Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Continuing to Build Smart Policies for Spectrum Sharing

    Finding ways to use wireless spectrum more efficiently is a critical part of President Obama’s ambitious strategy for expanding the availability of spectrum for innovative and flexible commercial uses, including for broadband services, to drive innovation, expand consumer services, and create jobs.  
     
    This past summer, President Obama issued a memorandum directing Federal agencies to take a number of steps to more aggressively enhance spectrum efficiency and accelerate shared access to spectrum for consumer services and applications, including by advancing collaboration and information sharing with the private sector and other stakeholders, developing the necessary technology innovations to support spectrum sharing, and providing agencies with incentives  to relocate from or share spectrum in a timely and cost-effective manner.  
     
    Balancing the growing needs of both commercial and Federal spectrum users presents opportunities for increased efficiency and economic growth, but also poses challenges. In particular, commercial wireless providers must learn how to operate their systems in spectrum bands that will be shared by Federal agencies using that same spectrum for operations such as conducting military training exercises, maintaining air safety, or tracking criminal activity.
     
    That’s why it is absolutely essential to enhance collaboration and information sharing between Federal agencies and private-sector wireless technology companies.  And we already know that it can work. 
     
    For example, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) recently approved a Defense Department proposal to share with non-Federal users, by auction, a 25-megahertz band of spectrum—known as the “1755 band.” This band has been long coveted by the wireless industry for its appealing propagation characteristics and because it can be paired with another swath of spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission is required to license via auction by early 2015. However, because the 1755 band will not be vacated entirely, mechanisms must be in place for the band to be shared so that it maximizes its commercial value while also protecting essential government functions. For this to happen, bidders must be able to access technical details about the spectrum they may bid on, without jeopardizing sensitive Federal operations. To address these challenges, industry-agency working groups collaborated intensively, ahead of time, to help identify details about what kinds of Federal systems already operate in the 1755 megahertz band,  which ones would be relocated and which would remain, and how commercial networks could successfully move into the band.  The success of the process so far is a testament to the Defense Department’s commitment not just to protecting our nation militarily, but also to strengthening it economically.
     

  • Computer Science is for Everyone!

    This week, we’re celebrating Computer Science Education Week (CS Ed Week), which highlights the importance of computer science in our education system.  To recognize CS Ed Week this year, we encourage everyone to participate in the Hour of Code. It’s an easy way for anyone to learn computer science and see that it’s fun, creative, and challenging.

    Advances in computer science—which includes problem solving, creativity, abstraction and programming—have transformed the way we live, work, learn, play and communicate; they are actually changing the world. Whether designing artificial limbs, developing algorithms for self-driving cars, analyzing medical data to develop more effective treatments, creating simulations to better explore and understand complex scientific phenomena, or creating multimedia art—just about anything you can think of—computational skills are empowering. 

    Computer science also leads to great jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available and only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs. Further, Information Technology (IT) workers have been estimated to earn 74 percent more than the average worker. Even beyond IT jobs, computational skills will make you more valuable to employers.

    The National Science Foundation (NSF), with its long legacy of nurturing communities of research and education practitioners, is leading a transformation in CS education and learning at the national scale. NSF’s CS 10K Project aims to build the foundation needed to get engaging, rigorous academic computer science courses into 10,000 schools taught by 10,000 well-prepared teachers. To begin this, NSF has funded the development and implementation of two new computer science courses—CS Principles (to be a new College Board Advanced Placement course starting in the Fall of 2016) and Exploring Computer Science. Both courses are designed to teach the fundamental concepts and big ideas of computing along with coding, and to inspire kids about computer science’s creative potential to transform society. These courses were designed to be accessible and engaging for all students, with the particular goal of increasing inclusion of women and other groups that are significantly underrepresented in computing.

  • STEM Mentoring Initiative Gains Momentum

    At the 2013 White House Science Fair, President Obama announced US2020, a campaign led by a coalition of leading tech companies and education non-profits to encourage companies to mobilize 20 percent of their STEM employees to complete 20 hours of STEM teaching or mentoring per year by the year 2020—with a focus on girls, minorities, and low-income youth.

    Today, students who are part of communities typically underrepresented in STEM fields may be steered away from STEM careers because they aren’t connected to role models in those fields and may not understand the full range of STEM career options available to them or what people in those careers actually do. 

    America’s ten million scientists and engineers can be a powerful resource to address this problem. As Citizen Schools CEO and current US2020 Executive Chairman Eric Schwarz has noted, the goal of this campaign is to get “leading scientists teaming up with teachers to co-teach the chemistry of forensics during the regular school day; NASA physicists running semester-long, after-school robotics programs; and Google programmers showing urban youth how to design smartphone apps on weekends.”

    Since President Obama’s announcement, momentum for this effort has continued to grow.

