Long-Term Planning for National Science Policy

Published: Jul 31, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 1980.

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The executive branch has tried a variety of formal and ad hoc arrangements for planning, coordinating, and advising Federal agencies and the President on science policy. These arrangements have succeeded in varying degrees. Planning national science policy is vested primarily in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It anticipates future concerns and reviews Federal science policy and programs and recommends legislative amendment when needed. GAO addressed the following questions: (1) What elements of strategic planning for science and technology transcend individual agency or specific mission strategies? (2) How can the science and technology reports be better designed to serve the needs of policymakers? and (3) What could usefully supplement the OSTP strategic planning efforts? It is envisioned that comprehensive strategic planning would begin by examining national social, political, and economic goals in the context of anticipated domestic and international developments. Long-term issues that require timely decisions would be identified, natural resources would be evaluated, problems diagnosed, and strategies analysed. Goals would be ranked, and contingency plans for emergencies developed. Such planning is extremely difficult in a complex government with decentralized agency missions, uncertainties and conflicts that require compromises. Strategic planning is dispersed in the Federal Government among mission and regulatory agencies. It tends to focus on relatively narrow issues, usually within the purview of a single department or agency. Strategic planning should adopt a long-range perspective on decisions and correlate them with the annual Federal budget cycle. The science policy reports are potential tools for providing needed information that includes: an overall assessment of the national science and technology effort, the Administration's view of future Federal science and technology strategy in the context of the assessment, the Administration's annual statement of posture and strategy, and the Administration's justification for actual policy and program decisions. OSTP should develop a systematic mechanism to scan potential issues, rank their importance, and submit work proposals for consideration. A more formal process of congressional/executive communications should be established to enhance the congressional role in Federal science planning.

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