Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation

Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation Blog

  • An Historic Commitment to Research

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    Amidst some of the brightest and most innovative minds in the medical field, the President spoke this morning about his commitment to making a "lasting difference" in the health of the American people—and how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will play a role in creating those differences:
    Now, today I'm here to talk about our nation's commitment to research.  I want to thank Dr. Collins and his team for showing me and Kathleen some of the extraordinary groundbreaking research being done at the National Institutes of Health. 
    The work you do is not easy.  It takes a great deal of patience and persistence.  But it holds incredible promise for the health of our people and the future of our nation and our world.  That’s why I’m here today.  For decades, the NIH has been at the forefront of medical invention and innovation, helping to save countless lives and relieve untold suffering.  And yet, if we’re honest, in recent years we’ve seen our leadership slipping as scientific integrity was at times undermined and research funding failed to keep pace.
    We know that the work you do would not get done if left solely to the private sector.  Some research does not lend itself to quick profit.  And that’s why places like the NIH were founded.  And that’s why my administration is making a historic commitment to research and the pursuit of discovery.  And that’s why today we’re announcing that we've awarded $5 billion -- that's with a "b" -- in grants through the Recovery Act to conduct cutting-edge research all across America, to unlock treatments to diseases that have long plagued humanity, to save and enrich the lives of people all over the world.  This represents the single largest boost to biomedical research in history.  (Applause.)
    Now, one of the most exciting areas of research to move forward as a result of this investment will be in applying what scientists have learned through the Human Genome Project to help us understand, prevent, and treat various forms of cancer, heart disease, and autism.  And having been a leader of the Human Genome Project, Dr. Collins knows this promise all too well.  And it's a promise that we've only just begun to realize.
    In cancer, we're beginning to see treatments based on our knowledge of genetic changes that cause the disease and the genetic predispositions that many of us carry that make us more susceptible to the disease.  But we've only scratched the surface of these kinds of treatments, because we've only begun to understand the relationship between our environment and genetics in causing and promoting cancer.
    So through the Recovery Act, the NIH is expanding the Cancer Genome Atlas, collecting more than 20,000 tissue samples to sequence the DNA of more than 20 types of cancer.  And this has extraordinary potential to help us better understand and treat this disease.  Cancer has touched the lives of all Americans, including my own family's; 1.5 million people will be diagnosed in the next year.  Half a million people will lose their lives.  We all know the terrible toll on families and the promise of treatments that will allow a mother to be there for her children as they grow up; that will make it possible for a child to reach adulthood; that will allow countless people to survive a disease that's claimed far too many lives.
    (President Barack Obama talks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a tour of the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009. Listening are Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, left, and Dr. Francis Collins, left, Director of NIH, third from left. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
    A critical part of the President's desire to make strides in medicine is the Recovery Act—under the President’s plan, tens of thousands of jobs will be created in the medical sector:
    Now, we know that these investments in research will improve and save countless lives for generations to come.  And as I was taking a tour with Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci and others, just listening to the possibility of a HIV/AIDS vaccine, or hearing the latest treatments of cancer that allow people who previously only had resort to the most violent types of radiation or chemotherapy, now being able to take pills and seeing extraordinary progress, it is something that is entirely inspiring.  But we also know that these investments will save jobs, they'll create new jobs -- tens of thousands of jobs -- conducting research, and manufacturing and supplying medical equipment, and building and modernizing laboratories and research facilities all across America. 

  • A Vision for Innovation, Growth, and Quality Jobs

    President Obama laid out his vision for innovation, growth, and quality jobs earlier today at Hudson Valley Community College.  The President's plan is grounded not only in the American tradition of entrepreneurship, but also in the traditions of robust economic thought.
    During the past two years, the ideas propounded by John Maynard Keynes have assumed greater importance than most people would have thought in the previous generation.  As Keynes famously observed, during those rare times of deep financial and economic crisis, when the "invisible hand" Adam Smith talked about has temporarily ceased to function, there is a more urgent need for government to play an active role in restoring markets to their healthy function. 
    The wisdom of Keynesian policies has been confirmed by the performance of the economy over the past year.  After the collapse of Lehman Brothers last September, government policy moved in a strongly activist direction. 
    As a result of those policies, our outlook today has shifted from rescue to recovery, from worrying about the very real prospect of depression to thinking about what kind of an expansion we want to have. 
    An important aspect of any economic expansion is the role innovation plays as an engine of economic growth.  In this regard, the most important economist of the twenty-first century might actually turn out to be not Smith or Keynes, but Joseph Schumpeter. 
    One of Schumpeter’s most important contributions was the emphasis he placed on the tremendous power of innovation and entrepreneurial initiative to drive growth through a process he famously characterized as "creative destruction."  His work captured not only an economic truth, but also the particular source of America’s strength and dynamism.
    One of the ways to view the trajectory of economic history is through the key technologies that have reverberated across the economy.  In the nineteenth century, these included the transcontinental railroad, the telegraph, and the steam engine, among others.  In the twentieth, the most powerful innovations included the automobile, the jet plane, and, over the last generation, information technology.
    While we can't know exactly where the next great area of American innovation will be, we already see a number of prominent sectors where American entrepreneurs are unleashing explosive, innovative energy:
    In information technology, where tremendous potential remains for a range of applications to increase for years to come;
    In life-science technologies, where developments made at the National Institutes of Health and in research facilities around the country will have profound implications not just for human health, but also for the environment, agriculture, and a range of other areas that require technological creativity; and,
    In energy, where the combination of environmental and geopolitical imperatives have created the context for an enormously productive period in developing energy technologies as well.
    Looking across the breadth of the U.S. economy, the prospects for transformational innovation to occur are enormous.  But to ensure that the entrepreneurial spirit that Schumpeter recognized in the early twentieth century will continue to drive the American economy in the twenty-first century requires a role for government as well: to create an environment that is conducive to generating those developments.  
    The President’s program is directed at strengthening our economic ecology—an educated workforce, a fluid environment that stimulates entrepreneurship, and building blocks in key areas of the economy—that has long been central to America's prosperity.  These were core design considerations in putting together over $100 billion of Recovery Act funds that support innovation and they will continue to be core concerns going forward. With steps like these, the entrepreneurial spirit that Schumpeter recognized in the early twentieth century will continue to drive the American economy in the twenty-first century.
    I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the President remarks today or, to delve into more detail, into a new white paper prepared by the National Economic Council about the policies President Obama is implementing to create a broader, more inclusive, more prosperous America based on the ingenuity of our people.
    Lawrence H. Summers is Director of the National Economic Council


