Technology Policy and Campaign Rhetoric
In another lifetime, a musician-poet wrote "The Times They Are a-Changin." Today, they are indeed changing. A nearly year-old position paper by the President-elect is circulating that touts the creation of a Chief Technology Officer for the country. Like the rhetoric speaking to defunding many of the Defense Department's programs, one can only hope that the creation of a CTO position in the government is at least diluted by the realities that face this country.
Ask the question of whether the country needs a Chief Technology Officer. For years, the White House has had an Office of Science and Technology Policy , most recently headed by Dr. John Marburger. So, I truly wonder if the appointment of a CTO is a new idea, or just another re-wrapped present. The mission statement reads:
"The Office of Science and Technology Policy advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The office serves as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the President with respect to major policies, plans and programs of the Federal Government. OSTP leads an interagency effort to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets. The office works with the private sector to ensure Federal investments in science and technology contribute to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and national security."
Recreating a position that already exists is not change, but it is re-packaging. As the White House and the Executive Branch, it is difficult to set priorities for the Nation's S&T efforts in anything more than a general way. The government is generally not the right entity to select a technology that is targetted to a particular technology need. That's why when a government agency has a requirement, it goes to a Publicly Announced request for proposals on topics and then goes through a rigorous competitive and then peer review process.
So, let's take a step back and look at what the fundamental problems are, noting that the following list may well be limited by personal opinion and thus, inadvertently leave off a critical program area:
Overall, there is an inherent and growing need to find new means of fighting the fights that will always be out there in the world. To naively believe that diplomacy will enable waving of a magic wand to eliminate global conflict is not an option. Further, the campaign rhetoric of the President-elect to de-fund the defense department is irresponsible in the face of the reality ot today's world. New and advanced systems and methods to fight the War on Terrorism must not take a back seat, or worse, be taken off the radar screen.
(1) US competitiveness has been waning because of a lack of STEM concentraiton among US citizen students. So reinforcing the importance of STEM, not only as a career to pursue, but as a National priority is key.
(2) The US needs to take a very hard look at its patent laws and determine if it is making it possible for entrepreneurs who are innovators to protect their ideas. The move to first to file, rather than first to invent, in my opinion is faulty on its face, and counter to the US regaining its leadership in S&T.
(3) There needs to be a focus on new materials, especially those materials that reduce the drain on petro products during their manufacturing. A forward looking S&T program that dove tails an energy policy with a new materials initiative would make sense.
(4) An investigation into new sources of energy goes without saying.
Essentially, the current Office of Science and Technology Policy is already doing a CTO role. The setting of priorities is a fine idea. Just like when JFK set the goal of going to the Moon. He set the goal but did not determine the methods.
Without a recognition of the great danger this country faces in the War on Terrorism, much of this becomes moot. If there is one thing and one thing only that this new government should do is to ensure that United States students are encouraged to pursue careers and curriculum in STEM. Without that, the US will become a third world country from the science and technology perspective, and will then be at the mercy of the rest of the World for solutions to the 21st Century problems that we now face, and those that have yet to emerge.
In soliciting ideas from the public on the priorities for this new CTO, high on the list of suggestions are things like repealing the Patriot Act and repealing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. For one thing, both of these issues are not for a CTO to change. These are policy issues, and not questions to be answered by Science and Technology. One also commented about returning the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to its former prominence. On that, anyone who understands the important role of innovation and the enabling of high-risk research solutions to be brought to bear on critical problems, would be in favor. Perhaps a new perspective is needed. Afterall, the current head of the OSTP is "only" a physicist and former head of a major research university. Who will be the Nation's CTO? The speculation includes mostly executives from the Internet world. There is no denying the inherent economic and job development value of the Internet. However, as shown by the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, the word "technology" covers a vast range of capabilities that go far beyond Information Technology and the Internet.