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Role and Activities of the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS)

E. William Colglazier, Ph.D.
Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary 
The Committee on Science and Technology Capabilities at the Department of State for National Research Council (NRC)
Washington, DC
September 9, 2013


The overarching goal of the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS) is to help the U.S. Department of State in the practice of “science diplomacy, “ which encompasses (i) science and technology aiding, informing, and advancing diplomacy to help achieve foreign policy goals, (2) diplomacy advancing the science and technology enterprise in the United States and globally, and (3) science and technology helping to solve critical national, regional and global challenges that can improve relations between countries and make all people and societies more secure, healthy, peaceful, stable and prosperous. We pursue science diplomacy as an element of “smart power” to achieve our national and global interests.

STAS is a small office, not an operational bureau with detailed responsibilities and authorities; but it has great assets in the title and mandate to assist all parts of the Department, to help initiate new creative projects, and to engage domestically and internationally in science diplomacy. The specific goals for STAS include: (i) strengthen the scientific and technical human capacity inside the Department, (ii) assist the Department’s bureaus and offices on specific matters where science and technology (S&T) expertise and knowledge are relevant, (iii) help to anticipate S&T issues that may affect international relations and/or disrupt societies in either positive or negative ways, (iv) promote science-based capacity-building and science-based policy-making domestically and internationally, and (v) to serve as a strong proponent of global scientific engagement for mutual benefit. STAS seeks to leverage its networks inside and outside the Department and to build effective public-private partnerships. We spend much of our time in public diplomacy and in dialogue with many countries on how S&T can stimulate innovation and economic development and help to build knowledge-based societies.

STAS works very closely with the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES), especially its offices of Science and Technology Cooperation (OES/STC) and Space and Advanced Technology (OES/SAT) which have important responsibilities and authorities related to S&T, and with the Office of Science and Technology (OST) in the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which has greatly expanded the role of S&T in addressing development challenges of the poorest countries. STAS partners with many other bureaus and offices in the Department, including with all of the six regional bureaus and with many of the functional bureaus and special offices. The latter includes the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (AVC), International Organizations (IO), the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB), the Bureau of Energy Resources (ENR), the Global Partnership Initiative (GPI), the Bureau of International Security and Non-Proliferation (ISN), and many others. STAS also works with all of the science agencies of the U.S. government and with the science components of the major federal departments, including the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Energy (DOE), U.S. intelligence agencies, and others.

In the past two years the work plan for STAS has focused around ten key areas:

1. Expand Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy Dialogues and with Key Countries

2. Facilitate Global Scientific Engagement to Strengthen Relations and to Support Capacity Building with Many Countries by Utilizing the Assets of U.S. Government Agencies, Private Companies, Universities, and NGOs

3. Stimulate Creative Approaches for Sourcing Innovation to Meet U.S. Government Needs and Foreign Policy Objectives

4. Enhance S&T Fellowship Programs that Bring Bright Scientists and Engineers to Work at State and USAID

5. Partner with American Scientific Institutions and Scientists for Enhancing Public Diplomacy World-wide

6. Promote Programs that Empower Women in Science and Engineering

7. Collaborate with OST at USAID for Addressing Development Priorities

8. Explore the Potential Impact of New Disruptive and Transformational Technologies that Will Likely Affect American Interests and Societies Worldwide

9. Contribute to S&T Advice Inside the Department and Expand Opportunities for Departmental Seminars with External S&T Experts

10. Encourage Other Countries to Seek Independent, Objective S&T Advice From Non-governmental S&T Communities

A brief overview of activities in these areas is described below.

Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy Dialogues and Programs

STAS has held discussions in the United States and abroad with representatives of many countries focusing on the role of science and technology in innovation and economic development, which has been the highest priority topic related to S&T in almost every country. Many of the international trips and foreign engagements supported by STAS have been at the request of the Department’s regional bureaus, our Embassies, and U.S. government agencies to engage on this topic with foreign governments, universities, and businesses. In this globalized interconnected world, many governments are seeking to modify their policies and investments in order to build innovative ecosystems and knowledge-based societies to ensure prosperous futures. Countries are interested in learning from the approaches that have been taken in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

The Office of Science and Technology Cooperation (OES/STC) and STAS along with other offices in the E family (Under Secretariat for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment) are working jointly to develop a holistic approach to engage in dialogues and programs on S&T for innovation. The approach includes dialogues and programs that emphasize different aspects of an effective innovative ecosystem, including strong educational systems at all levels, investments in research and development by government and industry, venture capital and risk capital investment, intellectual property protection, strong research universities engaged in tech transfer and linkages to the private sector, specialized government programs such as SBIR, tax policies that promote innovation, regional innovation clusters, etc. STAS also collaborates with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global on innovation conferences in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia that are jointly sponsored with host countries.

Global Scientific Engagement to Strengthen Relations and to Support Capacity Building

An important goal of STAS is to facilitate global S&T engagement that serves U.S. interests and helps to advance science, solve global problems, and support diplomacy. In this era of globalization, the United States can remain at the cutting edge and world leader in S&T only by engaging with the scientific and technical communities elsewhere. There is a renewed recognition that countries need to cooperate in S&T to find national and global solutions to our most important challenges.

We are working with other federal agencies, including NSF, NIH, and the basic research arms of DOD, to support international S&T engagement; interacting with U.S. universities to encourage expansion of their international S&T activities; and with OES in seeking additional funding sources that can support engagement with key countries. Our research universities are engaged with scientific communities and train students from around the world; they represent one of our greatest assets in building relationships with other countries.

STAS is also working to help remove barriers that inhibit collaboration, including examining generic visa problems. An important goal is to help spread core American and scientific values of inclusion, transparency, academic freedom, and merit-based support for science-based decision-making. Science is an equalizing force in societies, an agent of change, and a source of optimism about the future.

STAS also works to support bilateral engagements such as the Pakistan-U.S. Science and Technology Cooperation Program, which awards competitive grants to support joint projects in fields of science, engineering, and health, strengthening cooperation between the United States and Pakistan, and supporting Pakistani development goals. More than 6,300 Pakistanis have received research and technical training in a wide range of development-related research and practical fields through projects supported by the program. The program is intended to increase the strength and breadth of cooperation and linkages between Pakistan scientists and institutions with their counterparts in the United States.

A new way that STAS is tapping into the existing S&T human capacity in the United States for engaging with foreign countries is through a public-private partnership focusing on the science and engineering diaspora groups in the United States. The State Department’s Networks of Diasporas in Engineering and Science, or NODES, was created in 2012 to strengthen diaspora networks and encourage diasporas to collaborate with their countries of origin or ancestry. State, NAS, AAAS, and USAID (through the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance) promote and support NODES diaspora communities to give back to their countries of origin through initiatives in science and technology, entrepreneurship, and social innovation. NODES has sponsored sessions at the annual State Department and USAID Global Diaspora Fora and at the annual AAAS meetings that have brought together diaspora groups from a wide range of countries.

Research universities in the United States are very international and build linkages between countries across all disciplines. The international collaborations are not only those initiated by individual faculty, but are also strategic engagements made by university leaders and partly financed via university funds. STAS is seeking to expand the State Department’s involvement with U.S. universities and create greater synergies in our S&T programs and activities. The increased university interest in international science augments many of the Department’s efforts in promoting science across the world.

Creative Approaches for Sourcing Innovation

STAS helps to pilot creative approaches through public-private partnerships for sourcing innovation to meet important needs that can be addressed through new technologies. One of the most successful has been the public-private partnership called LAUNCH - a joint effort of the State Department, NASA, USAID, and NIKE – which uses an open challenge approach to identify innovators with compelling new capabilities in broad technology areas relevant to sustainability challenges in developing countries. Open challenges have been held in water, global health, clean energy and waste reduction. The newest challenge, which focuses on fabrics, is the first in a series that will address applications of materials. LAUNCH searches for visionaries whose world-class ideas, technologies, or programs show great promise for making tangible impacts in the developed and developing worlds. The groups with the best proposals are invited each year to meet with venture capitalists and advisers on business plans. LAUNCH was recognized as one of the top 25 programs in the 2013 Innovations in American Government Awards competition by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Through the energetic efforts a former IEEE Fellow, STAS was able to help connect the Department with significant capabilities in U.S. startups and universities relevant to the Department’s unmet needs related to S&T. The purpose has been not only to help address technological needs, but also to stimulate economic growth in the United States and elsewhere. As one example, the Department collaborated with the DeVenCI program at DOD – the Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative – to address technological needs at four bureaus, including AVC, INR, Overseas Buildings Operations, and Diplomatic Security. The effort helped to connect U.S. venture capitalists and their portfolio companies to the technology needs articulated by these four bureaus.

