Office of Science & Technology - Open Government Plan
OSTP Open Gov Plan (pdf)
Message from OSTP Director John P. Holdren
President Obama has repeatedly articulated the indispensable role that science, technology, and innovation (ST&I) must play if the great challenges of our time are to be met. The President has made ST&I a core priority through the appointments he has made, the policy initiatives he has launched, and the budgets he has proposed—bringing Federal funding for ST&I to its highest level in history and committing to doubling the budgets of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s laboratories.
The President also recognizes that innovation blossoms best in an open environment, where ideas are shared freely and ingenuity from a wide array of contributors is encouraged. So it is no coincidence that OSTP is not only a central element of the Federal government’s innovation agenda but also home to the White House Open Government Initiative. OSTP in fact has three main missions, all of which are strengthened by open government.
First, OSTP provides the President with advice about technology and innovation that can strengthen our economy, generate jobs, and lead to breakthroughs that can improve the lives of all Americans. But innovation is not just about technology. The Nation can benefit greatly from innovations in the way our government institutions work, too. Indeed, achieving America’s potential for advancement through technological innovation requires innovation in government, and that is what the Open Government Initiative is all about.
Second, OSTP ensures that Executive Branch policies are informed by sound science. Open government helps OSTP fulfill this mission by enhancing data availability and information-sharing across academic disciplines, governmental bodies, the public and private sectors, and nations around the world. Armed with the vastly expanded body of knowledge that such a network enables, OSTP and the Administration are better able to hew to reliable evidence in their decision-making processes.
Third, OSTP is responsible for coordination and cooperation on ST&I issues across Executive Branch departments, agencies, and offices. Of course, the prerequisites for coordination and cooperation are communication and mutual access to relevant data, and the Open Government Initiative is designed to promote these prerequisites within the government as well as between the government and citizens.
In his inauguration address, the President promised to restore science to its rightful place in American policymaking. The OSTP Open Government Plan that follows is a critical element of getting that done. As a distinct office within the Executive Office of the President, OSTP is bound by the Open Government Directive to write an Open Government Plan. But this is no mere box-checking exercise for us. As I’ve indicated above, openness is core to the mission and culture of OSTP.
That is why I have instructed my colleagues to post this plan for your comments and feedback. It is not a final product but the first draft of a living document we are committed to revising and updating with your input. Please share your ideas and help OSTP do its part in moving toward a more open government and a more innovative, productive, and participatory society.
John P. Holdren
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Open Government Plan Highlights
Open government is not an end unto itself. It is a means of bringing innovation to the way that government works—through transparency, participation, and collaboration. When government is more open, it can better be held to account and can deliver services more effectively and efficiently. Open government also makes it possible to work together to devise better solutions—informed by the best science and expertise—to the challenges we confront as a nation. By harnessing the values of openness to the convening power of technology, we strengthen our democracy by working together towards government of, for, by, and now with the people. The interconnectedness of our planet—which includes challenges from global pandemics to the threat of terrorism—calls for policymaking in new and innovative ways.
The work of the White House Open Government Initiative, established to create a more open government across the Executive Branch, and coordinated by OSTP in collaboration with other components of the Executive Office of the President, is detailed in the Progress Report on Open Government to the American People (December 8, 2009). OSTP now turns its attention to its own open-government practices. This document outlines OSTP’s Open Government Plan and implementation strategy.
The highlights of the Plan are:
- OSTP IN THE OPEN: We are opening up OSTP by starting to post profiles of many of our employees in their own words online in text and video so that you can know who we are and what we do.
- R&D DASHBOARD: Building on the work of USASpending.gov and IT.USASpending.gov, we are developing an R&D dashboard that will make it possible for anyone to track the government’s investment in basic research across the Executive Branch.
- OSTP BULLET-POINT BOOT CAMP: We are publishing a template to help you make policy proposals to us in the same format that staff uses to brief senior officials.
- PARTICIPATORY PCAST: This highlights the work we are doing to use new media to enable public participation in the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).
- GEEKS FOR WONKS: A public-private partnership with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to connect ST&I students with government officials to promote civic engagement by designing and building prototypes of civic software.
- OSTP BULLPEN: We showcase the new physical space we created to foster greater collaboration within the agency by tearing down the walls that divide us.
- NSTC COLLABORATION PLATFORM: This highlights the tools we are building to connect people across the agency.
- S&T EXPERT NETWORK: A public-private collaboration we are exploring to develop better ways of bringing scientific and technical advice to government from more sources, faster.
"A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation; to invest in education, in research, in engineering; to set a goal of reaching space and engaging every citizen in that historic mission…I believe it is not in our character, the American character, to follow. It’s our character to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again."
-President Barack Obama, April 27, 2009
Introduction: The Mission of OSTP
The more open we are about who works here, what we do, and why we do it, the better we will be able to collaborate with the rest of the ST&I community—especially the community outside of Washington—to ensure that policy is made on the basis of the best available scientific information. And, by being more open, we can work towards these strategic goals more effectively.
