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8/5/2009
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White House: Redirect Some Spending To Tech

Federal agencies are to cut low-priority projects in favor of science and technology spending, memo to agencies says.

Federal agencies should redirect low-priority spending to science and technology in their fiscal 2011 budget requests, the White House said in a memo to cabinet secretaries and other agency heads on Tuesday.

"Scientific discovery and technological innovation are major engines of increasing productivity and are indispensable for promoting economic growth, safeguarding the environment, improving the health of the population and safeguarding our national security in the technologically driven 21st century," director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren wrote in the memo.

To help agencies focus any spending shifts, Holdren and Orszag laid out four key priorities for the White House: economic recovery, energy innovation, healthcare, and national security. The memo says agencies should also focus on programs that strengthen education, make research institutions more productive, build IT infrastructure, and improve U.S. capabilities in space.

Still, the White House wants to make sure the money is well-spent. Agencies will have to describe how their new spending dovetails with White House priorities and what outcomes are expected, using quantitative metrics if possible. They'll also need to show how they plan to evaluate the success of this new spending, and how they decided which programs and what spending to scrap.

The Obama Administration has been a strong proponent of what it calls "open government innovation," asking for public input on its transparency initiative and highlighting examples of exemplary projects on WhiteHouse.gov. Federal deputy CTO for open government Beth Noveck was the key thinker behind the highly-publicized U.S. Patent and Trade Office "peer-to-patent" pilot project that's currently paused, pending a review.

Drawing on President Obama's government transparency initiatives, Orszag and Holdren recommended that federal agencies, the OSTP, and the OMB work together to create "datasets" documenting science and technology spending that could then be released to the public in packaged form via "accessible, useful formats." Though the memo didn't go much further in describing that effort, it said it could mirror efforts like Recovery.gov that describe to the public not only how money is being spent, but what outcomes might result.

The memo pointed a new direction forward for government research and development as well, instructing agencies to "take advantage of today's open innovation model" by not limiting their R&D budgets to projects and processes that take place entirely within one lab or organization, instead focusing where possible on R&D that is "highly open to ideas from many players at all stages," including bringing in outside thinkers to help scientists deal with questions like cost and competition.


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