Secrecy News alerts us to a series of newly released Congressional Research Service reports related to national security policy. The leading report it of particular interest to the science and technology community, especially given the incessantObama transition chatter. The report is titled, “The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy: Issues for Congress,” and it presents a thorough analysis of how the OSTP has been used, how it interacts with the executive, and its relationship with other S&T agencies (including the organizational chart of OSTP advisory councils, pictured at the right). Later in the report, however, CRS moves forward to consider how the future president might use the OSTP, asking the question: what are the pros and cons of having an OSTP at all? To that end, CRS comes to some very interesting conclusions:
From a presidential perspective, if the S&T adviser or presidential advisory committee is not committed to the President’s agenda and is not willing to represent the Administration’s perspective, the President may believe that high-level S&T advice will provide more harm than good. If the S&T adviser has a close relationship with the President, the S&T community may fear this will lead to the politicization of S&T and subvert the S&T adviser’s ability to provide independent advice. A historical review of presidential S&T activities since the F.D. Roosevelt Administration illustrates that a presidential S&T adviser or advisory committee may be placed in a challenging position when a difference in opinion exists between the President and the majority of the S&T community. The result may be dismissal or marginalization of S&T consideration from the White House inner circle.
This jumped off the page to me, because by definition the OSTP should be committed to the promotion of good science, rather than the political ends of the President. CRS continues by presenting the alternative, which is that, “an S&T adviser who understands these sensitivities may be an asset to the Administration, providing confidential advice privately and speaking authoritatively on S&T-related issues for the Administration publically.” While these sensitives would certainly be an asset to the adviser, I shudder to think of the trade-off between political maneuvering and the promotion of a legitimate national security research agenda.