January 27, 2022
President Biden recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of his presidency. His administration has made significant progress to improve federal support for science, but additional work remains. FABBS has worked with the new Administration since day one to inform their approach, including by contributing to a transition memo to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), meeting with agency and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) officials, and providing feedback on the Administration’s actions. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a report reflecting on One Year of Science Under Biden, which add useful context for assessing the new Administration’s performance.
President Biden has made important efforts to improve the scientific capacity within the federal government. He has rejuvenated OSTP, including by elevating its director, Dr. Eric Lander, to a Cabinet level position. Biden also acted quickly to assemble a large and diverse President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). FABBS was particularly excited to see the appointment of Alondra Nelson as Deputy Director for Science and Society at OSTP. Nelson is a strong advocate for the social and behavioral sciences within the Administration. These are encouraging signs of the White House’s commitment to scientific rigor and eagerness to bring diverse voices to the table.
“[T]he federal R&D budget for the 2023 fiscal year not only puts a priority on cutting-edge science and technology, but it also puts a priority on innovation for equity. We’re proposing a new kind of social compact for S&T policy, in which it is pursued in the context of the social ecosystem it sits in, with a greater awareness of whom it’s supposed to benefit—and how.”-Alondra Nelson, OSTP
In addition to filling roles at OSTP and PCAST, the Biden Administration has exceeded all recent predecessors in the speed with which it has filled top scientific positions across government. Although, as the Union of Concerned Scientists reports, efforts to rebuild the federal scientific workforce have been mixed. Some agencies, notably those focused on public health, have seen strong positive hiring trends, while the scientific staff at other agencies has continued to shrink.
While there is still work to do on this front, there remain reasons for optimism. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), for example, “lost over 19 percent of its scientific staff under the previous administration—and from December 2020 to September 2021, it saw another 1 percent drop.” Nonetheless, President Biden’s first Budget Request to Congress recognizes the challenges at IES and calls for additional funding to support a larger staff. This is also reflected in funding proposals in Congress, still under negotiation, which support large funding and staffing increases at the Institute.
The Biden Administration has in fact strongly supported increased investment in research across the board. The President’s budget request included significant funding increases at the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Not only have they supported funding increases, but they have been eager to engage with the scientific community to identify ways in which the federal government can expand the scope and scale of federally supported research. They proposed creating a new Directorate for Innovation, Translation and Partnerships (TIP) at NSF, and they proposed creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) at NIH. While neither of these has yet come to fruition, the White House has solicited feedback, giving FABBS the opportunity to advocate for the value of the behavioral sciences to both of these enterprises.
The Biden Administration has also been open to incorporating science throughout their policymaking process. For example, in developing its Pandemic Preparedness plan, OSTP sought input, and FABBS was able to comment on areas where the behavioral sciences could provide added value. They have also followed through on key recommendations from the transition memo, such as directing agencies to appoint an official in charge of scientific integrity and working to standardize and clarify rules about international scientific collaboration. OSTP has also proceeded with formal efforts to support scientific integrity. They established the White House Scientific Integrity Task Force, which solicited input from the public (to which FABBS contributed) and recently published a report on “Protecting the Integrity of Government Science.”
Year one of the Biden Administration has provided strong signs that the Administration is dedicated to supporting science and incorporating research insights into their operations. Nonetheless, additional work remains. FABBS will continue to work cooperatively with the White House and partners in Congress and at executive branch agencies to advance federal support science and its use of research in policymaking.