Established on May 11, 1976 (pursuant to Public Law 94-282, the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976), OSTP is an office within the Executive Office of the President and has a threefold mission:
- Provide the President and his senior staff with accurate, relevant and timely scientific and technical advice on all matters of consequence;
- Ensure that the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science;
- Ensure that the scientific and technical work of the Executive Branch is properly coordinated so as to provide the greatest benefit to society.
Astronomy Night on the White House Lawn
To promote the goal of science education, OSTP organized Astronomy Night at the White House on October 7, 2009. The South Lawn was lined with telescopes and science exhibits featuring moon rocks, mars rocks, and meteorites. The President and First Lady invited 150 middle school students from throughout the greater Washington, D.C. area to stargaze with five space heroes (Buzz Aldrin, Charles Bolden, John Grunsfeld, Mae Jemison, and Sally Ride), and with two remarkable science students, Caroline Moore and Lucas Bolyard. Both were just 14 years old when Caroline became the youngest person ever to discover a supernova and Lucas discovered a rare type of pulsar.
To further this mission, OSTP works with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to review and make recommendations on research and development budgets for all Federal agencies; it manages the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which coordinates research and development efforts that cross Executive Branch department and agency lines; and it coordinates the implementation of a number of important international science and technology agreements. It also provides administrative and technical support for PCAST.
Organized into four divisions (science, technology, environment and energy, and national security and international affairs), OSTP comprises approximately 70 employees and has a FY 2010 budget of $7,000,000. OSTP is led by a director, who also serves as the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and co-chair of the PCAST. The director is nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Each of OSTP’s four divisions is headed by an Associate Director who is also nominated by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. As of April 2010, the leadership of OSTP comprises the following individuals:
- Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology: John P. Holdren
- Associate Director for Energy and Environment: Shere Abbott
- Associate Director for Technology and U.S. Chief Technology Officer: Aneesh Chopra
- Associate Director for Science: Vacant [Nobel laureate Carl Wieman has been nominated by President Obama for the post]
- Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs: Vacant [Philip Coyle has been nominated by President Obama for the post]
Further information about OSTP can be found on the Web at www.whitehouse.gov/ostp. Specific information includes:
- Information about OSTP: www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/about
- Information on OSTP’s Divisions: www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/divisions
- Information on OSTP’s Leadership and Staff (Figure 1): www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/about/leadershipstaff
Science, Technology, and Innovation in the Obama Administration
There are six immediate practical challenges to which ST&I are most germane, all of them with requirements and ramifications that are not only national but also global and all of them on President Obama’s priority list:
- Promoting economic recovery, job creation, and development;
- Defeating the most dangerous diseases and achieving better health-care for all at affordable cost;
- Meeting national and global energy needs while curbing CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel combustion;
- Managing the competing demands on land and fresh water for the production of food, fiber, biofuels, and ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and habitat for biodiversity;
- Maintaining the productivity and ecological integrity of the oceans; and
- Reducing the dangers posed by the existence and spread of nuclear weapons.
Equally important is recognition by the President and his ST&I appointees that meeting these practical challenges depends on investing in six cross-cutting “pillars of progress” in ST&I:
- Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and training, from pre-school to grad school to lifelong learning;
- The vitality and productivity of our research universities and national and private laboratories;
- The capacity and robustness of infrastructures for information and communication, transportation, and energy;
- Capabilities in space, which are germane not only to looking and exploring outward but also to Earth observation, geopositioning, communication, and more;
- An economic and political environment that promotes and rewards research, entrepreneurship, and innovation while also providing appropriate protections for the public’s interests in health, safety, personal and national security, privacy, and other social goods; and
- Well-functioning partnerships (across governmental bodies, the public and private sectors, regions, and nations), in order to combine skills and insights, share costs and risks, and optimally distribute solutions and benefits.
Transparency is one of the core principles of democracy. It fosters accountability and trust in the institutions of government, and it catalyzes innovation and renewal.
OSTP has been a leader in promoting transparency in government through the development of policy and guidance for the Executive Branch concerning transparency; through identification and facilitation across the government of technologies that enable transparency; and through encouragement of and participation in the use of those technologies to actually implement transparency.
OSTP recognizes that this is only the beginning of such efforts. There is much more to do. And an important part of what we are doing now is “walking the walk”—increasing transparency with respect to information and data about OSTP’s own operations. More specifically, to open up the activities of OSTP in ways that will help our colleagues across the government as well as members of the public know what we do, why we do it, and how they can not only benefit from our work but contribute their ideas and partner with us, we are launching an effort called “OSTP in the Open”.
OSTP in the Open
We are a relatively small office within the Executive Office of the President, making production of a staff directory with names and titles an easy matter. Having done that last year, we’re now taking the next step by creating a webpage with information about the backgrounds and activities of OSTP employees in their own words. (A few examples of our initial staff profiles are found in Appendix A. We will continue to update them going forward. For more, check out our website: www.whitehouse.gov/ostp.)
