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Diplomacy in Action

How Science and Technology Expertise and Information is Being Used by the Department of State Since the 1999 National Research Council Study

E. William Colglazier, Ph.D.
Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary 
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and National Academy of Engineering (NAE)
Washington, DC
September 9, 2013


I wish to thank you for the opportunity to provide an overview of how science and technology expertise and information are being used by the U.S. Department of State since the 1999 National Research Council (NRC) study “The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology, and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State.” Later today I will have the opportunity to speak about the role and activities of the Office of Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS), which was created in response to a recommendation of the 1999 study. You will also hear today and tomorrow from a number of bureaus and offices at the Department that utilize science and technology expertise and information.

I would like to begin by providing two observations that have greatly impressed me during my two years in the Department. As you know, I am a newcomer to government service after serving as the Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council for 17 years, which included the period when the 1999 study was produced.

Science and Technology Expertise in the Department of State

My first observation is that the Department has a large cohort of talented and experienced professionals who are highly trained with strong credentials in scientific, engineering, and medical disciplines. The human capacity in science and technology is far greater than I realized before joining the Department.

A number of functional bureaus and offices have for many years attracted civil servants trained in science and technology. These include the bureaus of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), Intelligence and Research (INR), Arms Control and Verification Compliance (AVC), and International Security and Non-Proliferation (ISN). Several new bureaus and offices created since 1999 have considerable science and technology expertise; these include Energy Resources (ENR), Global AIDS Coordinator (S/GAC), Counterterrorism (CT), Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS), Special Envoy for Climate Change (S/SECC), Coordinator for Cyber Issues (S/CCI), and Special Representative for Global Food Security (S/GFS). The USAID Office of Science and Technology, which is headed by the Science and Technology Adviser to the Administrator, also has a large group of scientifically trained personnel who have greatly expanded the role of science and technology in our nation’s programs for aiding less developed countries.

A significant enhancement of the science and technology human capacity in the Department and USAID in recent decades has come from fellowship programs that bring scientifically trained personnel to gain experience working in diplomacy and development inside the government. Foremost in size is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year. Today over 30 AAAS Fellows are in their first or second year of their fellowships working at the Department, and approximately 60 former AAAS Fellows have become civil service or foreign service employees. Today approximately 60 AAAS Fellows are working at USAID. Wherever I have gone at the Department, I have found either current or former fellows. They have permeated the functional and regional bureaus, greatly added to the science and technology human capacity, and formed a network outside of the hierarchy. The same is true for current and former AAAS fellows working at USAID.

The Jefferson Science Fellows Program, which was initiated by one of my predecessors nine years ago, brings senior tenured faculty to work for a year in the Department and at USAID. Jefferson Fellows continue to serve as resource experts after returning to their universities, both informally and through well-established mechanisms to officially represent the U.S. Government, and so can increase the bidirectional flow of science and policy information with America’s universities. Twelve Jefferson Fellows have just completed their assignments, and thirteen new Fellows have just started. Two professional societies – the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP) – bring several fellows each year as well. Other fellowship programs, such as the Franklin Fellows Program and the Foster Fellows Program, include individuals trained in science, engineering, and medicine. My office is staffed almost entirely by current and former fellows. The current Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Kerri-Ann Jones; the current Science and Technology Adviser to the USAID Administrator, Alex Dehgan; and I are all former AAAS fellows. Fellows contribute to science diplomacy whether they stay in government or pursue careers outside of government.

I have found that the regular employees and fellows in the Department and USAID who are trained in science, engineering, and medicine and who focus on science and technology issues are intimately familiar with the current state of scientific knowledge in their domains of interest and responsibility as well as with the experts and researchers inside and outside of government who work in the relevant disciplines. I have also gained great respect for the knowledge and dedication of Foreign Service Officers who have Environment, Science, Technology, and Health (ESTH) responsibilities serving in our overseas posts and in Washington. They may not have advanced training in science and technology, but they bring great knowledge and experience in diplomacy, have impressive country expertise, and work hard to expand their knowledge of contemporary science and technology issues relevant to advancing U.S. engagement with foreign countries. I have found that the two cultures work well together and learn from each other.

Science and Technology as an Asset for U.S. Diplomacy

My second observation is that science is an even greater asset and imperative for U.S. diplomacy than I realized before joining the Department. This observation surprised me as I have spent much of my career focusing on the role of science and technology in international affairs.

