The Office of Science and Technology Policy:

Adaptation to a President's Operating Style May Conflict With Congressionally Mandated Assignments

PAD-80-79: Published: Sep 3, 1980. Publicly Released: Sep 3, 1980.

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GAO studied the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to examine the extent to which OSTP studied the 13 issues on federal organization and management of science and technology policy, and to determine the extent of OSTP involvement in strategic planning for science and technology. Top OSTP officials believe that the broad legislative mandate for OSTP cannot be fully met under present conditions and operating styles within the Executive Office of the President (EOP). OSTP management and staff also believe that all their work must be tied to the existing policymaking process in EOP, because they have no independent control over any portion of the U.S. policymaking system. OSTP interprets its environment as requiring it to be continually active in initiating its work and then fostering implementation of its recommendations, many of which demonstrate a strategic perspective. OSTP is most active in its extensive collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget in the research and development budget process.

GAO found that OSTP does not intend to prepare the mandated comprehensive survey report. This assignment to OSTP placed a large burden on OSTP and significantly increased its responsibilities without increasing its resources. The small and active OSTP has produced no comprehensive report but a list of its many activities, categorized according to the 13 issue areas. The OSTP staff attempts to give a strategic perspective to considerations of topical or mission issues, such as energy and space. OSTP believes that it is not feasible to do more comprehensive strategic planning and remain effective in EOP. It seldom studies the relationships of issues in the whole context of science and technology in society; instead, it usually focuses on a particular mission issue in isolation from its interactions with other national concerns. The small size of OSTP and its perceptions of the operating style of the President and the President's senior advisors inhibit its further involvement in comprehensive strategic planning. GAO believes that, within existing constraints, OSTP can establish a systematic and formal mechanism for identifying long-range emerging issues and for providing a detached perspective in screening outside proposals for the OSTP agenda. Both OSTP and the National Science Foundation are taking steps to improve communication in planning and preparing the Annual Report and the Five-Year Outlook.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Congress should consider: (1) how it and the OSTP Director can best identify and resolve concerns about the Director's choice of operating style; (2) if the OSTP legislative mandate is too comprehensive; and (3) what other means might fulfill congressional needs for information and analysis not provided by OSTP.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No congressional oversight of OSTP has occurred since this recommendation, nor is it likely to occur as a result of this report.

    Matter: Congress should consider whether OSTP sufficiently balances its mission-related work by giving enough attention to: (1) interactions and trade-offs among topical or mission-based strategies for science and technology; and (2) federal policies designed for the governance and support of science and technology.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OSTP undertook several studies assessing the governance and support of science. The two best examples are the studies of the management and use of federal laboratories and the broad assessment of the federal role in support of university research. These studies were undertaken in the last 4 years.

    Matter: Congress should consider if some other mechanism should be established to identify and rank emerging issues in science and technology. Perhaps alternative mechanisms could help Congress critically examine OSTP selection of items for its agenda and its analysis of issues in the Five-Year Outlook.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not consider the choice of mechanism for identifying issues as part of the current House Science Policy Study. Congressional staff are identifying and analyzing issues themselves.

    Matter: Congress should consider whether a comprehensive survey of the federal role in science and technology, as mandated by title III, is still needed. If so, Congress should consider what alternative mechanisms OSTP could undertake it.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The House Committee on Science and Technology has begun a broad study of the federal support for science.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director, OSTP, should take greater initiative in selecting issues for the Annual Report and the Five-Year Outlook and continue to develop means for guiding the National Science Foundation on the posture for treating these issues.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Director, OSTP, should suggest to Congress legislation to relieve OSTP of the title III-mandated comprehensive report.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO believes that the need for this comprehensive report, mandated in title III, has already been met by the combined outputs of present OSTP efforts, the President's Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, and the House Science Policy Study.

    Recommendation: The Director, OSTP, should prepare the comprehensive report originally mandated by title III of P.L. 94-282 to the President's Committee on Science and Technology.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: GAO believes that the need for this comprehensive report, mandated in title III, has already been met by the combined outputs of present OSTP efforts, the President's Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, and the House Science Policy Study.

    Recommendation: The Director, OSTP, should establish some formal mechanism for providing a detached view of issues for its agenda. The mechanism should help OSTP identify emerging issues, screen the many external suggestions for OSTP work, examine the interrelationships among issues, and suggest priorities for consideration by OSTP.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Science and Technology Policy

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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