June 2, 2015


Role of Science and Technology Should Be Expanded Throughout Department of State


WASHINGTON – Given the critical role science and technology (S&T) play in a range of foreign policy issues, the U.S. State Department should strengthen and continuously update its S&T capabilities in order to carry out its mission more effectively, says a new report from the National Research Council. A cultural change is needed throughout the department and the American embassies so that S&T competence will be considered equal in importance to language fluency and area expertise as a critical aspect of diplomacy.


To support policy development and implementation related to S&T within the State Department, the position of the Science and Technology Adviser should be elevated to the organizational status equivalent to that of an Assistant Secretary, the report says.  In addition, the Secretary should establish a Science and Technology Advisory Board of independent experts to provide insights on S&T-laden non-defense issues that are related to the department’s foreign policy agenda, thereby complementing the role of the International Security Advisory Board. Topics of possible interest are the search for better battery and energy storage devices, dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases, and developments in synthetic biology, among others.


Science and technology play a key role in driving economic development and responding to hostile governments and rogue organizations, the report notes. Efforts to respond to a variety of challenges and threats -- from cyber crime to climate change to natural disasters -- have a science and technology component. International cooperation based on S&T is rapidly becoming a key dimension of the foreign policies of a number of nations.


The State Department’s leadership should take prompt steps to increase comprehension throughout the department of the importance of S&T developments around the world and to incorporate this understanding into the nation’s foreign policy, the report says.  The department should conduct S&T-oriented foresight assessments that synthesize actionable conclusions of over-the-horizon S&T assessments and bring them to the attention of appropriate department officials. The program should not just identify challenges; advising officials on what to do is critical.


While the department has taken important steps to strengthen S&T capabilities in Washington, progress at U.S. embassies abroad has lagged behind seriously, the report says. The department should more fully support its front-line diplomats with strong contingents of civil servants who are up-to-date on the technical dimensions of issues on the department’s agenda. It should increase the cadre of Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) with technical backgrounds and provide increased training and education for all FSOs to prepare them for handling S&T-related issues, including assignment to positions that focus on these issues. In addition, the department should maintain S&T counselors at embassies where S&T issues are particularly important components of the bilateral relationship.


In its efforts to improve its S&T capabilities, the department should draw upon the strengths and expertise not only of government agencies but also of universities, nongovernment organizations, and private-sector companies, the report says. Enhancing the department's capabilities will require some, but not many resources, and the return on a modest investment will be substantial.


The report will be discussed at an event to be held in the Lecture Room of the National Academy of Sciences building from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on June 17. Reporters who would like to attend should contact the Office of News and Public Information (contacts below).


The study was requested by the U.S. Department of State and was sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Golden Family Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, supplemented by funds from the National Academies. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.  A committee roster follows.



Sara Frueh, Media Relations Officer

Chelsea Dickson, Media Relations Associate

Office of News and Public Information

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Pre-publication copies of Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Embedding a Culture of Science and Technology Throughout the Department of State are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).





Division on Policy and Global Affairs


Committee on Science and Technology Capabilities at the Department of State


Thomas R. Pickering (co-chair)

Vice Chairman

Hills and Company

Washington, D.C.


Adel A.F. Mahmoud1 (co-chair)

Professor in Molecular Biology and Public Policy

Princeton University

Princeton, N.J.


Catherine A. Bertini


Department of Public Administration

Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Administration

Syracuse University

Syracuse, N.Y.


Kenneth C. Brill

Independent Consultant

Washington, D.C.


Thaddeus Burns

Senior Counsel for Intellectual Property and Trade

General Electric Co.

Washington, D.C.


M.T. Clegg2

Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences

Department of Ecology and Evolution

University of California



Glen T. Daigger3


One Water Solutions

Parker, Colo.


Kent H. Hughes


Program on America and the Global Economy

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Washington, D.C.


Cindy R. Jebb

Professor and Head

Department of Social Sciences

United States Military Academy

West Point, N.Y.


Michael T. Jones

Chief Technology Advocate

Google Inc.

Mountain View, Calif.


Robert M. Perito

Executive Director

The Perito Group

Washington, D.C.


Brenda Pierce

Program Coordinator

Energy Resources Program

U.S. Geological Survey

Reston, Va.


Sten H. Vermund1

Amos Christie Chair of Global Health, and

Director, Institute for Global Health

Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tenn.


David G. Victor


Laboratory on International Law and Regulation

University of California, San Diego

La Jolla





Glenn E. Schweitzer

Study Director


Patricia Koshel

Senior Program Officer


Jacqueline Martin

Program Coordinator



1 Member, Institute of Medicine

2 Member, National Academy of Sciences

3 Member, National Academy of Engineering