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).
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Policy and Global Affairs
Committee on Science and Technology Capabilities at the Department of State
Thomas R. Pickering (co-chair)
Hills and Company
Adel A.F. Mahmoud1 (co-chair)
Professor in Molecular Biology and Public Policy
Catherine A. Bertini
Department of Public Administration
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Administration
Kenneth C. Brill
Senior Counsel for Intellectual Property and Trade
General Electric Co.
Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences
Department of Ecology and Evolution
University of California
Glen T. Daigger3
One Water Solutions
Kent H. Hughes
Program on America and the Global Economy
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Cindy R. Jebb
Professor and Head
Department of Social Sciences
United States Military Academy
West Point, N.Y.
Michael T. Jones
Chief Technology Advocate
Mountain View, Calif.
Robert M. Perito
The Perito Group
Energy Resources Program
U.S. Geological Survey
Sten H. Vermund1
Amos Christie Chair of Global Health, and
Director, Institute for Global Health
David G. Victor
Laboratory on International Law and Regulation
University of California, San Diego
Glenn E. Schweitzer
Senior Program Officer
1 Member, Institute of Medicine