  • "The Open Internet: Preserving the Freedom to Innovate"

    Cross-posted from the blog.
    The Internet is the most transformational communications breakthrough of our time. It has become essential to the fabric of the daily lives of Americans.
    More and more, the Internet is how we get news, information, and entertainment; how we stay in touch with our friends and family; how we work and start new businesses; how we — and people across the globe — learn about our communities and express points of view.
    The Internet has also been an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, economic growth, and opportunity. It has unleashed the potential of entrepreneurs and enabled the launch and growth of small businesses across America.
    The key to the Internet’s success has been its openness.
    The Internet was designed to be "future-proof" — to support ideas, products, and services that today's inventors have not yet imagined. In practice, it doesn't favor or disfavor any particular content or application, but allows end users, content creators, and businesses of every size and in every sector of the economy to communicate and innovate without permission.
    Notwithstanding its unparalleled record of success, today the free and open Internet faces emerging and substantial challenges.
    We’ve already seen some clear examples of deviations from the Internet's historic openness. We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen one service provider deny users access to political content.
    And as many members of the Internet community and key Congressional leaders have noted, there are compelling reasons for concern about even greater challenges to openness in the future, including reduced choice in the Internet service provider marketplace and an increase in the amount of Internet traffic, which has fueled a corresponding need to manage networks sensibly.
    The rise of serious challenges to the traditional operation of the Internet puts us at a crossroads. We could see technology used to shut doors to entrepreneurs instead of opening them. The spirit of innovation stifled. A full and free flow of information compromised.
    Or we could take steps to preserve a free and open Internet, helping to ensure a future of opportunity, prosperity, and the vibrant flow of information and ideas.
    I believe we must choose to safeguard the openness that has made the Internet a stunning success. That is why today, I delivered a speech announcing that the FCC will be the smart cop on the beat when it comes to preserving a free and open Internet.
    In particular, I proposed that the FCC adopt two new rules to help achieve this.
    The first says broadband providers cannot discriminate against particular Internet content or applications. The second says broadband providers must be transparent about their network management practices. These principles would apply to the Internet however it is accessed, though how they apply may differ depending on the access platform or technology used. Of course, network operators will be permitted to implement reasonable network management practices to address issues such as spam, address copyright infringement, and otherwise ensure a safe and secure network for all users.
    I also proposed that the FCC formally enshrine the four pre-existing agency policies that say network operators cannot prevent users from accessing the lawful Internet content, applications, and services of their choice, nor can they prohibit users from attaching non-harmful devices to the network.
    This is just the first step in what will be an ongoing process. While these goals are clear, the best path to achieving them is not, and involves many hard questions about how best to maximize the innovation and investment necessary for a robust and thriving Internet. That is why we have created
    This site is a place to join the discussion about the free and open Internet. is in Beta, and we’ll be adding features to enable participation in the near future. I encourage you to check it out to offer your input, or simply to read or watch today's speech.
    With the help of all stakeholders, the FCC can help secure a bright future for the Internet, and make sure that the garage, the basement, and the dorm room remain places where inventors can not only dream, but bring their ideas to life.
    And no one should be neutral about that.
    Julius Genachowski is the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

