Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • #GeeksGetCovered: Unleashing Entrepreneurship Through Affordable Healthcare

    Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy launched #GeeksGetCovered, an effort focused on raising awareness, sharing stories, and encouraging healthcare enrollment among geeks, innovators, and entrepreneurs. 
    This initiative builds on the Obama Administration’s work to help ensure that geeks across the country, those coming up with new discoveries and exciting inventions—and creating jobs along the way—have the freedom and security to keep innovating, not worrying about access to healthcare. 
    As the March 31st deadline for 2014 coverage nears, we’ll be sharing stories about what access to affordable, quality healthcare means to geeks across America. 
    I recently caught up with American entrepreneur Tatyana Kanzaveli, who co-founded the startup Open Cancer Network. She shared her story as a tech entrepreneur and cancer survivor, and discussed how the security of having access to affordable coverage helped her make the decision to start her own company.
    And, while Tatyana’s story is extraordinary, she is not alone. There is strong evidence that when affordable healthcare isn’t exclusively tied to employment, in more instances people choose to start their own companies.  By finding a plan on, more Americans can make the leap to entrepreneurship and pursue their dreams, without worrying that a preexisting condition or new illness will bankrupt their families. 

    Tatyana Kanzaveli, Co-Founder, Open Cancer Network

    How did affordable health coverage enable you to start your first company?
    A year ago, out of nowhere, I was diagnosed with cancer.  The health coverage I had from my previous employer was expiring, so I started calling insurance brokers about how to get coverage as an individual. They all said that because of my cancer diagnosis, I was uninsurable.
    Can you imagine?  I was in shock.  For decades I had been paying premiums, and never used the insurance—and now that I need it, I’m uninsurable?  What am I supposed to do?
    I needed to find any option that would cover me until January 1, when the Affordable Care Act would kick in and eliminate discrimination based on my preexisting condition.  I finally found one option that cost over $1,200 month, and the coverage was horrible, so I had to pay for a lot of my cancer treatment out of pocket – but it was the only way for me to stay insured.
    I applied for Obamacare on Day 1, as soon as my state’s exchange opened up. I got the highest level of coverage, and it cut my premiums in half.
    Now I can be an entrepreneur, and do something I think is important to do.
    What sparked the idea for your company?
    Imagine what it’s like to go in for a regular check-up and be diagnosed with cancer.  I never drank or smoked, I always exercised and had a healthy diet.
    Once I recovered from my shock, I started asking my doctors questions:  “Do you have any hypotheses about why this is happening to me?”  The answer I was given:  “We don’t have hypotheses, because we don’t have data.”
    In my experience, right now, the healthcare system functions in a reactive mode – you get sick, you see a doctor, you get treated.  But your doctors don’t know very much about your family history, your environment, and the stressors you’ve experienced.  
    Our goal is to build the largest and most comprehensive set of nonclinical patient data, in order to improve outcomes for cancer and other chronic diseases. We’re starting by building a mobile-native social network that lets cancer patients connect with similar patients, as well as researchers and physicians with relevant expertise.  If the patient so chooses, she can report data about her mood, level of appetite, and other lifestyle behaviors.
    We correlate this private patient data with massive amounts of open government data, and use powerful algorithms to generate hypotheses based on this data.  This will allow hospitals and scientists to do unprecedented research on the causes of disease, and will allow patients to get better treatment.
    What was your path to becoming an entrepreneur?
    I grew up in Azerbaijan in the former Soviet Union, where I earned a Master’s degree in computer science and became a programmer at the Academy of Science there.  When war broke out in 1989, I fled to the United States with my husband and three-year-old daughter.  We were refugees living in an empty apartment, but I was incredibly lucky – two weeks after we arrived, a friend called me and said, “I just had a job interview.  I didn’t pass it, but I thought of you.”  
    I’d never had a job interview before.  I was clueless, and my English was just okay.  I barely understood what the interviewer was saying, but when he gave me half an hour to look at his company’s code, I thought:  “Oh, I can speak that language!”  The next day, I was hired.
    I eventually worked as a technologist at some very large companies, and then took on various roles at technology startups, including as CEO. I had mentored a great many startups along the way, but never started my own!
    I’m finding that the most satisfaction you can get is when you start your own company.
    Have you encountered any other entrepreneurs who needed affordable health coverage to get started?
    Absolutely – for one, my co-founder Maksim Tsvetovat. I got to know Max through his academic work on data science.  He has a wife and small child, so it was very daunting for him to quit his job and lose that health coverage.  But he was able to get a high-quality plan through the Affordable Care Act, and this made it possible for us to launch our startup.
    For me, the impact of affordable healthcare has been profound. 
    Doug Rand is Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy 


  • Fossils, Seeds, and Space Rocks: Improving the Management of and Access to the Nation’s Scientific Collections

    Scientific Collections 1

    Collections manager David Furth shows some of the diversity in the insect collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. (Photo by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution)

    In a memorandum released today, OSTP Director John P. Holdren directs Federal agencies to develop policies that will improve the management of and access to scientific collections that they own or support.

    Scientific collections are assemblies of physical objects that are valuable for research and education—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more. Federal agencies develop and maintain scientific collections as records of our past and investments in our future.

    These collections are public assets. They play an important role in promoting public health and safety, homeland security, trade, and economic development, medical research, resource management, education, and environmental monitoring.