To further facilitate interaction with OSTP staff, we are inviting comments and submissions via Twitter. OSTP has a Twitter account (@whitehouseostp). Write to us about this plan using the hashtag #OPENOSTP. Feel free to draw our attention to your blog or share with us the writings of others that you find particularly interesting, by passing relevant links to us through the Twitter-sphere.
The purpose of OSTP in the Open, of course, is not simply to inform a wide audience inside and outside government about OSTP about who is working here and what they’re doing (thereby perhaps inspiring some more bright people to think about joining our OSTP team now or in the future); it’s also to tell that wider audience what questions we’re trying to answer so that more of you out there will share with us your ideas about the answers.
OSTP Open Data
OSTP’s “data” are found in many different formats. OSTP reports, articles, testimonies, press releases, and other documents since the start of the Obama Administration are being posted on our website’s Resource Library (www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/library) and Pressroom (www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/pressroom).
Per the Open Government Directive, we have also published on Data.gov new high-value data sets pertaining to Federal spending on R&D that resulted from our inter-agency collaborations. We will continue to publish this budget-related information online in open, machine-readable, downloadable formats. The first three such data sets we published were:
1. A decade’s worth of data on investments in innovation coordinated through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI).
What Are These Data All About? The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) coordinates Federal nanotechnology research and development among 25 Federal agencies. The data released show NNI investments by agency and program component area (PCA) from the Initiative’s founding in FY 2001 through FY 2010. These data have been available as part of the NNI’s annual supplements to the President’s Budget. But compared to earlier releases, the data we’ve released now are more accessible and readily available for analysis by users wishing to assess trends and examine investment allocations over the ten-year history of the NNI. The cumulative NNI investment of nearly $12 billion is advancing our understanding of the unique phenomena and processes that occur at the nanoscale and is helping to leverage that knowledge to speed innovation in high-impact opportunity areas such as energy, security, and medicine.
What Might People Do With These Data? The data lend themselves to analyzing investments over time as well as comparison with nano R&D spending in other countries. Users combining the data with other information may be able to develop insights about the impact of the investments and thereby help us develop more informed funding strategies going forward.
2. Aggregated Federal R&D investments in networking and information technology coordinated through the National Coordination Office for NITRD—Networking and Information Technology Research and Development.
What Are These Data All About? Thirteen Federal agencies, including all of the large science and technology agencies as well as a number of others, are formal members of the NITRD program. The National Coordination Office for the program is the primary mechanism by which the Government coordinates its unclassified networking and information technology (R&D investments. The data released allow individuals to track funding trends and identify agencies with investments in technical areas of interest, and they can help entrepreneurs and grant seekers better direct their efforts to engage the correct Federal agency. Currently, two years (FY2009 and FY2010) of budget numbers are being posted, but additional information going back 15 years will be posted by April 15, 2010.
What Might People Do With These Data? In addition to highlighting funding by agency and helping to visualize funding priorities over time, these data will allow for comparative analysis and visualization of the funding’s impact.
3. Interagency investments in climate research and observations coordinated through the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).
What Are These Data All About? The USGCRP coordinates and integrates Federal research among thirteen participating agencies on changes in the global environment and their implications for society. The data released quantify the budget authorities for individual agency activities in which the primary focus is on observations, research, and analysis of climate change and its underlying causes, as well as such activities as management and distribution of climate data records, modeling and predicting of climate change, analysis of impacts of climate change, and preparation of information in support of climate-change adaptation and mitigation policymaking. Since 1990, these data have been available in printed annual reports (“Our Changing Planet”)—and in other formats since—but they have never before been compiled in one, accessible, machine-readable format.
What Might People Do With These Data? Having these data in machine-readable form will allow for an array of new trend analyses and provide transparency about government investments in these important areas of research, such as Earth observation.
Transparency: Compliance Initiatives
OSTP aims to serve as a model office for complying with policies, directives, and other guidance that reflect the Federal government’s commitment to open government and transparency. This goal is reflected in the following ongoing activities that are ongoing at OSTP:
- Transparency Platforms: Because OSTP is a small office within the Executive Office of the President, our contracting is managed under the umbrella of the Office of Administration (OA), which files spending reports via USASpending.gov and IT.USASpending.gov (which tracks the subset of technology spending). Also, because our function is to provide advice and not to awards grants or contracts or provide services, we do not spend Recovery Act funds and therefore do not participate in Recovery.gov (although the staff of OSTP is required to be compliant with the lobbying restrictions related to the Recovery Act). While we do not promulgate rules, we often publish requests for comment in the Federal Register in connection with our work, as well as inviting response via Regulations.gov and on our blog. As the home of the Open Government Initiative, we have partnered with OMB in the creation of all of these transparency platforms supporting government-wide transparency.
- Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): OSTP has no FOIA backlog. OSTP aims to respond promptly (within 20 working days) to all FOIA requests submitted by the public. OSTP receives requests for a wide spectrum of documents. Most popular is the “self-search”, which is a search of OSTP’s records for the requester’s name. These almost never result in any “hits” since OSTP does not maintain personal files or records. To assist the public, OSTP provides specific instructions on how to make FOIA requests and also provides information that defines commonly used terms often used when FOIA requests are processed.