In 2010 the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development released a strategic blueprint to chart the course of the next four years.[1] In this first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, it was stated:

“Science, engineering, technology and innovation are the engines of modern society and a dominant force in globalization and international economic development.”

The significance of this statement has been emphasized repeatedly to me over the past two years in conversations with representatives of many countries about science and technology. I have been struck by the fact that nearly every country has put at the very top of its agenda the role of science and technology for supporting innovation and economic development. This observation has been true for countries at every level of development – not only for countries like Germany, Japan, China, India, Brazil, South Korea, and Singapore, but also for countries like Mexico, Colombia, Chile, South Africa, Indonesia, Czech Republic, Malaysia, and Vietnam. They are all seeking insights regarding the right policies and investments to help their societies to become more innovative and competitive to ensure a more prosperous future for their citizens.

Most countries see two trends clearly: (i) science and technology have a major impact on the economic success of leading companies and countries and (ii) the scientific and technological revolution has been accelerating. If countries do not become more capable in science and technology, they will be left behind. The upside is great if they can capitalize on the transformative potential of new and emerging technologies.

Countries also recognize that almost every issue with which they are confronted on the national, regional, and global level has an important scientific and technological component. This is true whether the issue concerns health, environment, national security, homeland security, energy, communication, food, water, climate change, disaster preparedness, or education. Countries know they have smart, creative, entrepreneurial people. They believe their people can compete, even from a distance, if the right investments are made and the right policies are implemented. And they know that to become more capable in science and technology and to create innovation and knowledge-based societies, they must collaborate with the world leaders in science and technology.

How have these developments affected science diplomacy? For the U.S., science has become a strategic asset for our diplomacy because all countries want to engage with our scientists and engineers, with our universities and research laboratories, and with our high technology companies. They want to see how we innovate and how we connect research and development to the productive sector. This desire is true even for countries where our governmental relations are strained or non-existent. For the U.S., engaging with countries in science and technology is a significant way for affecting their policies and investments and for opening doors to talk about many other issues. The only limit to our ability to capitalize on these opportunities is the constraint on our resources to meet all of the requests from other countries for collaboration and cooperation in science and technology.

Our science diplomacy helps other countries to become more capable in science and technology. One might worry that this creates more capable competitors, but I believe that it is in the U.S. interest to encourage more knowledge-based societies worldwide that rely upon science. Countries that are able to use science and technology for innovation and economic growth are likely to be more politically stable and promote regional stability, which is in our national security interests. Furthermore, scientific values reflect the ideals of meritocracy, transparency, and critical thinking, all of which ultimately reduce extremism and bolster democracy.

And since science is now globalized, the only way to stay in the forefront of the scientific and technological revolution, which is where I want the U.S. to be, is to run faster and to work with the best scientists and engineers wherever they reside in the world. That is why I support more global scientific engagement by the U.S. with leading scientists and engineers around the world.

I believe that the world has a special opportunity in this decade since so many countries are focusing on improving their capabilities in science and technology and are willing to make fundamental changes in investments and policies so they can build more innovative societies and solve their most critical challenges. If we can minimize wars and conflicts with skillful diplomacy, the potential is there for more rapid economic growth, faster expansion of the middle class, and increased democratic governance in many countries as well as increased trade between countries. This is an optimistic scenario. A range of future scenarios, including some that are quite pessimistic, are laid out in the report Global Trends 2030, published by the U.S. National Intelligence Council in 2012.[2] I believe that we can make the hopeful scenario a reality. Science diplomacy is one of our most important tools in achieving the desired outcome.

Response Since the 1999 National Research Council Report

On May 12, 2000, Secretary Albright issued a Memorandum on Science and Technology to All Department of State Employees and a Policy Statement on Science & Technology and Diplomacy.[3] On May 15, 2000, the Department released the Policy Statement and the Report “Science and Foreign Policy: The Role of the Department of State” prepared by the Department’s Senior Task Force on Strengthening Science at State.[4] The latter document goes into great detail on the steps that the Department would be taking to strengthen its ability to carry out its leadership role on science-based issues in foreign policy. The first annex to the report provided an historical overview of science at State, and the second annex provided a detailed response by the Department to the recommendations of the 1999 NRC report.