S&T Fellowship Programs

The most significant and enduring contribution of STAS to the S&T capacity of the State Department is serving as the steward of several outstanding fellowship programs that bring science and engineering PhDs to work at State. Thirty-seven AAAS Fellows were at the Department last year, and over thirty just started this year. Approximately sixty former fellows have become regular employees. Current and former fellows have permeated the department, greatly expanded the S&T human capacity, and formed a great network. 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 at State, and to continue to serve as resources after their return to their universities. The current alumni network of Jefferson Fellows is approximately ninety scientists and engineers. Currently, nine are in residence at State and four at USAID. Two professional societies – IEEE and AIP – bring several fellows each year as well. STAS benefits with a number of current fellows working in the office as well as a number of former fellows who are the leaders in the office. STAS also benefits greatly each year with a number of borrowed personnel from U.S. scientific agencies, including NSF, NIH, and national laboratories. In addition to being a good steward of these programs, STAS seeks ways to enhance the effectiveness and reach of these fellowship programs.

Science and Scientists for Enhancing Public Diplomacy

Scientists and engineers form a global community, speak a common language, and build partnerships based on shared values. The publics and the scientific communities in other countries hold American scientists and engineers in high esteem. The interest that people show all over the world in science and engineering, and how it can improve their children’s lives, provides a variety of opportunities for meaningful conversations between American scientists and engineers and the public at large throughout the world.

The Science Technology and Innovation (STI) Expert Partnership launched by STAS, IIP, OES, and ten scientific and engineering societies – including AAAS and the National Academies – introduces U.S. scientists, engineers, and technology experts traveling abroad to foreign audiences through U.S. Embassy-supported science public diplomacy programs. These American scientists and engineers can reach out to publics to consider shared global challenges; to discuss scientific issues that affect societies; to inspire a new generation; to lay the foundation for expanded scientific collaboration; and to forge relationships that build capacity in developing nations. This program has been very successful to supplement the State Department’s regular speaker programs and to connect U.S. scientists and engineers already traveling abroad with a wide range of foreign audiences.

STAS also works with the OES Bureau to help select new U.S. Science Envoys. The nine envoys in the first three cohorts have already contributed greatly in carrying out public science diplomacy in a number of important countries.

Women in Science and Engineering

Through the efforts of energetic AAAS Fellows working at STAS, the NeXXt Scholars Program was created and implemented. It has become a strong partnership of the U.S. Department of State with 37 women’s colleges, USAID, and the New York Academy of Sciences. Launched in a video release by the Secretary in 2011, the Program is part of an International Women’s Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Initiative. The NeXXt Scholars Program offers young women from countries with Muslim-majority populations the opportunity for career advancement via professional development, leadership, and mentoring support in pursuing STEM undergraduate degrees at U.S. women’s colleges. Each foreign student is paired with an American NeXXt Scholar, both matched to a female STEM mentor. The enrichment and mentoring activities help the scholars to acquire the skills and confidence needed to become future leaders, problem-solvers, and innovators.

STAS also assists OES/STC by stressing in every S&T engagement with other countries the importance of expanding the participation of women in science, technology, and innovation. Any country that wishes to compete globally cannot allow the potential talent of half of its population to go to waste. More women than men are now enrolled in higher education institutions globally, and in both developing and developed countries alike, women are excelling. Women graduate from college at higher rates than men in many countries around the world, including the United States and nations of the European Union. Countries with higher participation of women in education and the skilled workforce do better economically, which is a persuasive economic argument for emphasizing the benefits of expanding the participation of women in the S&T workforce.

