Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is celebrating a birthday: OSTP’s! With this milestone, we mark four decades of recognition by numerous presidents and Congress that scientific and technical advice, informed and coordinated science and technology (S&T) policies, and policies informed by S&T deserve a permanent place in the White House to enable Administrations to best serve the American people.
OSTP has three missions: first, to provide the President and his senior staff with accurate, relevant, and timely scientific and technical advice; second, to ensure that the policies of the Executive Branch are informed by sound science; and third, to ensure that the Federal Government’s scientific and technical work is properly coordinated so as to provide the greatest benefit to society.
Forty years ago today, on May 11, 1976, President Gerald Ford signed into law the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 in a White House South Lawn ceremony. In that legislation, Congress and President Ford formally established OSTP with a mandate to advise the President and White House staff on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The Act also authorized OSTP to lead interagency efforts to develop and implement sound S&T policies and budgets, and to work with the private sector, State and local governments, the science and higher education communities, and other nations toward this end.
In addition to creating OSTP, this legislation established what has become the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), an advisory group of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President. The legislation also established the interagency body that is now the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to coordinate S&T policy across the Federal government. Forty years later, OSTP, PCAST, and NSTC are still working together to give the President policy-relevant scientific and technical advice and to coordinate S&T policy across the Federal government.
Although OSTP is 40 years old in its current form, our history extends further back. The position of the President’s science advisor, which OSTP Director John P. Holdren now holds for President Obama, dates back to Vannevar Bush, who served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unofficial science advisor and later as President Truman’s official science advisor, supported by a science advisory committee and science advisor’s office that are the precursors of PCAST and OSTP, respectively.
At that time, the science advisor’s office was a few blocks north of 16th Street, NW, from the White House. Dr. Bush authored Science The Endless Frontier in 1945, which became the policy blueprint not only for the National Science Foundation but also for much of the U.S. science and technology policy system we have today. President Eisenhower moved the science advisor’s office to the White House where it stayed until President Nixon asked for and received the resignations of his science advisor and science advisory committee, and dismantled the science office. When President Ford took office, he reinstated the position of science advisor and worked with Congress to affirm the importance of S&T advice and S&T policy in the White House. As a result, the President’s science advisor serves as the Director of OSTP and is supported by an OSTP that is established in law.
On the occasion of this 40th birthday, S&T advice and policy remain strong in the White House thanks to the leadership of President Obama and science advisor and OSTP Director Dr. John P. Holdren. Whether it’s ensuring that Federal policies on energy, climate change, and the environment are based solidly on up-to-date insights from science and engineering, or ensuring that U.S. policymakers are fully informed of the promise and challenges of new S&T developments, OSTP continues to provide first-class S&T advice to the Administration. OSTP is also home to the United States Chief Technology Officer, a position and office created by this Administration to provide a White House focus on how technology policy, data, and innovation can advance the future of the Nation.
We also continue to support and coordinate Federal investments in research, as well as a strong and vibrant U.S. S&T enterprise through policies to expand access to the results of Federally-funded research and efforts to inspire students reflecting the full diversity of America to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
In the years to come, OSTP will continue to help ensure that the scientific and technical policies of the U.S. government provide benefit to society and help make progress toward solving the challenges we face as a Nation.
Kei Koizumi is Assistant Director for Federal Research and Development at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.