National Academies Encourage Expansion Of Science And Technology Advice At State Department

Tomorrow, June 17, the National Academies will host a press briefing on a new report, Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of Science and Technology Throughout the Department of State. The report is available online, and you can access the report electronically for free (with a National Academies Press account, which is also free).

This report follows on the 1999 National Academies report The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy.  The 1999 report prompted the Department to re-establish a scientific advisory capacity in the form of a Science & Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State (the acting adviser is Dr. Frances Colon).

The report calls for an expansion and elevation of this capacity throughout the Department.  The Science & Technology Adviser should be given the status equivalent of an Assistant Secretary (currently the Adviser reports to the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, and most of the other positions reporting to this Under Secretary are Assistant Secretaries).  There should also be a Science and Technology Advisory Board of independent experts.  The Board would provide advice on science and technology issues (non-defense) that would affect the Department’s foreign policy agenda.

Additional report recommendations (Chapter Six details all of the report’s findings and recommendations) seek to further integrate science and technology expertise into the Department.  The report encourages (among other things) the inclusion of science and technology in foresight exercises (it considers the current use of science and technology advice to be focus on short-term questions and challenges); connecting with in-country American scientists, engineers and health professionals; reviewing and expanding (as appropriate) staff with scientific and technical expertise; and expand training opportunities to include the value of science and technology to the Department’s mission (whether or not the trainee is a science or technology specialist).

The full report is worth reviewing and digesting.  Whomever becomes the next Science & Technology Adviser to Secretary Kerry will likely be critical to the implementation of the recommendations in this report.  Hopefully that person has been identified, or will be soon, as the position has been vacant for nearly a year.

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