Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • We the Geeks: "Don’t Be Bored, Make Something"

    Ed. note: This event has concluded. Watch the full hangout below.

    Have you ever considered what you might create with a state-of-the-art digital design studio? Have you ever thought about planning and printing a new pair of sneakers, instead of just buying some? Have you ever dreamt about what you would make if you had all the tools of industrial design at your fingertips?

    Well, those dreams may be closer than you think.

    A new generation of American pioneers is democratizing the tools of the industrial revolution and spreading them to students around the country. But these tools aren’t the rusty machines you might imagine – they’re 3-D printers, laser cutters, and water jets, and they give you the ability to make almost anything. Not only that, they may be coming soon to a school near you.

    Announcing the first ever White House Science Fair, the President called for an all hands on deck approach to grow a generation of Americans who are, “the makers of things, and not just the consumers of things.” And at the 2012 White House Science Fair, the President met student Joey Hudy and launched his marshmallow cannon, noting that Joey’s motto was, “Don’t be bored, make something.” Responding to that call, citizens, communities, and organizations are coming together to give students the tools to design with their minds and make with their hands.

    Join us and leading tinkerers, educators, and innovators on Friday, November 15that 1:00 pm ET for a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout, called “Don’t Be Bored, Make Something”.

  • Rooftop Solar Challenge: Empowering Innovators to Reach for the Sun

    This article was originally published on

    Today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz kicked-off the latest round of the Rooftop Solar Challenge – an initiative that empowers local governments across the Nation to make it easier, cheaper, and faster for more Americans to go solar. The Rooftop Solar Challenge is spearheaded by the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative – a national collaborative effort to make solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by the end of the decade.

    Solar panels, inverters, and other hardware components that make up solar energy systems are more affordable than ever before. It is the “soft” costs of solar – including permitting for installation, interconnection, and maintenance fees – that represent an increasingly large portion of the cost of solar installations.

    To address this “soft” costs barrier, the Rooftop Solar Challenge brings together local officials, utilities, private industry, non-profits, and other stakeholders to simplify the solar installation process – from streamlining and standardizing solar permitting for area residents to digitizing many of the administrative steps required.

    During the competition’s first round, regional teams worked to dramatically reduce the soft costs of solar in 22 communities across the Nation – serving as models for other communities across the country. These efforts helped cut permitting time by 40 percent and reduce fees by over 10 percent – opening the door to make it faster and easier for more than 47 million Americans to install solar.

  • Startup Culture Flourishes on America’s College Campuses

    Today—marking the first full week of National Entrepreneurship Month—the Department of Commerce released a new report entitled The Innovative and Entrepreneurial University, underscoring the increasingly diverse ways in which colleges and universities across America are promoting cultures of entrepreneurship on campus and encouraging students to start companies.

    As hubs of learning, networking, mentorship, and creativity, colleges and universities provide particularly fertile ground for the cultivation of world-changing, entrepreneurial ideas. The report released today, which is based on more than 130 interviews with university leaders and builds on prior work by the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, highlights more than 50 of the most promising initiatives that have sprouted up on campuses across the country, including those that promote entrepreneurship among students and faculty; accelerate the transition of research innovations from the lab to the marketplace; and encourage engagement between universities, industry partners, and regional economies.

    Of course, because America’s university-based entrepreneurship ecosystem is rapidly expanding and constantly evolving, no single report can capture every promising idea worth replicating. That’s why today, an extraordinary team of undergraduates has launched a new online University Innovation platform through which students can share information about on-campus entrepreneurship programs rapidly and effectively—including what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed. This public, wiki-editable platform is a special project of Epicenter, a national hub for entrepreneurship and engineering education funded by the National Science Foundation.

  • President Obama Establishes a Task Force on Climate

    Today, delivering on commitments made in his Climate Action Plan, President Obama signed an Executive Order (EO) to strengthen the Nation’s preparedness for and resilience to the impacts of climate change. Actions directed by the EO include:

    • Establishing a new Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, comprised of state, local, and Tribal leaders, to advise the Administration on how the Federal Government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are on the front lines of climate change impacts;
    • Establishing an interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, chaired by the White House and including more than 25 agencies, to develop, coordinate, and implement priority Federal actions related to climate preparedness;
    • Directing Federal agencies to examine their policies and programs to find ways to remove barriers to resilience-focused actions and investments;
    • Directing Federal agencies to evaluate how to better promote natural storm barriers, such as dunes and wetlands; and
    • Instructing Federal agencies to develop new data-driven tools and information that state, local, and private-sector leaders need to make planning decisions in the context of climate change.