    On September 18,  US2020 launched a competitive application process for cities across the country to develop plans to dramatically scale-up their STEM mentoring capacities. Applicants are being judged by a panel of experts from academia, government, non profits, and the private sector. Winning cities will be announced in March, 2014, and will receive access to a state-of-the-art volunteering matching web site, cash prizes to help hire city coordinators for STEM mentoring efforts, and support from AmeriCorps VISTA to help with volunteer recruitment and training. In the few months since applications opened, 52 cities formed coalitions of local governments, schools, businesses, and non-profits to develop these plans.

  • Open Data Round Up

    On May 9, 2013, President Obama signed an Executive Order, Making Open and Machine Readable the New Default for Government Information, directing historic steps to make government-held data more accessible to the public, entrepreneurs, and others as fuel for innovation, economic growth, and government efficiency.

    Under the terms of the Executive Order and the Administration’s Open Data Policy, all newly-generated government data are required to be made available in open, machine-readable formats, which greatly enhances their accessibility and usefulness while continuing to ensure privacy and security. Federal agencies are also required to:

    • Create a Single Agency Data Inventory. Agencies are required to catalogue their data assets, just like they would inventory computers or desk chairs, to better manage and use these resources.
    • Publish a Public Data Listing. On their agency.gov/data pages, agencies are required to publish a list of their data assets that are public, or could be made public.
    • Develop New Public Feedback Mechanisms. Agencies are required to set up feedback mechanisms to engage the public about where agencies should focus open data efforts, such as facilitating and prioritizing the release of datasets. Agencies are also required to identify public points of contacts for agency datasets.

    While there is still much more work to do, we are excited to see the great progress being made by Federal agencies to unleash the power of open data. 

    Over a dozen agencies have launched webpages at agency.gov/data, making it easier for the public to find, understand, and use government data.  Many agencies have released—and will continue to release—new datasets, which are now available both on agencies’ public data webpages and on Data.gov.

    Federal agencies are also working to put processes in place to manage data more strategically. In fact, over 15 agencies have launched data working groups inside their agency to improve coordination around data management, data security and protection, and data release efforts. 

  • “Don’t just play on your phone, program it.”

    This week is Computer Science Education Week, or “CSEdWeek,” an annual campaign highlighting the importance of learning computer science. CSEdWeek is held in recognition of the birthday of computer science pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, widely known for popularizing the idea of “debugging” a computer—a phrase inspired by her team’s removal of an actual moth from a relay in a Harvard Mark II computer in 1947. (Its remains can be found in the group’s log book at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.) This year, non-profit group Code.org is driving CSEdWeek activities in more than 150 countries around the world and sponsoring an “Hour of Code” campaign that encourages all students to devote an hour this week to getting a taste of computer programming.

    The ability to write computer software—to code—is an important skill. It moves people from being consumers of technology to creators of it. An understanding of coding helps people learn new strategies for solving problems and harness the power of computers to realize their own visions, whatever they may be. Everyone—scientists, fashion designers, doctors, journalists, lawyers, musicians, students—can benefit from a greater understanding of how to use computing.

    Computer literacy is important for success in today’s digital economy, yet many American schools still view computer science education as an exotic elective. Only a handful of states allow computer science courses to count as math or science credits toward high school graduation requirements. AP Computer Science is taught in just 10% of our high schools, whereas the UK recently added computer science to its curriculum, teaching CS to all students from ages 5 to 17. China teaches all of its students one year of computer science. The CS 10K Initiative, supported by the National Science Foundation, is working to build curricula and course materials to support educators’ needs so they can more effectively teach computer science.

  • Partnering at the Speed of Business: University-Company Partnerships

    One of the goals of President Obama’s innovation strategy is to accelerate the rate at which new inventions that result from federally funded research at the Nation’s universities and national labs move from the lab to the marketplace. Speeding that transition spurs the creation of new industries and jobs while addressing pressing challenges such as the need for clean sources of energy and treatments for debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer.

    Federal agencies have already developed a number of initiatives to increase the economic and societal impact of federally funded research.  As part of the President’s Startup America Initiative, for example, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy have made it much easier and less expensive for entrepreneurs to license intellectual property.  Using curricula such as Steve Blank’s Lean Launch Pad, NSF’s I-Corps program is preparing more faculty and students to focus on the issues that are critical to the success of an early-stage venture.

    Companies and universities are also taking important steps to “partner at the speed of business.”  For example, earlier this year, Google/Motorola Mobility negotiated a Multi-University Research Agreement with eight leading public and private research universities: California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, and Virginia Tech University. The agreement deals with often contentious issues such as academic freedom to publish and intellectual property.

    The impetus for the agreement came from Regina Dugan and Kaigham Gabriel, who served, respectively, as Director and Deputy Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) before launching a private-sector version of DARPA at Motorola Mobility called the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group. They discovered that ATAP could, in a matter of days and weeks, contract with individuals and companies, but that it could take several months to negotiate an agreement with a university. These negotiations would have to be repeated with each additional university they wanted to work with, making multi-university collaborations particularly difficult.  With the agreement in place, ATAP has dramatically lowered the time and hassle factor associated with university collaborations, and are now much more likely to collaborate on specific projects.