Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • 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.

  • From Lab to Market: Accelerating Research Breakthroughs and Economic Growth

    Earlier this month, President Obama announced his 2015 budget, a roadmap for accelerating economic growth, expanding opportunity for all Americans and ensuring fiscal responsibility. The budget supports the President’s Management Agenda to deliver a 21st century government that is more effective, efficient, and supportive of economic growth. One key element of the President’s Management Agenda is accelerating the transfer of Federally funded research from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace – a “Lab-to-Market” agenda.

    The Federal Government spends more than $130 billion on research and development (R&D) each year, conducted primarily at universities and Federal laboratories.  This investment supports fundamental research that expands the frontiers of human knowledge, and yields extraordinary long-term economic impact through the creation of new knowledge and ultimately new industries – often in unexpected ways.

    At the same time, some research discoveries show immediate potential for commercial products and services, and the President is committed to accelerating these promising technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace, based on closer collaboration with industry. The fruits of this Lab-to-Market process, also known as “Technology Transfer” or “R&D commercialization,” are everywhere – for example, Federal laboratories developed much of the battery technology that makes electric vehicles possible, university researchers helped bring to market a breakthrough drug that effectively cures certain forms of leukemia, and Google was born as a Federally funded university spin-off company.