American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

OSTP Report on Science and Technology Shaping the Twenty-First Century

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) biennially reports to Congress on the Administration's science and technology policies and programs. The most recent report, entitled "Science and Technology Shaping the Twenty-First Century," was released in April. The report includes chapters on six general issues:

Each section contains cases studies illustrating current issues in research and development, Administrative actions, and future directions of study.

Most earth science information is contained in the Environment chapter, which focuses on methods of moving to a path of sustainable development. Geoscience innovations are needed to confront a variety of challenges in sustainablity, such as safegaurding water resources, reducing exposure to toxic substances, limiting the impact of natural hazards, and understanding and mitigating climate change. The report emphasizes the need to assess, anticipate, and avoid the negative consequence of environmental change, rather than simply react to problems after they occur.

The report also provides a vision for America's energy future. The stated goal of energy production is to maintain a robust and affordable supply of energy while reducing the environmental impacts of energy production and use. Americans currently rely on fossil fuels, even though fossil fuel emissions are "among the most significant threats to sustainable environmental quality and human health." The Administration envisions a diverse future energy portfolio that includes lower carbon fuels, increased renewable technologies, and nuclear energy options.

Copies of the report are available for $15.00 from the Government Printing Office at (202) 512-1800. Please cite stock number 04000000678-7. The report is expected to be available on the OSTP web site in July.

The following summary of the report is reprinted form the American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, #65: May 21, 1997.

Biennially, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) reports to Congress on the Administration's policies, programs, and plans relating to science and technology. The most recent report, "Science and Technology Shaping the 21st Century" (141 pages), released in April, describes programs implemented by the Clinton Administration to support the goals developed in earlier science and technology policy documents.

Federal support for R&D is not formed as a single comprehensive unit, nor is it discussed that way by Congress. Instead, it is an amalgam of funding going to different departments and agencies for different purposes. For example, NSF has the role of fostering university-based research across all disciplines. NIST's objective is to provide support and infrastructure to American industries, and the mission agencies (like NASA, DOE and DOD) use science and technology to further their own purposes. It is the task of OSTP and the cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council to develop overarching goals and a coordinated strategy in which all scientific fields are supported but redundancy is avoided, and in which results from one field are disseminated for use in other areas.

The April report includes chapters on six general areas: science; technology; national security and global stability; environment; health; and human resources. In each case, the chapter provides a snapshot showing current Administration activities and how they support national goals. Scattered throughout the chapters are case studies, many related to physics, of ways research has proven beneficial to society. The report does not, however, evaluate whether all the programs are effective at achieving their intended purposes.

The Administration's goals for Science were described in the 1994 policy statement, "Science in the National Interest" (see FYIs #120-122, 1994.) The current report highlights a number of research areas currently receiving emphasis, such as the origins of life, the solar system and the universe; medical advances through genetics research; and sustainable development. It lists many of the government's major new scientific facilities, and cites selected recent discoveries in basic science, including confirmation of a third major branch of life; potential evidence of past life on Mars; the possibility of liquid oceans on Europa; proof of the top quark's existence; achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation; and many more.

The chapter on Technology is based on the guiding principles in President Clinton's 1993 document, "Technology for America's Economic Growth: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength" (see FYI #23, 1993.) The new report discusses the importance of technology to the nation's economic growth and cites a portfolio of federal policies and programs that encourage, catalyze and support private-sector innovation leading to advances in areas such as prosthetic tissue engineering; semiconductor manufacturing; fiber-optic communications; high-performance computing and the global information infrastructure; air traffic management; and automobile fuel efficiency.

The chapter on National Security and Global Stability highlights improvements in warfighting capabilities; maintaining the safety and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile; countering terrorism; responding to infectious diseases around the world; as well as international cooperative programs in sustainable development, communications and information technologies, to name a few. The chapter on Environmental science and technology cites advances in assessment of weather and climate change; improvements to prediction capabilities; and attempts to develop avoidance or mitigation technologies.

The Health chapter discusses the strides made in increasing life expectancy; better understanding of disease processes and new prevention strategies; the promise of genetic research; and increases in food safety and sustainable production. Education and workforce training has received significant federal attention in recent years, as demonstrated by the Human Resources chapter. Significant funds and research have gone into understanding how to improve child development and K-12 education, including NSF's Systemic Reform Initiatives and the Administration's Goals 2000 program. Additional federal programs provide direct loans and grants for higher education, and reward outstanding teachers, mentors and young researchers.

Requests for copies of the April 1997 report, "Science and Technology Shaping the Twenty-First Century," should be faxed to OSTP at 202-456-6022, attention "Ceci."

For questions or comments on the preceding AIP summary, please contact Audrey T. Leath at the Public Information Division of The American Institute of Physics at or (301) 209-3094

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.
Last updated June 5, 1997

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