Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Promoting Innovation in Civic Engagement: Celebrating Community-Led Participatory Budgeting

    On his first day in office, President Obama made clear his commitment to engaging the American people, both by making government more transparent and accountable, but also through recognizing that government does not have all the answers.  The President directed his Administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans, noting “the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives”. 

    In the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan released last year, the Administration committed to collaborating with partners that promote participatory budgeting — a civic innovation that enables community members to help decide how to spend part of a public budget. 

    To further this commitment, the Office of Science and Technology Policy recently hosted representatives from communities across the country at the White House.  Attendees shared their experiences with participatory budgeting, learned about work already underway across the country, and brainstormed new ways to expand outreach and engagement, improve city processes, and create projects that can help transform neighborhoods.  

  • A New Strategy to Drive Down the "Soft Costs" of Solar

    Earlier this month, President Obama announced that more than 300 organizations in the public and private sector have made commitments to advance the deployment of solar power and invest in energy efficiency. At the same time, recognizing that solar power is an increasingly important building block toward a clean energy future, the White House offered a behind the scenes look at its own rooftop solar panels, which are generating clean renewable energy from the sun, helping to lower the energy bill of our nation’s most historic home while also serving as a symbol that American solar energy technology is ready for millions of other homeowners across the country today.

    Over the course of the Obama Administration, we have increased U.S. solar electricity generation by ten-fold and, in the last year alone added more than 23,600 new jobs in solar.

  • White House Hosts Open Data Licensing Jam

    If you’ve ever checked the weather forecast or used a digital map, you’re likely among the millions of people who have benefited from U.S. Open Government data.

    President Obama has made public access and use of U.S. data a priority from the start of his Administration. Open government data allows innovators and entrepreneurs to use government data to build tools and apps to improve our lives — such as having up-to-the-minute weather access. Open data improves accuracy of government information and allows it to be presented in more user-friendly ways.

    U.S. Government works have long belonged to the American public. The Printing Law of 1895 prohibited copyright in government publications. The Bromley Principles, distributed by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1991 set forth “full and open sharing” of global data as “a fundamental objective.”

    Taking open data to the next level, President Obama signed an executive order in May 2013 that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information.  More than one-hundred-thousand government datasets (and growing!) are now posted to the government’s data repository,, supporting businesses, entrepreneurs, and consumers.

    Another important step in realizing the promise of open data is making sure that the public knows when it can use this data, with little restriction. Because data maintained by the U.S. Government may sometimes be contributed by a nongovernmental individual or entity, questions arise as to whether the data is truly public. On May 19, the White House OSTP and American University co-hosted the first ever White House Open Data Licensing Jam. Lawyers, policy experts, and developers from agencies, the business sector, and civil society came together to discuss open data licensing issues including terms of service, open licenses, and other policies necessary to build the public’s confidence and ability to use open government data. Government “data” can include not only statistical information, but a wide range of Federal works including educational material and open source software.

    At the Jam, we heard about how the Department of Labor is using an innovative policy approach that requires grantees to apply open licenses to the educational materials they produce for powering employment in high-wage, high-skill occupations including digital training modules, instructional games, 3-D simulations, and professional development materials. Grantees make these materials open and reusable to community colleges under the terms of the $2B Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program

    We also heard about how the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shares all of its public source code openly, and the benefits the agency has realized, including attracting great technical talent. The Department of Defense shared its Open Source Policy Memorandum that explains how contracting officers should evaluate open source opportunities in the procurement process.

    More examples of what agencies have been doing to address open data licensing questions are now posted to Project Open Data, an online, public repository hosted on GitHub to foster collaboration and promote the continual improvement of the Open Data Policy.

    Following discussion with the community both on Project Open Data and at the Jam, today the White House submitted the first-ever “pull request” proposing improvements to a U.S. government policy document. The pull request—which is a transparent way of submitting changes to an open source project—seeks to clarify use of open licenses. We hope you’ll share your thoughts and help us improve the policy, which you can do right on the pull request site.

    In the coming weeks, policy experts, civil society organizations, and government professionals from the Jam will continue collaborating to address a variety of questions about open licensing. We hope you will join the conversation, including at Project Open Data, and through this dialogue, help advance U.S. Open Government data.

