Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Private-Public Collaboration Underway to Create “Wireless Workforce of the Future”

    On July 15, OSTP hosted more than 80 leaders from wireless companies, Federal agencies, and academic institutions at the White House Summit On Wireless Workforce Development, focusing on the urgent need to train workers for careers in the wireless industry and commitments that will change the trajectory of workforce development for the wireless industry.

    The attendees recognized the great opportunity to create an even more diverse workforce through increased recruitment of underrepresented persons, including Veterans, women, and minorities.

    There is a nexus between the highly skilled Veterans community and the skill sets required for wireless-infrastructure deployment.  Leveraging this nexus will help improve the proficiency of the workforce that builds, upgrades, and maintains wireless infrastructure, ensuring that America can meet the growing demand for wireless broadband, and enabling the United States to continue to lead in the global telecommunications marketplace.

  • Unleashing Digital Data to Accelerate Materials Discovery, Development, and Deployment

    The availability of large, publicly accessible digital data sets has unleashed a wave of innovation throughout numerous fields, helping solve significant problems in business, biology, and astronomy.  But the potential of such data has not yet been fully realized in materials science and engineering, in part because of the wide variety of relevant properties and methods to measure and model those properties.  This diversity, however, also stands to provide rich insights if the mysteries the data hold can be unlocked.

  • Accelerating the Use of Prizes to Address Tough Challenges

    Later this year, the Federal government will celebrate the fifth anniversary of, a one-stop shop that has prompted tens of thousands of individuals, including engaged citizens and entrepreneurs, to participate in more than 400 public-sector prize competitions with more than $72 million in prizes.

    The May 2015 report to Congress on the Implementation of Federal Prize Authority for Fiscal Year 2014 highlights that is a critical component of the Federal government’s use of prize competitions to spur innovation.  Federal agencies have used prize competitions to  improve the accuracy of lung cancer screenings, develop environmentally sustainable brackish water desalination technologies, encourage local governments to allow entrepreneurs to launch new startups in a day, and increase the resilience of communities in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Numerous Federal agencies have discovered that prizes allow them to:

    • Pay only for success and establish an ambitious goal without having to predict which team or approach is most likely to succeed.  
    • Reach beyond the “usual suspects” to increase the number of citizen solvers and entrepreneurs tackling a problem.
    • Bring out-of-discipline perspectives to bear.
    • Increase cost-effectiveness to maximize the return on taxpayer dollars.
    • Inspire risk-taking by offering a level playing field through credible rules and robust judging mechanisms.

    To build on this momentum, the Administration will hold an event this fall to highlight the role that prizes play in solving critical national and global issues. The event will showcase public- and private-sector relevant commitments from Federal, state, and local agencies, companies, foundations, universities, and non-profits. Individuals and organizations interested in participating in this event or making commitments should send us a note at by August 28, 2015.

  • STEM - Strength through Diversity

    America’s cultural and human diversity has historically fueled progress, prosperity, and growth across our Nation.

    In science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), diversity leads to enhanced creativity and innovation. A growing body of research shows that diversity in groups bolsters their ability to solve problems; that diversity on campuses enhances students’ advanced thinking and leadership skills; and that diversity in companies improves innovation and strengthens the bottom line.   

    The value of diversity should be intuitive – it makes sense that solving a complex problem would be aided by examining it from different angles. Similarly, different viewpoints can stimulate groups to find new and more creative approaches to challenges.

    Diversity of thoughts, opinions, and ideas come from people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and education.  Perspectives may be influenced by people’s geographic viewpoint – Midwestern vs. West Coast, for instance – or the local environment – people working in Silicon Valley may solve problems differently than lifelong Washingtonians, for example. Men and women might take different approaches to tackling a particular challenge; and the attitudes of children, their parents, and grandparents often diverge greatly based on perspectives that come with age and experience. These differences are valuable. Understanding and incorporating them into our work gives us an opportunity to see complex issues from multiple angles, and increases the chances that we will arrive at solutions, innovations, and answers.

    When teams of physicists tackle the mysteries of the universe at CERN, for example, they harness the collective wisdom of dozens of nationalities to find creative solutions to their problems. And cracking the genetic code was an international effort of scientists both in cooperation and competition with one another. It’s clear that adding greater diversity of thought to working teams can led to important new insights across the STEM fields.

    The STEM community has made significant progress to better tap into the power and potential of human diversity to propel discovery and exploration, but there is more work to do.