Secretary Albright’s Policy Statement was a strong positive response to the NRC report’s first recommendation that the Secretary should articulate and implement a policy that gives greater attention to science and technology. An indicator of the endurance of that policy is reflected in the key quotes from the 2010 QDDR that focus on science and technology. Key references and actions related to science, technology, and innovation in the QDDR are contained in the attached document.[5] Secretary Kerry has initiated preparations for the next version of the QDDR.

Among the other recommendations from the 1999 Report that have been implemented by the Department include: (i) the designation of an Under Secretary to ensure departmental consideration of important science and technology (S&T) aspects of foreign policy issues (Under Secretary for Energy, Environment, and Economic Growth), (ii) appointment of a senior advisor on S&T issues housed in the office of the designated Under Secretary (Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary), (iii) development of an organizational structure that recognizes the importance of S&T and increased resources to meet S&T-related requirements (creation of the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary, the Bureau of Energy Resources, the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science, Space, and Health in the OES Bureau, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, the Special Envoy for Climate Change, the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, the Office of Global Food Security, the USAID Office of Science and Technology, and the appointment of the Science and Technology Adviser to the USAID Administrator – while State cannot be the expert on every scientific issue, the creation of these offices and advisors has led to deeper and richer relationships with the technical agencies, which further enriches the Department’s capabilities), (iv) increase in the use of qualified scientists from other departments (more borrowed personnel from science agencies working in the Department and creation of the Embassy Science Fellows program for personnel from science agencies serving at overseas embassies), (v) increase in the literacy of Foreign Service Officers and other officials (creation of courses at the Foreign Service Institute, including a special course for ESTH officers), (vi) acceleration of IT modernization in the Department (significant progress over the past decade in upgrading IT capabilities and communication technologies, especially through the Office of eDiplomacy), and (vii) streamlining of the process of interagency review of proposed agreements and bilateral MOUs.

Other significant new initiatives since 1999 have included: (i) appointment of nine distinguished Science Envoys, (ii) appointments of lead S&T advisers in the regional bureaus in the Department, (iii) increase in the number of Department-funded AAAS Fellows, and (iv) creation of the Jefferson Science Fellowship Program which is now financed by the Department after being initiated by U.S. private foundations.

Among the recommendations not adopted include (i) assignment of 25 qualified S&T Counselors to U.S. embassies and (ii) establishment of an S&T Advisory Committee. The Department has, however, created the Embassy Science Fellows program, and USAID is now placing AAAS Fellows in USAID missions overseas. In the area of arms control, the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security oversees the Secretary of State's International Security Advisory Board (ISAB), which was created in 2011 to provide the Department with independent insight and advice on all aspects of arms control, disarmament, and international security.

Areas Where the New NRC Committee Can Provide Valuable Assistance to the Department

Under Secretary Hormats sent a letter to NAS President Cicerone on September 5, 2012, stating that the Department would benefit from a new unbiased assessment by the Academy of the changed environment for the role of science and technology (S&T) in diplomacy over the past decade. He went on to emphasize some of the areas where input could help the Department that go beyond assessing our S&T capabilities. These include: how best to incorporate S&T principles into our work fostering democracy and economic advancement, how to leverage the science community to help strengthen relations between countries and to increase the role of S&T in policy decisions of foreign governments, how to leverage partnerships with governmental and non-governmental organizations to expand our diplomacy efforts, and how to encourage leaders of foreign governments who look to us for guidance on how to incorporate science into their foreign policy endeavors.

The State Department has made great progress in advancing its S&T capabilities since the 1999 report. I know that the Department is looking forward to the report of the new NRC committee, and am confident that the recommendations will be carefully considered as was the case with the 1999 report. I also believe that the new study will be of greatest benefit to the Department if the committee expands its task to encompass the broad overarching goals expressed in Under Secretary Hormats’ letter and the additional goal of helping the U.S. to sustain scientific leadership that is essential to our national interests.



3. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Memorandum to All Department of State Employees on Science and Technology, signed May 12, 2000, Released by the Office of the Spokesman, May 15, 2000.

4. Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright, Policy Statement on Science & Technology and Diplomacy, Attachment to Memorandum Signed May 12, 2000, Released by the Office of the Spokesman, May 15, 2000. Report Prepared by the Department’s Senior Task Force on Strengthening Science at State, “Science and Foreign Policy: The Role of the Department of State,” March 28, 2000, Released May 15, 2000.

5. The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR): Key References and Actions for Science Technology and Innovation.

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