S&T for Addressing Development Priorities

STAS works closely with the Office of Science and Technology (OST) at USAID to ensure that our efforts on science diplomacy are mutually reinforcing with USAID’s efforts to improve development effectiveness through science and technology. Several Jefferson Science Fellows work each year at USAID, and we have worked closely with USAID and OES/STC to place Embassy Science Fellows at posts where State and USAID have jointly requested S&T expertise from USG science agencies. While STAS has limited resources, it works closely to support their high-priority activities, including their Grand Challenges and prize competitions and their work with universities. One of earlier S&T Adviser at State, who also served as S&T Adviser at USAID, helped to initiate the process that resulted in the creation of the PEER program between NSF and USAID, which stands for Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research. This competitive program supports joint research between U.S. and foreign scientists where NSF funds the Americans and USAID funds the foreign scientists. STAS partners with USAID in the LAUNCH program to identify innovators with compelling new capabilities in broad technology areas with significant potential to advance State and USAID goals.

Impact of New Disruptive and Transformational Technologies

STAS helps to provide foresight for new transformational and disruptive technologies that can affect societies throughout the world in significant ways. These new technologies can create new opportunities as well as new challenges. We assisted our colleagues at INR who managed the Global Futures Forum (GFF), which was a network of intelligence and security officials from 23 member nations who collaborate on strategic and global security issues. GFF hosted a series of meetings to examine the potential implications of technological changes on global security. The meetings brought together technology experts and experienced foresight analysts and strategists with the goal of increasing our ability to plan and prepare for a range of possible future opportunities and threats.

STAS has also collaborated with the Atlantic Council on S&T foresight and on the opportunities and challenges of rapid urbanization occurring around the world. The number of people living in cities will grow to over 60% of the projected population of 8.3 billion by 2030, and could rise to 85% of the world’s population by the end of the century. Cities are the economic, political, cultural, and academic engines of most countries; and have the potential to provide enormous social, financial, and environmental benefits, including an expansion of the middle class and growth of markets for products and goods that can help reduce urban and rural poverty. On the other hand, poorly governed cities can lead to political unrest, regional instability, crime, slums, and failed states. Science, technology, and innovation are important components for building successful cities of the future. An especially promising area is making effective use of new insights that are made possible by advances in information technology and analysis of large amounts of data being collected by sensors of many different types. If we can create cities that are sustainable, innovative, livable, prosperous, and smart, we will ensure the success of most countries.

S&T Advice Inside the State Department

While opportunities for providing S&T advice inside the Department are less than might be expected from the STAS title (partly because the State Department already has considerable S&T expertise within its bureaus), there are cases where STAS can fill an unmet need. STAS and OES drafted the scientific integrity policy for State, and STAS helped to provide input with OES on the H5N1 issue. STAS has facilitated access to external expertise for offices when that has been requested. STAS is also arranging seminars inside State with knowledgeable S&T experts, including the Jefferson Science Fellows and external experts on issues such as synthetic biology, additive manufacturing, alternative energy technologies, greening of the health care sector, and research programs of other agencies.

Independent, Objective S&T Advice From Non-governmental S&T Communities

One of the most important goals of STAS is to encourage other governments to seek independent, objective advice from their S&T communities. The United States has benefited greatly from expert advice on a range of public policy issues from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and other non-governmental scientific organizations. Our government may not always like the public advice, but it listens, and important policies are frequently influenced for the better. There are two potential benefits from encouraging other countries to do the same. First, decisions may be wiser if the governments listen to this independent, objective advice. Second, the U.S. S&T community can help shape the views of other S&T communities through active engagement, and foreign governments are more likely to be influenced by their own S&T communities on important issues. This observation is especially true for countries where governmental relations with the United States are strained or non-existent. U.S. non-governmental S&T organizations are currently engaging with S&T communities around the world, including not only in countries like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Israel, South Africa, and Jordan, but also in Iran, Burma, Cuba, and North Korea. As was the case with the dialogues between the S&T communities in the United States and the Soviet Union on arms control during the height of the cold war, “windows of opportunity” may emerge in these problem countries where science communication links become especially important and influential.

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