To facilitate the processing of FOIA requests, every FOIA request received by OSTP is logged when received and reviewed for: (1) a request for expedited treatment and (2) substance. Relevant employees who may have records are contacted within one to two business days of receipt of a FOIA request and are notified when they must provide the records. These records are then sorted, copied, and reviewed for relevant exceptions and exclusions before being provided to the requestor. In 2009, OSTP eliminated its backlog of FOIA requests from prior years (2005-2008) and at present is adequately resourced to analyze, coordinate, and respond to FOIA requests in a timely manner. Further information regarding OSTP’s FOIA efforts can be found at www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/library/compliance/foia.
- Congressional Requests for Information: Senate-confirmed OSTP officials regularly receive invitations from the U.S. Congress for its officials to testify. OSTP also regularly receives requests from the U.S. Congress for information regarding OSTP and its activities. To facilitate the handling of these Congressional requests, OSTP’s primary point of contact is its Assistant Director for Legislative Affairs.
OSTP regularly posts on its website the prepared testimony of its officials who testify before Congress. Testimony can be found online at: www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/library/test.
- Declassification Programs: OSTP has a process-oriented information security program. There is one original classification authority within OSTP—the OSTP Director. There were no new original classification decisions in FY 2009. There were derivative classification decisions, which continue classification decisions made by other agencies.
Additionally, through the Federal government’s ongoing systematic declassification program, an authorized, certified historical-records reviewer reviews thousands of pages of classified documents annually to ensure timely review of classified information. When appropriate, numerous decisions are made to release those documents that can be declassified and made public. Since 2005, OSTP has reviewed and coordinated more than 1.5 million pages of classified documents for potential declassification.
Transparency Flagship: The R&D Dashboard
The E-Government Act of 2002 requires the tracking of data and the maintenance of a repository of information on how the government invests in R&D. This year, building upon the successful experience tracking government contracts under USASpending.gov and IT.USASpending.gov, and in a manner harmonized with the Administration’s efforts to improve the transparency and usability of Federal spending data, OSTP plans to design an “R&D Dashboard” that will enable us to track, visualize, and analyze R&D spending data. This is not a simple process. Unlike IT.USASpending.gov, which can draw upon the Form 300 that Federal CIOs regularly file with OMB in connection with outlays of money for technology, there is no single form, index, classification system, or harmonized reporting mechanism that tracks these data, and no consensus on what data to track. Developing an accurate and comprehensive tracking system will be challenging, but we are committed to making the right data available to the public so that we can understand better the impact of our R&D investments.
With active participation by stakeholders, we will explore fundamental changes in how data on R&D should be made available to the public. As in other areas included in the push for greater transparency, the emphasis will be on testing models for making R&D-related data from contributing agencies available in ways that are secure, interoperable, and usable by a wide array of potential users. Efforts in this area will be coordinated with plans in closely related areas such as USASpending.gov and Data.gov.
We will begin our efforts for the R&D Dashboard with two coordinating bodies supported by OSTP, the National Nanotechnology Initiative and National Coordination Office (NCO) for Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD).
OSTP has been at the forefront of participatory policymaking in the Executive Branch. In his January 21, 2009 Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, President Obama directed the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to issue recommendations for creating a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative government. To that end, OSTP, together with its partners in the White House Open Government Initiative, solicited expertise from across the United States by running a three-phase public consultation (brainstorm, discussion, drafting) process from May 21 through July 6, 2009. This complemented an earlier online brainstorming with government employees, numerous face-to-face events around the country, and dozens of submissions received via electronic mail and posted to the White House Open Government Initiative (www.whitehouse.gov/open) website. This “open policymaking” experiment has since been improved upon and institutionalized in practice across the Executive Branch.
Here’s how that first effort worked. In phase one, which commenced in May 2009, the public brainstormed more than 900 ideas for open-government policy. These ideas were categorized by theme to make them easier to sort, read, and map. Sixteen themes emerged from these proposals, each of which raised deeper questions and challenges to be tackled in an in-depth, online public discussion in June 2009 as part of phase two. In all, participants shared nearly 1,000 insights in response to the 16 blog postings. In phase three of the open policymaking process, the public crafted proposed language via a Web-based collaborative editing tool (aka a Wiki). By posting more than 300 drafts and rating other’s proposals, the public helped us frame specific implementing language and, in the process, learned how hard it can be to translate lofty principles into clear and specific direction to agencies.
In the consultation process, the public emphasized the importance of publishing raw government data online in machine-readable formats. Participants further urged the Administration to hardwire the principles of open government by requiring agencies to develop an open government plan (such as this one) and set clear milestones. They underscored the need for an enabling policy framework. Finally, they wanted to be sure that—in doing things in new, technologically-enabled ways—we continued to address traditional government reforms, such as making government more responsive to Freedom of Information Act requests and doing better record keeping.
Generally, government officials draft a policy and then solicit public engagement. We were able to use freely available, Web-based tools to turn that conventional process on its head and work with the public from the get-go. More significantly, these tools enabled the public to take charge and “self-moderate” the conversation, using simple mechanisms for flagging public submissions—such as those on UFOs and birth certificates as “off-topic”—to help keep the discussion on-topic and easy to follow.
This online public consultation was only part of the listening exercise—but an important part that enabled us to hear from people throughout the United States. As one public commenter noted, “This was a great first experiment! Keep ’em coming! Only through activity can we refine practice.” The output—including the suggestion that every agency write and post online its own open government plan—directly translated into ideas for the Open Government Directive.
Subsequently, we ran Open Policy Forums on declassification policy, Web cookies policy, health IT policy, the smart grid, scientific integrity, and, most recently, public-access publishing.
In that last forum, launched December 10, 2009, the public was to participate in thinking through what the Federal government’s policy should be with regard to public access to published federally-funded research results. To that end, OSTP conducted an interactive, online discussion, focusing on three main areas of interest:
- Implementation: Which Federal Agencies are good candidates to adopt public access policies?
- Features and Technology: In what format should articles and data be submitted in order to make them easy to search and retrieve, and to make them easy for others to link to it?
- Management: What are the best mechanisms to ensure compliance? What would be the best metrics of success?
Public comment was so successful that the discussion was extended by several weeks. OSTP scientists and advisors are currently studying public comments and plan to submit recommendations to senior officials soon.
Other Public Outreach and Communications Efforts
OSTP staff members regularly participate in conferences, workshops, and meetings; give interviews to broadcast, print, and online media; meet with school groups; and write articles and op-eds. Our public communications are coordinated through the Office of Strategic Communications, headed by Rick Weiss. As a former science writer for the Washington Post, Rick is a tremendous advocate for the First Amendment and encourages all OSTP staff to talk openly (while safeguarding personal privacy, national security, and using good judgment) with the press about their work. He also has supervisory responsibility for the OSTP Blog. This was the first blog within the Executive Office of the President to take public comment. Since our new website launched on February 3, 2010, we have posted 25 blog entries. (We are in the process of converting our blog over to the White House Drupal content management system and reposting older material.)
Twitter provides a unique channel for interacting with the American public. Since August 2009, readership has dramatically increased, and we now have approximately 30,000 followers for WHITEHOUSEOSTP and approximately 37,000 followers for OPENGOV. OSTP tweets a science and technology fun fact or interesting news item almost daily. We also direct people to blog postings, video feeds, and other Web destinations that fit within OSTP’s portfolio and that our followers may find interesting. OSTP has also used Twitter as a direct line of live communication during events, such as during Astronomy Night on the White House Lawn (where a TwitPic was also tweeted), the launch of the STEM initiative “Educate to Innovate,” and the White House ceremony where the President honored National Medal of Science and Technology awardees.
Public Participation in Drafting this Plan
From February 5 until March 19, 2010, OSTP and more than 20 other partnering Federal agencies launched an online public consultation for the development of Open Government Plans using an online brainstorming platform called Ideascale. Each brainstorming website discussed creating a more transparent, collaborative, and participatory government in that agency. People from all over the country suggested ideas, commented on others already posted, and voted on their favorites. OSTP, like many of the agencies, did not receive particularly robust participation. We had 23 commenters, who posted 29 ideas, 144 votes, and 26 comments.
We believe participation rates were low because we did not effectively advertise this opportunity to participate. To the extent that we did, we didn’t reach new audiences, but reached traditional interest groups and stakeholders, who may in some cases be disinclined to participate by such open means, which enable everyone to comment and vote on everyone else’s suggestions. Perhaps people believe incorrectly that we do not take seriously input received via these new tools. This suspicion may be heightened when, as in this case, OSTP staff did not participate by responding to postings on a daily basis. By contrast, in the public access policy forum, OSTP staff regularly engaged with the public, and participation rates were much higher.
While the input received via Ideascale was helpful, it was not always in a form that would easily translate for implementation. For example, someone suggested that we convene a Space Solar Power Conference. Whatever the merits of the suggestion, the format is too short to allow for any detail or specifics. The brainstorming format—although an excellent way to get new ideas quickly—is not well suited to longer postings. This is why we are working on two flagship initiatives to foster more in-depth forms of citizen participation.
Participation Flagship: Participatory PCAST
The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is a group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers (see Appendix B) who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President (www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/pcast/).
Administered and supported by OSTP, PCAST offers advice and makes recommendations in the many policy areas in which understanding of science, technology, and innovation is germane to good decisions. PCAST takes on issues of both domestic and global importance, from the Administration’s efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to increasing the role of science and technology in foreign policy and development assistance.
We have been webcasting PCAST’s meetings, which occur every other month. This evidently is serving a need, because there have been more than 65,000 page views (as of Jan 20, 2010) of the live or archived streams. We are using interactive tools, including Facebook, to enable people to post questions to be answered at both the full-committee PCAST meetings and those of subcommittees such as the one focused on health IT. We are posting questions from the public together with background papers in conjunction with our Advanced Manufacturing work. We have solicited public input so we can learn about model STEM-education programs in order to prepare a report on that topic. We have experimented, and will continue to experiment, with the use of innovative technologies to make PCAST as participatory as possible—and hence as broadly informed as possible with regard to the science and technology topics on which it must advise the President.
Participation Flagship: Geeks for Wonks
(Figure 2 - Geeks for Wonks Advertisement) April 7, 2010.
OSTP wants to educate the next generation about the importance of civic virtue by tapping into the ability of today’s young people to design civic software. In other words, we want to connect students studying technology with government agencies that have new projects in need of technical help. For this purpose, OSTP is working with the academic community to launch “Geeks for Wonks”—a listserv linking academic institutions that work on designing civic technologies with agencies that have policy and programming project needs.
This will not substitute for procuring professional-grade software and services. To the contrary, working with students will allow agencies to begin version 1.0 of important projects they might otherwise never undertake. For example, the University of Maryland worked with the Department of Health and Human Services to prototype version 1.0 of a Community Health Map (see Figure 3), which enables users to compare quality-of-life data in their county compared to others. This effort gave a wide range of users—including health policy analysts, journalists, community leaders, and students—a chance to easily explore rich data sets. OSTP worked with students at New York Law School to produce a video to promote the use of interactive social media for civic engagement to government employees. In another example, a professor at Princeton University developed FedThread, a new tool for collaboratively annotating the Federal Register in response to the National Archives announcement interested in new ways of presenting the Register.
Policy Innovation: Prizes Across Government
OSTP played an instrumental role in drafting and shaping new OMB guidance encouraging agencies to promote and harness innovation using prizes and challenges. The guidance marked a major step in fulfilling the President’s call for agencies to use prizes and challenges as a policy tool. The OMB guidance “strongly encourages” agencies to utilize prizes, proactively address legal and other barriers, and designate an individual to participate in an OMB/OSTP-led government-wide practice committing individuals and agencies to advance this approach. Most importantly, it highlights potential legal pathways for deploying prizes. Working with other agencies to overcome potential challenges to prizes is important because well-designed prizes and challenges have a number of benefits. They stimulate private sector investment that is greater than any investment the government could make. Plus, they dramatically expand the pool of talent focused on addressing key national problems, while capturing the public’s imagination, and changing the public’s perception of what is possible.
Participation Flagship: “Bullet Point Boot Camp”
OSTP, in coordination with other Federal agencies, grapples every day with complex ST&I questions of great importance—how to improve capacity to cope with new strains of pandemic disease, how to keep cyber networks secure, how to employ biotechnology and nanotechnology to more efficiently convert sunlight to fluid fuels and electricity, and, of course, how to make government itself more efficient and more innovative. Finding solutions to these problems depends upon having up-to-date knowledge and expertise in science and technology, and it requires being able to tap into the widest possible array of innovative ideas. This is why we want to hear from you. We need your innovative ideas.
We are also conscious of the fact that you are busy and want to share and provide expertise that will be relevant and actionable. Hence we are launching the “Bullet-Point Boot Camp” program to provide ongoing advice to the public about how best to provide advice back to us. In so doing, we hope to make citizen participation a more effective experience.
It is important to recognize that there are a myriad of actions one can take to move the levers of power and help “make policy.” As you formulate a proposal, consider whether you want to suggest something other than the traditional approaches of legislation and regulation:
- An executive order or memorandum—e.g., the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government that the President issued on his first day in office that created the momentum, vision, and authority for greater openness.
- New hire or role—e.g., the creation of an Office of the CTO to focus greater attention on innovation, including innovation in government.
- Convening—e.g., bringing leaders together at the White House to focus on modernizing government or STEM education initiatives and encourage public sector efforts, such as the $500 million various companies, philanthropies and other private groups have committed to STEM education in response to the President’s call.
- Stakeholder Outreach—e.g., people we should meet with whether online or face-to-face and suggestions for new forms of dialogue and deliberation.
- Events—e.g., venues that the President, First Lady, Vice President or other senior leaders should visit and the issues they should address.
- Budget Proposals—e.g., a suggestion for a project for which an agency should request funding from Congress.
- Public-Private Partnership—e.g., the National Archives collaborating with Princeton University to develop Fed Thread, the first ever annotatable Federal Register.
- Prizes and Competitions—e.g., HHS’ idea to hold a competition for creating the best H1N1 flu prevention video.
- Projects—e.g., release all the White House Visitor logs and post them on the WH.gov website.
While there is a wide range of policy innovations by which one can translate good ideas into actionable policy, the currency of the realm is the one-page memo (okay, two pages, max).
Because of the extraordinary breadth of our work and the urgency with which we sometimes need to make decisions, we need short introductions that layout pros and cons of any approach. To that end, here’s the basic outline of a memo we might write to help a decision maker decide on a particular course of action:
- Short description—What is the idea? A very short intro paragraph explaining the proposal and why it would serve national priorities.
- Importance and relevance of the proposal—Another way to think of this is, what would the newspaper headline be the next day if this were enacted?
- Discussion of the issue—identify who the necessary partners are and anticipated costs
- Options with pros and cons for each and your recommendation. Alternatively, if you are identifying a single option make sure to anticipate any criticisms and identify missing facts.
- Timeline for implementation
Such memos can be supplemented with backup materials, such as presentations or more detailed reports.
Participation Flagship: The Grand Challenge RFI and Think Tank
In September, President Obama released his Strategy for American Innovation, designed to foster sustainable growth and help create high-quality jobs. One of the goals of the President’s strategy is to harness science and technology to address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century in areas such as health, clean energy, national security, and education and life-long learning.
Examples of specific goals that have been previously articulated by the President and others include early detection of dozens of diseases from a saliva sample, solar cells as cheap as paint, and educational software that is as compelling as the best video game and effective as a personal tutor.
In February 2010, OSTP and the National Economic Council released a “request for information” that is designed to collect input from the public regarding:
- The grand challenges that were identified in the President’s innovation strategy;
- Other grand challenges that the Administration should consider, such as those identified by the National Academy of Engineering;
- Partners (e.g. companies, investors, foundations, social enterprises, non-profit organizations, philanthropists, research universities, consortia, etc.) that are interested in collaborating with each other and the Administration to achieve one or more of these goals; and
- Models for creating an “architecture of participation” that allows many individuals and organizations to contribute to the process of finding solutions to these grand challenges.
Responses to this RFI are due April 15th. They can be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Within OSTP, we hold two weekly meetings of each of the four divisions to facilitate face-to-face collaboration within the office and foster exchange of ideas. We also hold “tech talks” and occasional seminars in which scientists and engineers present their research, inventions, or innovations.
To further encourage inter-office collaboration, we have altered our physical plant. The Technology Division of OSTP now sits in “open” office space. Most of the staffers sit around the perimeter of a large room with a conference table in the middle. The table serves as a locus for spontaneous convening and conversation.
The core of OSTP’s work is collaboration. The office convenes inter-agency working groups on science, technology, and innovation.
One example is the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The NSTC, which is managed by OSTP and is responsible for coordinating science and technology policy across the federal government, has been reconstituted and revitalized over the past year for the tasks of aligning multiple-agency S&T efforts with the President’s stated ST&I objectives and identifying new collaboration and streamlining opportunities where appropriate. The elevated priority given to ST&I by the Administration is evident in the level of participation on this council by senior agency leaders. Council meetings are chaired by OSTP Director Holdren and attended, as its charter dictates, by deputy secretaries, undersecretaries, and the administrators of NSF, NASA, NOAA, NIST, and so on. Its Committee on Technology, co-chaired by CTO and OSTP Associate Director Chopra and Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, is energetically advancing interagency cooperation on initiatives in broadband, the use of information technology to increase the efficiency of government, and much more. Its Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by OSTP Associate Director Shere Abbott, is reasserting its oversight responsibilities for the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Its Subcommittee on Education is linking efforts to advance the President’s STEM-education initiatives across OSTP, DPC, the Department of Education, NSF, and DOE, among others. Other NSTC activities, including the National Nanotechnology Initiative and an initiative in quantum computing, are elaborated below.
OSTP realizes that some of the best ideas for furthering advances in science and technology come from research labs and universities throughout the country. That being so, OSTP works hard to build collaborative relationships with the private sector and to identify new approaches for furthering Administration priorities.
A great example of an ongoing collaboration is the USDA “Apps for Healthy Kids” challenge, a collaborative initiative of OSTP and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services and Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Announced by the First Lady in March 2010 as part of her effort to fight childhood obesity, Apps for Healthy Kids challenges game and software developers to leverage the Department of Agriculture’s gold-standard nutritional data—available for free download at Data.gov—to develop innovative, fun, and engaging tools and games that help kids and their parents to eat better and be more physically active. Specifically, the competition seeks to leverage the recently released MyPyramid 1,000-food database to create Web or mobile-based apps to teach core concepts of healthy living.
Collaboration Flagship: S&T Expert Networking
"Other states indicate themselves in their deputies . . . but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people."
Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know.
Over the past decade, the world has seen a dramatic increase in the pace, complexity and social significance of technological changes. There have been significant advances in areas such as computer and communications technologies, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, many of which have had repercussions in business, government, society, and the environment. In order to address new and long-standing challenges posed by technological changes, inform legislators and policy-makers on the significance and impact of future technologies, and to educate and engage the public, our nation must find creative and innovative ways to enable the brightest scientific and engineering minds and the general public to better engage in the decision-making process.
Spotlight on Collaboration: Public-Private Partnership for Public Health—Text4baby
Text4baby is a free mobile information service designed to promote maternal and child health. An educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition (HMHB), Text4baby provides pregnant women and new moms with information they need to take care of their health and give their babies the best possible start in life. Women who sign up for the service by texting BABY (or BEBE for Spanish) to 511411 receive free SMS text messages each week, timed to their due date or baby’s date of birth. These messages focus on a variety of topics critical to maternal and child health: immunization, nutrition, seasonal flu, prenatal care, emotional well being, drugs and alcohol, labor and delivery, smoking cessation, breastfeeding, mental health, birth defects prevention, oral health, car seat safety, exercise and fitness, developmental milestones, safe sleep, family violence, and more.
