecosystem by better coordination of related Federal efforts.  In addition to continuing to support the important activities at the Departments of Labor and Education, as encouraged by the White House’s Ready to Work report, engage the convening power of the Department of Commerce, which can help to bring industry together with government to foster improvements to the WTE system, as well as encourage activity such as technical standards-setting and approaches to facilitate information exchange across the associated ecosystem.
    • Continue to support development of information technology to facilitate assessment of skills and training needs, counseling about training and career options, and delivery of training that culminates in credentials that can be validated.  Federal support for IT research can not only generate new capabilities, it can also promote commercial use by helping to prove concepts and lower costs.
    • The Federal Government should lead by example in exploring opportunities to use information technology, in particular large-scale Web services in the private sector and machine-learning capabilities emerging from research, to identify and forecast the detailed skills required in the evolving Federal workforce and to match candidates from across the country with those opportunities.  Further, in skill development, the Federal Government should look to harness both private-sector and captive IT-based training mechanisms to deliver the ongoing skills development required for new and existing Federal employees.   

  • Promoting Open Education to Help Teachers and Students Around the World

    “Because we know that education is a cornerstone for progress…we’re going to do more to help citizens in other countries, especially students, access the incredible online educational tools and resources we have in the States.”

        -    President Obama, September 24, 2014

    An educated population is a global asset. Open education, which enables educators and students to freely and legally access, reuse, and adapt educational resources, is increasingly being used to help teachers and students in the United States and around the world.

    On Wednesday, during his remarks at a meeting of the Open Government Partnership at the United Nations in New York, President Obama celebrated open government around the globe and announced four new and expanded open government initiatives that will advance our efforts through the end of 2015.

  • Strengthening Safety and Security across the U.S. Life Sciences Research Enterprise

    Research and discoveries in the life sciences have expanded our understanding of the natural world and led to major advances in medicine, agriculture, environmental protection, and overall quality of life. While this robust area of research has provided and continues to provide extraordinary benefits to society, the scientific community recognizes that some of its products can, in the wrong hands, be misused for unintended purposes. Research giving rise to such products or technologies is known as “dual use” research. Dual use research of concern, or DURC, is a subset of dual use research defined as life sciences research that can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad potential consequences to public health and safety, agriculture, the environment, or national security.

    Additionally, the recent series of lab incidents at U.S. facilities has prompted the Administration to take decisive steps to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity, and has reminded us of how important it is to have in place robust and effective oversight processes that facilitate identification and mitigation of risks associated with certain types of life sciences research.

    Today, the Obama Administration issued a U.S. Government Policy for Institutional Oversight of Life Sciences Dual Use Research of Concern to help ensure that our Nation’s vitally important research efforts in the life sciences are carried out safely and in ways that minimize the risk of misuse.

    The institutional policy released today builds on the Federal government’s previous DURC policy released in March 2012, which formalized a process for periodic Federal review of U.S. Government-funded or -conducted life sciences research involving 15 high-consequence agents and toxins, and seven categories of experiments. Today’s policy formalizes the roles and responsibilities of institutions and principal investigators in overseeing life sciences DURC involving this same subset of agents and toxins.

    The Policy calls on all Federal agencies, institutions that receive Federal funding for life sciences research that conduct research with any of the 15 agents and toxins listed in the Policy, to, within one year, put into place the infrastructure, policies, procedures, education, and training to ensure that DURC is identified and appropriate risk-mitigation measures are implemented.

    The Policy reflects substantial input solicited from the public, non-governmental experts, and stakeholders, including institutions that will be subject to this policy.   In the coming year, as institutions begin to implement the Policy, the Administration will continue to solicit feedback and evaluate the Policy’s impact on the life sciences research enterprise. This input will help determine whether additional steps can be taken to assist facilities with implementation and whether further modifications are needed. While the policy released today focuses on mitigating risks associated with the potential misuse of certain types of life sciences research, it complements a broader suite of policies that govern safety and security in laboratories. For additional information on the Federal government’s comprehensive approach to strengthening U.S. biosafety and biosecurity, please see the Science Safety Security website.

    Life sciences research is making important contributions to the development of new diagnostics, preventive measures, and treatments for diseases; enhancing emergency preparedness and response efforts; and providing countless other benefits to people around the world. The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with the life sciences community to strengthen the safety of this vitally important research.

    Read the Policy here.

    Dr. Andrew Hebbeler is Assistant Director for Biological and Chemical Threats at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Dr. Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Dr. Pat Falcone is Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the White House Office of Science

  • Paying for Success to Transform Learning

    Currently, a large gap remains between the relatively modest impact that technology has had on education, particularly in K-12, and the transformative impact that technology has had on many aspects of our economic and social life. Advances in our understanding of how people learn and the explosion in information technologies such as low-cost smartphones and tablets, cloud computing, broadband networks, predictive analytics, and related technologies are poised to transform learning and make it more interactive, personalized, and effective for American students.

    To achieve this potential, President Obama announced ConnectED, a new initiative to connect 99 percent of America's students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and wireless within 5 years that has already reported major progress. As we make the critical investments to upgrade the physical infrastructure and connectivity that students and teachers will have in their classrooms, we must also invest in building the next-generation of learning software that will utilize this connectivity and devices.

    Building a strong ecosystem of “supply” and “demand” for effective learning software will be critical. This will happen both through greater investment in “push” mechanisms, like grants, R&D funding, or government laboratories, pay for research inputs, proposals like the President’s proposal for an ARPA-ED, and through “pull” mechanisms, like prizes, commitments to purchase products, and other “pay for success” mechanisms, reward outputs and the development of specific technologies.

  • Identifying Breakthrough Life Science Research Technologies

    Every so often, a new tool, technique, or instrument completely revolutionizes how we do research. These tools and techniques are quickly ingrained into the research enterprise, catalyzing breakthrough discoveries and making it difficult to imagine life without them. These tools, techniques, and instruments, often called “platform technologies,” have enabled discoveries that even their inventors did not anticipate, created entire new fields of research, and resulted in Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs.

    The Obama Administration has championed the use of open innovation approaches like prize competitions to spur innovation and engage citizen solvers on a broad range of issues. Recently, six foundations ran a prize competition to identify the most compelling ideas for revolutionary life science platform technologies.

    We had the chance to speak with representatives from these foundations about the life science platform technologies competition. Here’s what they had to say: