Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Will Obama Create a Cabinet-Level Science Position?

Whether or not Barack Obama was your choice in this past election, it’s clear changes are in the making. Major news organizations report possible reversals of current policies on stem cell research and drilling. Speculation on posts in his administration during the transition and afterward circle the Beltway in typical DC fashion, driving you wild or serving as a major source of entertainment.

I’m most eager to see if Obama will go with the recommendation made in letters to then-Presidential candidates Obama and McCain in October. These letters called for the speedy post-election appointment of a newly-created “Assistant to the President for Science and Technology” as a cabinet-level position. The signatories included a broad range of science- and math-related institutions such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Center for Science Education. They referenced both candidates' responses to the Science Debate 2008 questions as reflecting their “acknowledgment of the important role that science will play in a new Administration,” and went on to point out that, “it is essential to quickly appoint a science advisor who is a nationally respected leader with the appropriate scientific, management and policy skills necessary for this critically important role.”(1)

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars released a similar recommendation along with their OSTP 2.0 report back in June. (2) That report cited the importance of expert advice in the evaluation and shaping of the $142 billion investments in science and technology the US will need to make. It also pointed out that, “Science and technology pervade virtually all domestic and global issues. The defining policy issues facing our nation are directly related to our capabilities in science, technology, and innovation. Those issues span national security and economic competitiveness, energy security, environmental protection and natural resource conservation, public health, and quality of life.”

As “Key Issues Facing the OSTP” they cited environmental and energy challenges, enhancing US global leadership in innovation, responding to national security challenges, the need for improved S&T education at all levels, improving health and health care delivery, and ensuring greater public understanding of scientific issues and advances. (3) It’s certainly hard to question any of these.

Whether or not Obama goes with the recommendation remains to be seen, but with nearly 180 respected signatories on the letter and every living former Science Advisor contributing to the Wilson report, it’s certainly worthy of his serious consideration.

(1) Letter to then-Senator Barack Obama

(2) Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars OSTP 2.0 Critical Upgrade Report

(3) Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars OSTP 2.0 Critical Upgrade Report

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