National Science Foundation/Office of Science and Technology Policy

Recommendations and Actions

NSF01: Strengthen Coordination of Science Policy


The federal government will spend $76 billion in fiscal 1994 for research and development (R&D). At least a dozen separate federal departments and agencies have significant research initiatives covering basic and applied fields of science and technology. The President and Vice President have repeatedly cited technological innovation as a key to economic growth and the creation of new markets and high-wage jobs. Because scientific research is so essential to these national goals, efficient use of federal resources for R&D is vital. Current organizational structures do not provide for the necessary coordination.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) was created by the National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 to provide advice to the President on issues relating to science and technology and to coordinate federal efforts in science and technology. The Act also established the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (FCCSET). FCCSET is chaired by the Director of OSTP and includes cabinet members or their deputies from 12 departments, heads of other agencies involved in science and technology, and representatives from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It is charged by the legislation with:

--providing more effective planning and administration for federal scientific, engineering, and technological programs;

--identifying research needs;

--using the science and technology (S&T) resources and facilities of federal agencies more effectively, including eliminating unwarranted duplication; and

--furthering international cooperation in science, engineering, and technology.

In the Reorganization Plan of 1977, President Carter abolished FCCSET and reconstituted it by Executive Order 12039 to advise and assist the Director of OSTP.

FCCSET operates through committees, subcommittees, and working groups and is currently focusing on six budget initiatives: Advanced Manufacturing Technology,High Performance Computing and Communications, U. S. Global Change Research, Advanced Materials and Processing, Biotechnology Research, and Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Education. These initiatives have evolved over time in response to administration priorities, council interests, and outside interests.

Participation in FCCSET initiatives is voluntary. Agencies that are interested in a particular initiative may commit agency funds to that initiative. The way the funds are used is also ultimately the decision of the participating agency. According to FCCSET procedures, once an agency commits funds it is not expected to reduce or withdraw them regardless of how appropriations change. However, FCCSET itself has no authority to redirect funds or to withhold funds for any reason. Each initiative has assigned to it one or two OMB budget examiners who provide advice, but authority for budget decisions rests with the agency head. There is agreement among experts in OMB, the General Accounting Office (GAO), and OSTP that FCCSET does not have the authority to establish priorities, direct policy, or participate fully in the budget process.

The need for "one-stop shopping'' for federal science and technology policy has been broadly recognized. For example, a report from the National Science Board Commission on the Future of the National Science Foundation states, "The United States should have a stronger and more coherent policy wherein science and engineering can contribute more fully to America's strength.''[Endnote 1] In addition, a 1992 report of the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government concluded: "With OSTP leadership the Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering, and Technology (FCCSET) should extend its promising efforts in shaping long-term S&T goals involving more than one federal agency and emphasize the articulation of specific long-term goals through a more explicit planning process.''[Endnote 2]

Other evidence of concern about policy coordination comes from Congress and GAO. Recognition by some members of Congress that there is inadequate coordination of federal activities in science and technology has led to a proposal for a separate cabinet-level Department of Science, Space, Energy and Technology.[Endnote 3] GAO, in a May 1993 report, states that the Advanced Research Projects Agency, a principal participant in the High Performance Computing Initiative (a FCCSET initiative), needs to improve dissemination of its research information to the other agencies involved.[Endnote 4] This finding, in conjunction with concern from Congress, has instigated further investigation by GAO.

In addition to FCCSET, there are two other councils in the Executive Office of the President established by legislation to deal with specific aspects of science and technology policy. The National Space Council is currently headed by the director of OSTP and no longer functions separately. The National Critical Materials Council, whose charge to coordinate matters relating to materials policy and research overlaps with a FCCSET initiative, had a 1993 appropriation even though its authorization had expired.

The current director of OSTP is attempting to increase policy coordination through a Science and Technology Deputies Group composed of individuals from each agency who have access to that agency's secretary and can make commitments for the agency. The members are the points of contact in each agency responsible for implementation of cross-cutting initiatives in science and technology.

Under the current structure, FCCSET does not have the authority to bind agencies to policy decisions or budget allocations. In addition, FCCSET does not currently encompass most of the federal effort in science and technology. The six FCCSET initiatives account for only a limited portion of the fiscal 1994 federal R&D budget.

FCCSET has generated an elaborate structure of committees, subcommittees, and working groups, three of which were established by legislation. There are 54 identified on a list that is still being updated. A review of membership lists in FCCSET publications shows group sizes ranging from eight to 39 members, with most having between 12 and 20 members. A June 1993 list of the committee and working group meetings already scheduled for the period between June 23 and Christmas contained 76 meetings. More are likely to be scheduled for the latter months.

According to its procedures manual, the process for selecting FCCSET initiatives involves four stages of review by the full FCCSET and three referrals to committee for information or planning.[Endnote 5]

Despite its complex structure, FCCSET has fostered valuable communication among participants. Coordination and information exchanges are occurring around the initiatives, and professional staff have formed subgroups to share technical information. Many of the FCCSET meetings do result in constructive communication and coordination among agency representatives; however, an effective policy council must do more than promote exchange of technical information.