  • Inspiring Makers in Pittsburgh

    In a 2009 speech at the National Academy of Sciences, President Obama called for an all-hands-on-deck effort to “encourage young people to create and build and invent – to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.” Since then, communities, organizations, companies, and grassroots leaders across the country have stepped up to encourage and empower people of all ages and backgrounds to get involved in making.

    One of the organizations that has responded to the President’s call to action is the Remake Learning Network, a collaboration of more than 200 organizations in the Pittsburgh region working together to inspire a generation of lifelong learners. Since 2011, The Sprout Fund, a Pittsburgh nonprofit organization, has been stewarding the Remake Learning Network by mobilizing local educators and innovators to respond to pressing challenges in their communities, and providing catalytic funding to support innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Thanks to the work of the Network and its members, young people in the region have the opportunity to make their own films, learn to code, build robots, and become “citizen scientists.”

    During the National Week of Making, I had a chance to catch up with Cathy Lewis Long, the founding Executive Director of The Sprout Fund, which stewards the Network.

    What inspired you to get involved with the Remake Learning Network?

    Almost a decade ago, before the inception of the Network, our region’s educators told us that technology was disrupting communication between teachers and students.

    The need to facilitate effective communication in classrooms presented an opportunity for innovative people in the Pittsburgh region—from teachers and youth workers to gamers and roboticists—to work together to use technology in a creative way to foster productive, transparent, and effective dialogues between teachers and students.

    What is the relationship between the President’s call to action and the work you’re doing in Pittsburgh?

    More than anything, creating and implementing projects can have a profound effect on children’s mindsets, empowering them to shape the world around them. Giving more students the opportunity to engage in hands-on projects linked to real-world problems and solutions can have a number of benefits. It can:

    • Motivate and inspire young people to excel in STEM subjects;
    • Prepare students for 21st century careers;
    • Help students acquire key dispositions and 21st century skills such as creativity, collaborative problem-solving, design-thinking, and self-efficacy; 
    • Address the “summer slide” faced by disadvantaged students; and
    • Increase student involvement in projects that require critical and creative thinking, which is essential to learning.

    How has the Network changed the landscape in Pittsburgh? How do parents and children benefit?

    We’ve seen a number of benefits from our efforts to build a regional learning innovation network. The Remake Learning Network has:

    • Helped spark a number of remarkable 21st century learning projects led by teachers, techies, and tinkerers;
    • Leveraged millions of dollars in investments in innovation research and development, touching the lives of thousands of educators, students, and families;
    • Supported high-impact partnerships, pulling together diverse individuals, resources, and tools to develop and apply technologies to strategically address community issues;
    • Transformed dozens of school districts’ buildings, curricula, and instructional practices;
    • Ushered in a new era of out-of-school learning opportunities; and
    • Engaged numerous parents, teachers, and students in “remaking” how kids learn new skills.

    Eventually, many disruptive innovations at the edges of our region’s learning landscape began to infuse and transform traditional in- and out-of-school learning environments. Parents have benefited from more high-quality learning opportunities because these opportunities enhance their children’s communication skills. Effective communication enables parents to take leadership in supporting their children’s studies and innovative pursuits. Students have benefited from having a richer set of educational environments that increase their interest in learning and provide them real-world skills.

    What advice would you give to someone interested in building a learning innovation ecosystem in their community?

    Check out the Remake Learning Playbook! In the spirit of open innovation and upholding America’s legacy of ingenuity, The Remake Learning Playbook functions as a field guide full of ideas and resources for supporting learning innovation networks.

    The goal of our Playbook is to document the processes and outcomes of the Remake Learning Network’s innovation work to inspire people around the country to remake learning in their towns.

    We will release new content, features and functionality throughout the summer and fall.

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • Six Months of Progress on the Precision Medicine Initiative

    In January 2015, President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), a bold new research effort to revolutionize how we improve health and treat disease. Precision medicine is about empowering both patients and health care providers with the information and tools they need to tailor treatment and prevention strategies to patients' unique characteristics.

    When he launched the PMI, President Obama called for all hands on deck to continue the kinds of progress that are already beginning to transform the ways we treat diseases such as cancer. Patients with breast, lung, and colorectal cancers, as well as melanomas and leukemias, routinely undergo molecular testing as part of their care, enabling physicians to select treatments that improve chances of survival and reduce exposure to adverse effects. This is precision medicine in action. But there is so much more promise and potential to be unlocked – and we need to extend the successes we’ve seen to other diseases that affect Americans and people around the world.