    They are studied across diverse fields of research and are used and re-used to validate and extend past research results as new analytical techniques develop. For the American public, students, and teachers, they are also treasure troves of information ripe for exploration and learning.  

    And there is no better time to highlight this important new policy than Sunshine Week – an annual celebration of transparency and public participation in government.

    The memorandum released today fulfills the requirements of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 that called on OSTP to develop “policies for the management and use of Federal scientific collections to improve the quality, organization, access, including online access, and long-term preservation of such collections for the benefit of the scientific enterprise.”

  • Building a More Open Government

    It’s Sunshine Week again—a chance to celebrate transparency and participation in government and freedom of information. Every year in mid-March, we take stock of our progress and where we are headed to make our government more open for the benefit of citizens.

    In December, 2013, the Administration announced 23 ambitious commitments to further open up government over the next two years in U.S. Government’s  second Open Government National Action Plan. Those commitments are now all underway or in development, including:

    ·         Launching an improved The updated debuted in January, 2014, and continues to grow with thousands of updated or new government data sets being proactively made available to the public.

    ·         Increasing public collaboration: Through crowdsourcing, citizen science, and other methods, Federal agencies continue to expand the ways they collaborate with the public. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for instance, recently launched its third Asteroid Grand Challenge, a broad call to action, seeking the best and brightest ideas from non-traditional partners to enhance and accelerate the work NASA is already doing for planetary defense. 

    ·         Improving We the People: The online petition platform We the People gives the public a direct way to participate in their government and is currently incorporating improvements to make it easier for the public to submit petitions and signatures.

    At the same time we have made important progress to improve the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – which provides the public with a statutory right to request and receive information from their government. Agencies are receiving more requests each year. In fiscal year 2013, agencies received more than 700,000 FOIA requests, up 8 percent from the previous year, and processed 678,000 requests, also an increase from the previous year. In the past five years, agencies have processed more than 3.1 million FOIA requests. FOIA continues to be a priority for the Administration in a variety of ways, and we are committed to further modernizing the process:

    ·         Engaging with the Public: Today there are number of avenues through which government leaders and FOIA professionals can directly interact with the public. For example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) now host quarterly FOIA Requester Roundtables with government FOIA professionals and FOIA requesters.

    ·         Recognizing FOIA Expertise: FOIA professionals were recently “professionalized” into their own field, in terms of job categories offered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM created the new 0306 Government Information Specialist job series which recognizes the importance of these skills and positions.

    ·         Establishing a FOIA Ombudsman: The Office of Government Information Services opened in 2009 to introduce dispute resolution into the FOIA process and has now assisted with thousands of FOIA inquiries and disputes from agencies and the public.

    There is much to celebrate this Sunshine Week but still much more work to be done. We look forward to continuing to work together to identify ways to build a more efficient, effective, and accountable government.


    Corinna Zarek is Policy Advisor for Open Government

  • More Big (Data) Ideas

    On March 17, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Data & Society Research Institute, and New York University co-hosted the second in a series of public events focused on big data that OSTP is co-hosting with academic institutions across the country. The full-day workshop focused on the social, cultural, and ethical dimensions of big data. The day concluded with a public plenary session, featuring an active discussion with a panel of experts covering a range of issues including privacy, the use of genetic data, educational applications, and financial inclusion. The webcast of the public session, as well as materials from the day’s workshops will be available here

    We will continue to build on the ideas developed in the first two workshops at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University at a third event on April 1st in Berkeley, California. This workshop will be co-hosted by OSTP and the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley and the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, and will focus on the values and governance issues raised by big data technologies.  You can find more information about the workshop and the webcast here

    Nicole Wong is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy

  • We the Geeks: Women Role Models

    In order for the United States to continue to lead the world in innovation and reap the health, security, and economic benefits offered by cutting-edge discoveries in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we must engage the Nation’s full talent pool in these growing fields, including America’s girls and women. 

    On Thursday, March 20th at 1:00pm ET, the White House will host another episode of “We the Geeks”, this time focused on “Women Role Models”. Tune in to this Google+ Hangout to hear from women and girl STEM leaders as they share their stories and advice to inspire the next generation of young women to discover their inner geeks and become the inventors and leaders of tomorrow. You’ll hear from an all-star line-up, including:  

    Viewers can join the conversation by asking questions on Twitter using #WeTheGeeks. And you can view the hangout Thursday at 1pm ET by visiting

  • Seeking Public Input: More Research, Less Paperwork for Federal Researchers

    Today, OSTP issued a request for information (RFI) seeking public input on ways to reduce the burdens on Federal scientists as they apply for funding from other Federal agencies.

    Researchers across our Nation’s Federal laboratories are doing important work in an array of scientific domains—from biomedicine, robotics, national security, and epidemiology, to Earth observations, ocean science, and nanotechnology. It’s our job to help ensure that Federal interagency research funding is awarded to the best and brightest researcher applicants, while minimizing unnecessary paper work and unclear requirements. That means doing what we can to reduce the administrative burden on Federal researchers as they navigate cumbersome applications and awards for competitive grants, contracts, or other funding vehicles provided by a Federal agency other than their own.

    OSTP will use the information provided through the RFI to determine whether there are particular policy steps that may be taken better enable U.S. Government scientists and engineers to compete for funding from research programs within other agencies.

    For information and instructions on how to submit input, please check out the RFI and visit OSTP’s “Share Your Input” page. Comments are due by April 14, 2014.

    Reed Skaggs is Assistant Director for Defense Programs at OSTP.