  • Open Data Building a Stronger Economy

    Every day young startups and large companies are using open government data to build new products and services that address real challenges for Americans. Fueled by open data, these enterprises are hiring people in cities and towns across the country. Open data are also helping the Federal Government to be more efficient, effective, data-driven, and transparent. We’ve seen the power of open government data in action—and it pays off.

    Today, McKinsey & Company released a new report that reinforces the importance of the Obama Administration’s work to make government data more accessible and useful for citizens, companies, and innovators, while continuing to ensure privacy and security.

    According to the new report, open data can generate more than $3 trillion a year in additional value in seven key sectors of the global economy, including education, transportation, and electricity.  The report also finds that in addition to catalyzing a variety of societal benefits, open data efforts lead to increased efficiencies; the development of new products and services; and consumer surplus — meaning cost savings, convenience, and better-quality products. These findings are encouraging and provide even more fuel to mobilize all hands on deck to unleash the full value of open data.

    In another important step, the Open Data Institute announced yesterday the creation of a new international open data network. As a part of this, the Knight Foundation also announced it will be seed-funding a U.S. Open Data Institute modeled after the nonprofit Open Data Institute in the United Kingdom, which aims to promote collaboration among governments, organizations, and businesses to catalyze the adoption of open data.

  • After Sandy, Rebuilding Smarter with S&T

    As the solemn first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall nears, communities along the East Coast continue to rebuild, taking lessons learned from an unprecedented disaster to ensure new infrastructure and services are stronger and smarter than before.

    Recognizing that large storms are expected to grow more frequent and more severe as a result of climate change, the Federal Government has partnered with states, cities, communities, and other stakeholders to make the Sandy-affected region—and all of America—more resilient. This goal is a guiding principle of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

    Over the past year, the Obama Administration has worked diligently to apply the latest developments in science and technology (S&T) to Sandy-rebuilding efforts—and to do so in ways that are scalable and relevant to resilience-building activities in other regions. S&T-driven efforts undertaken over the past year include:

    • Deploying Data-Driven Tools for Decision Makers: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE); and the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) partnered to launch a Sea Level Rise Tool for Sandy Recovery to help decision-makers access the most up-to-date information on sea-level rise and floodplain projections. The tool includes a set of map-based services to help communities, residents, and planners consider risks from future sea-level rise in planning for reconstruction after Sandy, and an updated Sea-Level-Change Calculator to provide site-specific details of projected flood elevations for 5-year intervals from 2010 to 2100. This tool is an important element of the broader climate-data toolkit called for in the President’s Climate Action Plan.
    • Challenging Innovators to Design New Disaster-Response Solutions: In August, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and FEMA gathered 80 of the Nation’s top public- and private-sector innovators at the White House and challenged them to brainstorm ideas for products, apps, and services that could aid in disaster response. The group developed ideas for a real-time communications platform to help survivors suffering from power outages; a crowd-funding platform to increase access to capital in the immediate aftermath of a disaster; and a device that could power cell phones and wireless networks in the event of loss of grid power. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a design challenge calling on innovators to develop life-sustaining solutions, during a disaster or power shortage, for patients whose medical devices rely on electricity.
    • Launching Scientific Work to Understand Risks: With supplemental funding from the Disaster Relief Appropriation Act of 2013, a number of Federal agencies have launched scientific activities to better understand the risks associated with Sandy-like storms and to identify the most effective ways to address them. USACE, for example, is undertaking a comprehensive study to determine how best to reduce risks from floods and storms along the North Atlantic Coast. And the United States Geological Survey has developed a science plan aimed at connecting scientific information to management decisions about preparation for future storm-related hazards – including impacts on coastal habitats, fish and wildlife, beaches, and more.