    Colleen V. Chien is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Intellectual Property and Innovation, OSTP

    Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor to the CTO, Open Government, OSTP

    Haley Van Dyck is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Information Officer, OMB

  • TechCamp Paves the Way for a More Resilient Philippines

    The U.S Department of State (U.S. Embassy Manila, and Office of eDiplomacy) in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development, and with support from the White House, UN World Food Programme, Globe Labs, Open Data Philippines and other partners, recently held the 1st TechCamp in the Philippines.

    The TechCamp was themed “Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Building”, and had 103 participants which included DRR practitioners (NGOS, Educators, Local Government representatives, Disaster response experts) and technologists from all over the country. The TechCamp was part of the “Tech for Resilience Week” which also included two hackathons. 

  • New PCAST Report Says “Systems Engineering” Can Improve Health Care

    Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report to the President, Better Health Care and Lower Costs: Accelerating Improvement through Systems Engineering. The report comes at a critical time for the United States and for the health-care system in particular, with millions of Americans recently gaining health-care coverage due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    At the same time, the health-care system is challenged by rising costs, which now approach a fifth of the United States’ gross domestic product (GDP). A significant portion of those costs, however, does not produce better health or quality of care. In consultation with a working group including experts from the health and engineering sectors, PCAST, in its new report, identifies a comprehensive set of recommendations to address these cost and quality challenges, including through an interdisciplinary approach known as systems engineering.

    Systems engineering has been widely used in other industries, such as manufacturing and aviation, to improve efficiency, reliability, productivity, quality, and safety of systems. It has begun to be used to good effect in health care, but, PCAST finds, the United States would benefit from more widespread adoption.

    Among the barriers that limit the spread of systems engineering in health care is the predominant payment system— the fee-for-service method often discourages efficient care. To overcome this challenge, PCAST notes that providers should be paid for value—e.g., patient health-outcomes—rather than the volume of tests or treatments administered.

    Systems engineering also depends on the availability of high-quality data that can be used for measuring progress, analyzing current challenges and opportunities, and enabling patients and providers to make more informed decisions.

    The Nation has made great strides in encouraging clinicians and health care organizations to adopt electronic health records, although more work is needed to ensure those systems are interoperable and can exchange information. This is particularly challenging for the large percentage of physicians that are a part of small or loosely networked practices, which may have limited resources and capabilities to apply systems methods and tools.

    PCAST also finds that the benefits of systems engineering can be realized at the community level and that—since people live the majority of their lives and experience their health outside of traditional health-care settings—engaging public and private community entities in improving the delivery of care and/or promoting health can enhance the quality of care and the health of communities.

  • Girls Rule at 2014 White House Science Fair

    OSTP - WH Science Fair - girls 2

    Senior Administration officials and young female participants in the 2014 White House Science Fair gather in the Roosevelt Room for a discussion about girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). (Photo by Lindsey Wagner-Oveson)

    This year’s White House Science Fair features a special focus on girls and women who are excelling in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and inspiring us all with their work.  Since the beginning of his Administration, the President has been committed to getting more underrepresented groups, including women and girls, excited to excel at STEM subjects. As part of the Administration’s signature education reform initiative, Race to the Top, President Obama granted states competitive preference if they demonstrated efforts to close the STEM gap for girls and other underrepresented groups.    

    • Building on the Administration’s long term commitments in help girls excel in STEM, today we are also pleased to announce:
    • More than half of the approximately 100 students participating in the Science Fair this year are girls.
    • A number of announcements being made at the Science Fair are focused on getting more underrepresented students, especially women and girls, engaged and excelling in STEM.

    Today we are also thrilled to launch a new series of events celebrating girls and women in STEM.  Over the coming year, the Administration will host a series of “role model roundtables” between girls and female STEM leaders from across the Administration. Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, White House Council on Women and Girls Executive Director Tina Tchen, and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Dr. John Holdren kicked-off the series by hosting a conversation with girls participating in the White House Science Fair and Senior Administration STEM leaders including Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls Tina Tchen.