Text4baby is made possible through a broad, public-private partnership of more than 100 entities, including government, corporations, academic institutions, professional associations, tribal agencies, and non-profit organizations. Founding partners include HMHB, Voxiva, CTIA - The Wireless Foundation, and WPP. Johnson & Johnson is the founding sponsor, and premier sponsors include WellPoint, Pfizer, and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. U.S. government partners include OSTP, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Defense Military Health System. Voxiva provides the mobile health platform, and participating wireless service providers generously provides free messaging services. Implementation partners include BabyCenter, Danya International, Syniverse Technologies, Keynote Systems, and The George Washington University. MTV Networks is a media sponsor. The service now has over 26,000 subscribers.
In his Memorandum on Scientific Integrity, President Obama declared that science and scientific processes should inform and help guide public policy. For this reason, OSTP is working to develop the policy and process to incorporate “expert networking” into scientific decision-making for the National Science and Technology Council—the Cabinet-level council that coordinates science and technology policy in the Executive Branch—enabling access to a wider diversity of scientific and technical experts faster than ever before.
With the rise of social networking technology—including such household brand names as Facebook and MySpace—we now have cheap and easy ways to connect large numbers of people for communication and collaboration. Whereas social networking sites like Facebook connect people based on their university and workplace affiliations, privately branded “expert networking” sites in the private sector connect geographically distributed experts into on-line communities to provide advice and counsel to banks and financial institutions. When a bank needs an expert on solar power in China, it taps the network for one or more experts to answer questions.
For example, pharmaceutical companies started Innocentive, a Web-based community for connecting scientific problem solvers to problems they could solve for a monetary reward. This “open innovative marketplace” has grown to more than a million participants. Peer-to-Patent, another expert network, connects the United States Patent and Trademark Office to a network of self-selected, volunteer scientists and technologists who provide expertise to patent examiners to inform their ability to determine if a patent application represents an invention that is truly new and non-obvious, as the law requires in order to issue a patent. Peer-to-Patent enables government officials in the patent office to gain access to the know-how and expertise of academic and industry scientists and get the answers that they need faster and more accurately than they could looking in books or databases themselves. Peer-to-Patent works differently to Innocentive, in that it creates online teams of people who work together to find and refine information for the USPTO. The group does some of the work of vetting the information before it goes to the government official.
The NSTC will explore different options for leveraging expert networks to improve its access to scientific expertise, such as leveraging a $12.2 million investment already made by the National Institutes of Health in creating a seven-university “Facebook for scientists” known as Vivo. Vivo is designed to connect researchers around the country and form an online “rolodex” of scientific experts. OSTP is also in conversation with Expert Labs at AAAS, which is building a platform called Think Tank. This exciting project publishes scientific (or other) questions or challenges and solicit responses from existing networks, including Facebook or, soon, from Vivo. Rather than having to go to a single .gov website, a “solver” could participate from any social network of which he is already a member.
We eagerly welcome your suggestions for options we should explore in order to realize the vision of an expert network that allows NSTC to:
- Pose policy questions to a scientific audience for its input;
- Request data and information to inform decision-making;
- Invite edits to drafts of published policy papers and proposals; and
- Solicit the drafting of papers and proposals relating to science and technology.
The software platform will enable a process that facilitates experts to self-select and volunteer to collaborate with one another. Additionally, it will enable OSTP and the chairs of NSTC sub-committees to:
- Create a task (e.g. a question, problem, project);
- Search for and identify matching experts or invite experts to self-select;
- Assign an expert to work on a specific problem; and/or
- Enable experts to volunteer to work on a specific problem;
- Set up a space and basic tools for the group working on the task to collaborate;
- Enable participants to rate one another’s work.
We anticipate first trials of the process by Q3 of 2010 when the Vivo system should begin to be operational and Think Tank will have integrated with Vivo, Facebook, and other popular networks. What other platforms should we consider? How do you envision this functioning to be most useful and attractive for all? How should we pose the questions and give feedback?
Prior to launching the pilot, OSTP/NSTC will post the design specification online for public input on an expert network.
Conclusion and Next Steps
This plan is OSTP’s draft proposal for how we can become more effective at what we do; gather better information informed by the best understanding of science, technology, and innovation; and collaborate with you on solving the challenges America faces. This plan is not a static document, and it represents only the very beginning of a journey towards furthering openness and effectiveness in the science, technology, and innovation work that we do at OSTP.
We invite each of you to comment on and contribute to this plan. Tell us what you like, what’s missing, and what we can do better. We ask you to consider the questions we have asked ourselves in the creation of this plan:
- How can we create a more open and transparent OSTP?
- How can we facilitate manageable and useful participation in the work of OSTP?
- How can we foster collaboration to achieve the goals we have laid out?
By fostering input and ongoing collaboration, OSTP will continue a dialogue with the American public to fulfilling its mission: ensuring that the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science; and ensuring that the scientific and technical work of the Executive Branch is properly supported and coordinated so as to provide the greatest benefit to society.