In this time of declining federal resources, it is imperative that goals and priorities for science and technology be well-defined and that resources be directed to meeting those goals. To achieve the necessary focus, the responsibility for science and technology policy in the executive branch must rest in a single organization. It must be accompanied by the authority to ensure that policies are implemented and the authority to work with OMB, OSTP, and the federal agencies to develop budgets that reflect those policy initiatives.


1. Modify the current FCCSET structure and reconstitute the organization as the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), to coordinate the development and implementation of science and technology policy.

This change should be achieved through the implementation of the following measures:

--A senior policy council should be constituted and named the National Science and Technology Council. Members would be the President and/or the Vice President; the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology Policy; cabinet secretaries and agency heads from departments and agencies having major roles in research, development and or use of science and technology; and the heads of the National Economic Council, National Security Council, Domestic Policy Council, and OMB. NSTC would be charged with ensuring that the President's science and technology goals are implemented effectively, as well as with performing the functions currently assigned to FCCSET, the National Space Council, and the National Critical Materials Council. NSTC would coordinate science and technology policies for all federal agencies. The group would be chaired by the President or Vice President.

--NSTC must have the authority to initiate Presidential Review Directives and Presidential Decision Directives in order to ensure that policy decisions are implemented and to compel participation by all agencies.

--The current FCCSET committee structure would be streamlined. All current FCCSET standing committees and subcommittees would be dissolved or rechartered to meet current needs. NSTC would establish technical working groups as needed. The working groups would provide technical information in support of NSTC goals and would develop detailed implementation plans including milestones and measures of progress toward stated goals. Working groups would be composed of senior technical staff from participating agencies and would exist only as long as NSTC needed their assistance.

--Advisory groups representing the private sector would be established to provide information for NSTC deliberations on policy and priorities. In addition, working groups would communicate with appropriate private sector organizations or small technical advisory groups composed of private sector representatives in order to receive input from stakeholders. These advisors would ensure that the government used the most current and relevant information in developing its plans.

--The NSTC should make recommendations regarding research and development budgets to OMB.

--Whenever possible, exchange of information should occur electronically in order to minimize the number of meetings and the exchange of paper. Initially, all members of the S&T Deputies Group should be connected to Internet, a widely available worldwide computer network, or any other network that will allow electronic communication among group members.

2. The proposed policy council should be created immediately by presidential directive.

Consistent with the goal of coordinating all scientific R&D in one organization, formal action should be taken to deal with related groups that are no longer needed. Legislation is needed to reassign the functions of the National Space Council, the National Critical Materials Council, and the three FCCSET standing committees established by legislation.


The proposed NSTC does not create an additional federal organization but, rather, it streamlines the existing structure by combining three councils into one and by giving the new council the authority needed to function effectively.

The primary benefit of the proposed council is to focus scarce resources on national priorities which have been agreed upon in open discussion among agencies involved in science and technology. Agencies are likely to receive benefits from expanded cooperation but would relinquish some independence as a result of the council's expanded authority. Applying formal evaluation criteria to the collaborative efforts is likely to improve the endproducts and benefit all participants.

The streamlined organization provides an opportunity to apply information technology to coordination, planning, and review functions. The council can, from the start, use current information technology to reduce meetings, reports, and paper exchange. Over time, it can expedite development of standard terminology and formats for shared databases pertaining to federal R&D activities.


Because this proposal makes use of existing agency and OSTP personnel, there would be no estimable fiscal impact. It has the potential to use federal R&D funds more efficiently by focusing agencies' efforts on well- defined goals.

A less complex operating structure should reduce operating costs slightly. For example, assuming that each of the 76 meetings cited earlier takes three hours, including travel and preparation time, and that each one involves 15 people, six months of FCCSET meetings consume 3,420 hours of agency personnel time. Some of these hours spent in meetings would become available for other activities in support of interagency science and technology efforts.


1. National Science Board, Commission on the Future of the National Science Foundation, A Foundation for the 21st Century: A Progressive Framework for the National Science Foundation (Washington, D.C., November 20, 1992), p. 4.

2. Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, Enabling the Future: Linking Science and Technology to Societal Goals (New York, September 1992), p. 16.

3. U.S. Congress, House, A Bill to Establish a Department of Science, Space, Energy, and Technology, 103rd Cong., 1st sess., 1993, H. R. 1300.

4. U.S. General Accounting Office, High Performance Computing: Advanced Research Projects: Agency Should Do More to Foster Program Goals (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office, May 1993).

5. Federal Coordinating Council for Science Engineering and Technology, Policies and Procedures Manual (Washington, D.C.: Office of Science and Technology Policy, October 30, 1992), pp. 11-13.

Return To Report Index

Who We Are |||Latest Additions |||Initiatives |||Customer Service |||News Room |||Accomplishments |||Awards |||"How To" Tools |||Library |||Web Links

Reinvention Comments
Technical Comments