  • Streaming at 1:00: In the Cloud

    Today, I am excited to announce that we have launched to help continue the President’s initiative to lower the cost of government operations while driving innovation within government. I'll be discussing this in a speech at the NASA Ames Research Center at 1:00 EDT - watch the speech live here [UPDATE: This event has now concluded]. is an online storefront for federal agencies to quickly browse and purchase cloud-based IT services, for productivity, collaboration, and efficiency. Cloud computing is the next generation of IT in which data and applications will be housed centrally and accessible anywhere and anytime by a various devices (this is opposed to the current model where applications and most data is housed on individual devices). By consolidating available services, is a one-stop source for cloud services – an innovation that not only can change how IT operates, but also save taxpayer dollars in the process.
    The federal government spends over $75 billion annually on information technology (IT). This technology supports every mission our government performs— from defending our borders to protecting the environment. IT is essential for the government to do its work, and it is essential that we have access to the latest and most innovative technologies.
    However, federal agencies and departments encounter many difficulties in deploying new IT services and products. Procurement processes can be confusing and time-consuming. Security procedures are complex, costly, lengthy and duplicative across agencies. Our policies lag behind new trends, causing unnecessary restrictions on the use of new technology. Past practices too often resulted in inefficient use of purchased IT capabilities across the federal government. We are dedicated to addressing these barriers and to improving the way government leverages new technology.
    Now, we can start to address some of these challenges by adopting the use of cloud computing in the federal government through Cloud computing is defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as a computing model where IT capabilities are delivered as a service over the Internet to many users. Like a utility such as electricity or water, cloud computing allows users to only consume what they need, to grow or shrink their use as their needs change, and to only pay for what they actually use. With more rapid access to innovative IT solutions, agencies can spend less time and taxpayer dollars on procedural items and focus more on using technology to achieve their missions.
    We are just beginning this undertaking, and it will take time before we can realize the full potential of cloud computing. Like with, is starting small – with the goal of rapidly scaling it up in size. Along the way, we will need to address various issues related to security, privacy, information management and procurement to expand our cloud computing services. Over time, as we work through these concerns and offer more services through, federal agencies will be able to get the capabilities they need to fulfill their missions at lower cost, faster, and ultimately, in a more sustainable manner.
    Vivek Kundra is the U.S. Chief Information Officer.

  • Broadband, Open Government, and Brainstorms

    Kudos to the FCC for finding innovative ways to engage the public in an on-going dialogue about a National Broadband Plan to bring broadband to all Americans. I attended yesterday’s opening workshop – the first of more than 20 such workshops at the FCC. If you weren’t there live, you could have watched it on the web or participated in Second Life. And if you missed it, you can join in the Open Government Broadband Brainstorm at where the FCC is seeking examples from you and your communities about how broadband is being used to achieve a host of national priorities.
    The inaugural workshop was on open government and civic engagement. The FCC and the Administration want your ideas on innovative ways to use broadband to more effectively interact with the government on issues you care about. And if you have broadband examples you can share on education, energy, healthcare, or in areas not thought of before, the Broadband Brainstorm has a place to suggest broadband examples on all these topics. You can discuss the examples that are submitted and vote on the best ones which will then rise to the top. It should be fun to watch, participate, and learn as the brainstorm stays open and develops throughout the course of the workshops.
    Scott Deutchman is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications

  • President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Live Online

    The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, or PCAST, is an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers, appointed by the President to augment the science and technology advice he receives from inside the White House and from cabinet departments and other federal agencies. PCAST offers insights, and in many cases makes policy recommendations, concerning the full range of issues where understandings from the domains of science, technology, and innovation are relevant to the policy choices before the President. PCAST is administered by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which I direct in parallel with my role as science and technology advisor to the President.
    As you can see from the member roster, PCAST is populated by a spectacular cast of leaders of the science and technology community. The 21 members include 4 winners of MacArthur "genius" awards, 3 Nobel laureates, 2 university presidents, as well as 16 members of one or more of the U.S. national academies of science, engineering, and medicine. At its meeting Thursday and Friday — the first meeting of the full Obama PCAST — the group will be hearing from a number of Administration officials who deal with science and technology issues. The first public session starts at 10:15 Thursday and the full agenda is visible here. Watch the live-stream of the meeting below:
    [UPDATE: This event has now concluded]
    The largest part of the committee’s attention over the two days will be focused on the selection of the topics to which PCAST will be giving highest-priority attention in the months immediately ahead. The President will meet with PCAST on Friday to weigh in with his own thoughts on these priorities. (Everybody gets a say, but his say is the final one!) Candidate topics include the roles of science and technology in job creation, economic recovery, and growth; research and development strategy for clean-energy technologies; the science of adaptation to climate change; the science and technology of homeland security; extending internet connectivity to all Americans; and a strategy for strengthening science, technology, engineering, and math education in this country.
    It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be working on these issues in an Administration led by a President so appreciative of the potential of science and technology to help meet the many challenges our country faces. I know all my colleagues in PCAST feel the same way. I hope you will gain something of an appreciation for the excitement and enthusiasm as well as the ideas we are bringing to this work as you watch the proceedings of this inaugural PCAST meeting — a meeting, by the way, that, through webcasting on the OSTP website embodies the President’s oft-stated commitment to using technology to make government more open, transparent, and collaborative.
    Dr. John P. Holdren is the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy