Strengthening and Diversifying the Biomedical Research Workforce Through a National Institutes of Health and Department of Education Collaboration

Summary

Our nation’s health and the future of scientific research depend on greater inclusion of underrepresented individuals in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields—and in the biomedical sciences in particular. Our nation’s scientists are a homogeneous group: majority white, despite the U.S. population rapidly increasing in diversity. A biomedical science workforce that reflects our nation’s demographics is required to address growing equity gaps and distinct health needs that accompany our diversifying country. This cannot be accomplished without inclusive and practical biomedical educational programs that begin at the PreK–12 level and continue through all levels of higher education, emphasizing Minority Serving Institution (MSI) research programs. 

The lack of diversity in biomedical science is unacceptable, especially for an administration deeply committed to equity across its policy agenda. The Biden-Harris Administration must act to address this issue in the biomedical sciences at all levels: from PreK-12 education to research careers. Using the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration’s program Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program (MSIPP) as a model, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should establish a Biomedical Research Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program (BioMSIPP) to build a sustainable pipeline between NIH’s institutes and centers and biomedical science students at MSIs. 

Educational interventions are also crucial at earlier stages of education than higher education. BioMSIPP would also include a grant program that funds participating MSIs to produce PreK-12 educational resources (i.e. SEPA tools) and to create a high school to undergraduate bridge program to further link educational interventions with biomedical research careers. We also propose that the Department of Education’s White House Initiative for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other MSIs, create community-based engagement plans to assess the needs of individual communities and generate data to aid in future programming. Simultaneously, the Department of Education (ED) should launch a Bright Spots campaign to highlight efforts taking place across the country, building examples for policymakers as roadmaps to bolster biomedical science education and excellence.

Challenge and Opportunity

On June 25, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order establishing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) as national priorities. This order authorized the reestablishing of a coordinated government-wide DEIA Initiative and Strategic Plan. From there, over 50 federal agencies, including ED, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NIH, released equity action plans, which can be strengthened by supporting meaningful partnerships with MSIs.

MSIs offer broad access to higher education for students who would otherwise not have the opportunity, such as underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, low-income students, first-generation-to-college students, adult learners, and other post-traditional or nontraditional students. Furthermore, these institutions set an example of DEIA through diverse leadership, administration, and faculty, which is not seen at predominately white institutions (PWIs). The federal government should support institutions that foster diverse talent and the pipelines that feed these institutions through MSI-guided programming for PreK–12 students.

Despite a marginal increase in racially diverse doctorate graduates, there is still a substantial gap in the number of historically marginalized groups that enter and stay in the biomedical enterprise. While there are training programs (see Table 1) to diversify the biomedical sciences at federal agencies such as NIH and NSF, these programs have failed to substantially change the national percentage of racially diverse biomedical scientists. This is in part because the structure of these programs often does not support MSIs in building research capacity, an essential aspect in raising the research classification of an institution determined partly by research spending. In addition, current federal programs do not effectively capture the full spectrum of diverse students since they leave out engagement at the PreK–12 years. 

Early exposure to STEM careers is essential to increased STEM participation and success. In fact, getting children involved in STEM-related activities at a young age has been demonstrated to bolster enrollment in STEM degrees and participation in STEM-related careers. Programs focused on STEM education at the PreK–12 level encourage learning in engineering, technology, and computer-based skills. We propose a focused approach in the field of biomedical science. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM-related occupations are estimated to grow by 10.8 percent in the next 10 years, and biomedical science is estimated to see exponential growth at 17 percent. A sustainable and diverse STEM ecosystem requires education interventions focused on biomedical sciences at an early age. Currently, interventions primarily focus on undergraduate and graduate students, leaving out formative PreK–12 years (Table 1). ED has programs to immerse PreK–12 students into STEM and to support STEM capacity at MSIs through the Title III Higher Education Act, but none focused specifically on biomedical science. 

Department or AgencyProgramPreK-12 programs in the biomedical sciences? 

National Institutes of Health
Maximizing Access to Research CareersNo
National Institutes of HealthMinority Biomedical Research Support ProgramYes (supplement)
National Institutes of HealthResearch Infrastructure in Minority Institutions No
National Institutes of HealthHigh School Scientific Training and Enrichment Program 2.0Yes (high school seniors in DC, VA, or MD only)
National Science FoundationCenters of Research Excellence in Science and Technology Yes (supplement)
National Science FoundationHBCU Research Infrastructure for Science and EngineeringNo
National Science FoundationHispanic Serving Institutions ProgramNo
National Science FoundationDiscovery Research Pre-KYes
Department of DefenseResearch and Education Program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities / Minority-Serving InstitutionsNo
Department of DefenseHistorically Black Colleges and Universities / Minority Serving Institution Science ProgramNo
Department of DefenseHispanic Serving Institutions ProgramNo
Table 1. Federal Programs that Support STEM at MSIs and the Availability of PreK–12 Biomedical Science Programs

Plan of Action

The U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health should collaborate to create a program that strengthens the biomedical science pipeline. NIH and ED are committed to diversity and inclusion in their respective strategic plans. Leveraging their combined resources to strengthen and diversify the biomedical sciences would work toward the DEIA goals set in their strategic plans and prioritized by the Biden-Harris Administration at large. More importantly, it would take an essential step toward creating a biomedical workforce that represents and serves the diverse makeup of the U.S. population. 

We propose a new program to address the disparities in the biomedical science education pipeline through NIH and ED collaboration by:

Recommendation 1. Establish a Biomedical Research Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program (BioMSIPP) to serve as a direct pipeline from MSIs to the research capacity resources at the Department of Education and the research laboratories at the National Institutes of Health.

The Department of Energy established the Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program to build a “sustainable pipeline between the Department of Energy’s (DOE) sites/labs and minority-serving institutions in STEM disciplines.” This program is an example of direct measures to invest in university research capacity and workforce development through relationships between the federal government and institutions that serve historically marginalized populations. The program consists of a network of DOE/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and MSIs through enrichment activities that span from PreK–12 to the postdoctoral level. We recommend that ED and NIH collaboratively fund and implement a similar program that includes a network of highly-funded NIH laboratories, nonprofit organizations, MSIs, and PreK–12 schools that serve historically marginalized communities.

The program should be implemented under ED, with support from NIH’s research resources and laboratories. The Higher Education Act of 2022 requires ED to provide grants for activities such as research capacity building and institutional support. Further, research capacity grants funded through ED allow for hiring administrative staff to support project management. Opening the capability of funding to include staff to support project management circumvents the eligibility requirement where the sponsoring institution must assure support for the proposed program, a possible barrier to entry. 

Recommendation 2. The Department of Education’s White House initiatives for HBCUs, HSIs, and other MSIs should create community-based engagement plans to assess individual community needs and generate data to aid in future programming. 

Diversity in the biomedical sciences is an ever-evolving conversation. Currently, the White House Initiatives for HBCUs and HSIs have working groups that collaborate with other federal agencies to develop best practices to diversify the STEM workforce. First, we charge the White House to expand these working groups to include the entire spectrum of MSIs, as well as to include representation from NIH, providing a crucial biomedical science perspective. Next, the working groups should write a report on best practices to engage with historically marginalized PreK–12 school districts in the biomedical sciences, and in particular, approaches to train teachers in teaching biomedical sciences to historically underrepresented students. 

Recommendation 3. The Department of Education, along with the National Institutes of Health, should launch a Bright Spots campaign to highlight efforts that are taking place across the country to bolster biomedical science education and excellence.

Bright Spots campaigns highlight transformative work done by school districts, nonprofits, and federal agencies in education. NIH and ED both have repositories for science education resources. The NIH funds the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, which awards grants to create resources that target state and national PreK–12 standards for STEM teaching and learning and are rigorously evaluated for effectiveness. Likewise, ED funds the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement program to aid MSIs in enhancing their STEM education programs.

We propose that ED and NIH launch a campaign similar to the Bright Spots in Hispanic Education Fulfilling America’s Future spearheaded by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Moreover, we charge both agencies with disseminating the campaign via webinars, conference exhibitions, and outreach to educational societies.

Conclusion

ED and NIH are at the forefront of our nation’s biomedical science enterprise and have access to funding, cutting-edge research, and technology that could greatly enhance research and education at every level of the educational spectrum, specifically by increasing diversity. To ensure that the biomedical workforce reflects our nation, we must increase the research capacity and resources available to MSIs, promote collaborative research and technology transfer between investigators from MSIs and NIH, and provide key educational resources for student enrichment and career development. Through these recommendations, we hope to close the achievement gap and propel PreK–12 students into achieving careers in the biomedical sciences.

Frequently Asked Questions
Why Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs)?

Addressing national priorities in innovation demands a larger-scale effort to support incoming students’ education and workforce training. MSIs are an underutilized and underfunded resource for training and strengthening the biomedical research workforce.

How does this proposal differ from existing programs to increase diversity in STEM?

Existing programs at the DoD, NIH, and NSF are limited either to the undergraduate level or to a specific geographic location. Our recommended program is designed for Pre–K to the postdoctoral level, like MSIPP.

How much will this program cost?

We estimate that BioMSIPP will cost about the same as the MSIPP program, which currently costs the Department of Energy $38.8 million.

How does this ensure that students from across the country have access to NIH-funded institutions?

Digital Ethics for All: Implementing a National Digital Framework for K–12 Education

Summary 

With the growing prominence of technology and social media in our lives, children of all ages should be made aware of and trained on the ethics of responsible technology usage. Creating a National Digital Ethics Framework for PreK–12 students will enable them to think critically, behave responsibly, and maintain mental health wellness in a digitally transforming world.

Technology is at the forefront of spreading information: news is read on mobile devices, teachers use applications and open-source software in classrooms, and social media defines the lives and status of youth. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased technology use among tweens (8–12 years) and teens, with millions of students using digital entertainment such as TikTok, Instagram, and streaming services. But social media is not the only way students are introduced early to technology; online meetings through applications such as Zoom and Webex became the face of communication, and internet access is required for homework, assignments, and learning in all levels of schooling.

We are not adequately preparing our youth to create a positive digital footprint or have basic internet safety awareness. Implementing internet safety and digital ethics curriculum is imperative, and there is no better time to start than now.

A National Digital Ethics Framework would allow students not just to follow protocols and procedures but also to think critically, behave responsibly, and maintain mental health wellness in a digitally transforming world. This can go further to include concepts like leaving a digital footprint, wherein students engage with technology and media to create content, seek information, communicate ideas, and use open-source platforms in a meaningful and safe manner.

Challenge and Opportunity

Children start interfacing with technology as early as 3–4 years old, and they become increasingly dependent on it through their formative years as digital and social media platforms become ever more indispensable tools for navigating the world. Kids aged 8 to 12 spend an average of six hours per day using entertainment media. By the time they’re teenagers, 95 percent of youth in the United States will have their own mobile device and will, on average, spend almost nine hours a day texting, playing games, posting to social media, watching videos, and more. As tweens and teens move into the middle and high school years, they have ongoing, 24/7 access to friends

and peers via apps and mobile devices, with 45 percent of teens saying they’re online “almost constantly.”

On average, parents allow independent internet usage at 8 years old, and the average age that children sign up for social media is 12.6 years old. In 2021, 59 percent of U.S. tween/teenage students had been cyberbullied or threatened online; we cannot expect a 12-year-old to know how to deal with these dangers on their own.

Despite our increasing reliance on technology, it is not reflected in the learning experiences of PreK–12 students. Digital ethics and internet safety need to be heavily emphasized and implemented in the classroom. This can include simple practices like how to distinguish useful information from spam, using reputable and legitimate sites for references, and understanding copyright issues while quoting information and images from the internet. Digital ethics is a critical 21st-century skill that can be taught alongside computer science courses in schools or in conjunction with coursework that requires students to engage with the internet while seeking information.

Students need increased fluency in information literacy, cyberbullying prevention, online safety, digital responsibility, and emotional well-being. There is currently an internet safety requirement for schools under the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to “educate minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites, in chat rooms, and cyberbullying awareness.” The requirements state that this education can be held through school assemblies or via presentations provided by Netsmartz. The presentations highlight important topics, but they are not particularly specific or relevant to today’s environment. Simple internet safety such as avoiding clicking on links sent through spam emails, how and when to use the “block” button on social media platforms, and how to create smart passwords are not covered in the current curriculum.

Developing a federal framework will give teachers a clear path to implementation. The vagueness of current internet safety education requirements means that this education is easily overlooked or not presented thoroughly. Integrating this curriculum into CIPA would allow for easier implementation while leveraging existing resources. In order to implement this at the PreK–12 level, teachers will have to be trained on how to deliver this curriculum. Instead of trying to restrict social media usage and heavily monitor or block internet activity, schools should consider this as an opportunity to help students navigate a digitally transforming world in an informed way.

Plan of Action

Recommendation 1. In order to achieve the goal of digital ethics for all learners, the federal government can take a number of steps to keep kids safer in online settings.

At a federal level, CIPA is a great avenue to authorize these standards. The act currently applies its internet safety education requirements to “schools and libraries that receive discounts for Internet access through the E-rate program,” which makes certain communications tools affordable for these institutions. Although this does not cover all schools in the United States, schools with less ability to finance technology have the greatest need for digital literacy and internet safety education. By implementing this curriculum under CIPA’s current education suggestions (which are guidelines, not a specific way to conduct internet safety education), then it is likely to be implemented in schools that qualify for CIPA discounts.

Recommendation 2. As the digital ethics framework rolls out, agencies should work with critical stakeholders.

Efforts should directly engage elementary and middle school students and their teachers in designing frameworks, professional learning, and so on. Other stakeholders include state-level legislators that will be responsible for operationalizing and implementing the framework and school district boards that approve learning in each school district/school. Teachers are also key stakeholders, as they will have to receive and implement the information given to them as listed in the standards and may be subject to training.

Recommendation 3. Allocate federal funding to NIST to develop the Digital Ethics Framework and provide temporary staff through fellows with subject matter expertise on how to develop a digital ethics framework.

It will require approximately $1 million to develop the framework. The other actions as part of Digital Ethics for All utilize existing funds but could be bolstered and more quickly executed with the addition of subject matter experts through fellow placements or other staffing mechanisms. It is estimated that one fellow at NSF and one fellow at the U.S. Department of Education would cost approximately $500,000 annually in addition to the above costs. 

Conclusion

Having access to a curriculum rooted in digital ethics, internet safety, and technology career paths is essential for students growing up in a society where access to technology is introduced earlier than the concept of computer science. Although computer science curriculum is being widely pushed for at the high school level, we must make sure to educate elementary and middle school youth as well. A National Digital Ethics Framework is not just an advantage—it is imperative in order to protect our students and their future.

Frequently Asked Questions
Who are the key members needed to develop this curriculum?

Organizations that are developing curriculums centered around digital tools and computer science, such as Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and CSforAll, could be tapped in order to pull topics or ideas from the standards they have already created. Their standards have been implemented in various states, so leveraging their existing resources will make it easier to develop a national curriculum that is suited for approval and implementation.

Which experts should be tapped to develop appropriate standards that are likely to be approved?

Subject matter experts are crucial for this initiative. Their perspective will be important to determine which standards have the best chance of being approved at the state and local level and how CIPA’s current curriculum can be modified. Subject matter experts will be fellows from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. The National Institute of Standards and Technology will also be consulted.

Would it be easier to implement this at a federal level or a state level?

Due to the incorporation of this curriculum into CIPA’s current standards, it would be quicker to implement at a federal level. However, if digital ethics cannot be incorporated into CIPA, it could also be addressed at a state level, similar to the initiatives run by CSTA and CSforAll, where their independent curriculum and standards are adopted by states that want to implement technology standards.

What qualifies you to develop a guideline to implement this curriculum?

In my own experience as a student and as the CEO and founder of Likeable STEM (an educational technology training company), I have observed that students lack resources to teach them about simple topics such as phishing scams, how to write appropriate emails, cybersecurity/password creation, social media profiles, etc. For the past six years, through Likeable STEM, I have taught these crucial topics to elementary, middle, and high school students and created independent curriculum on digital ethics.

Does this curriculum have bipartisan legislative appeal?

Computer science education has been a bipartisan concern, with both the Democratic and Republican Parties introducing educational principles to support STEM growth and computer science career opportunities. However, one problem area would be the current crackdown on educational topics in states such as Florida. Digital ethics does not have roots in either political party, so it should be likely to be supported by both parties.

Investing in Digital Agriculture Innovation to Secure Food, Yields, and Livelihoods

Summary 

Smallholder farmers and their households account for more than 2 billion people—almost one-third of humanity and more than two-thirds of the world’s poor. Smallholder farmers are the economic engine of local livelihoods and critical local sources of nutrition and food security. Their persistently low agricultural productivity is a major driver of global poverty and food insecurity. Many known agricultural practices and technologies could improve farmers’ yields and incomes, but systemic barriers and information gaps hamper their adoption. Today, with the rapid growth of mobile phone penetration throughout the developing world, we are in a unique moment to deploy new digital technologies and innovations to improve food security, yields, and livelihoods for 100 million smallholder farmers by 2030.

To spearhead USAID’s leadership in digital agriculture and create a global pipeline from tested innovation to scaled impact, USAID should launch a Digital Agriculture for Food Security Challenge, establish a Digital Agriculture Innovation Fund, and convene a Digital Agriculture Summit to jump-start the process. 

Challenge and Opportunity

Two-thirds of the world’s ultra-poor depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Low productivity growth in this sector is the biggest obstacle to poverty reduction and sustainable food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2022 report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World estimates that around 2.3 billion people—nearly 30% of the global population—were moderately or food insecure in 2021 and as many as 828 million were affected by hunger. Improving smallholder farmer incomes and local food security is critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, particularly ending poverty (SDG 1) and eliminating hunger (SDG 2). Yet smallholder farmers typically harvest only 30%–50% of what they could produce. Smallholder farmers are particularly at risk from climate-driven shocks, and fundamental changes to growing conditions make climate adaptation a key challenge to improving and securing their yields.

More than $540 billion is spent in the agricultural sector each year through public budgets, mostly subsidies on farm inputs and outputs. Of USAID’s over $1 billion annual budget for agricultural aid, much attention is given to direct nutrition and economic assistance as well as institution and market-shaping programs. By contrast, efforts in climate adaptation and food security innovation like the Feed the Future Innovation Labs and Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate) rely on traditional, centralized models of R&D funding that limit the entry and growth of new stakeholders and innovators. Not enough investment or attention is paid to productivity-enhancing, climate-adaptation-focused innovations and to translating R&D investment into sustainable interventions and scaled products to better serve smallholder farmers. 

USAID recognizes both the challenge for global food security and the opportunity to advance economic security through evidence-driven, food-system level investments that are climate-driven and COVID-conscious. As directed by the Global Food Security Act of 2016, the U.S. Government Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS) 2022–2026 and its counterpart Global Food Security Research Strategy (GFSRS) highlight the potential for digital technologies to play a pivotal role in the U.S. government’s food system investments around the world. The GFSS describes “an ecosystem approach” that prioritizes the “financial viability of digital products and services, rather than one that is driven predominantly by individualized project needs without longer-term planning.” A core part of achieving this strategy is Feed the Future (FTF), the U.S. government’s multi-agency initiative focused on global hunger and food security. Administrator Samantha Powers has committed $5 billion over five years to expand FTF, creating an opportunity to catalyze and crowd in capital to build a thriving, sustainable global agriculture economy—including innovation in digital agriculture—that creates more resilient and efficient food systems.

However, USAID stakeholders are siloed and do not coordinate to deliver results and invest in proven solutions that can have scaled sustainable impact. The lack of coordination means potential digital-powered, impactful, and sustainable solutions are not fostered or grown to better serve USAID’s beneficiaries globally. USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security (RFS) works with partners to advance inclusive agriculture-led growth, resilience, nutrition, water security, sanitation, and hygiene in priority countries to help them accelerate and protect development progress. USAID’s FY 2023 budget request also highlights RFS’s continued focus on supporting “partner countries to scale up their adaptation capacity and enhance the overall climate resilience of development programming.” The FTF Innovation Labs focus on advanced agricultural R&D at U.S. universities but do not engage directly in scaling promising innovations or investing in non-academic innovators and entrepreneurs to test and refine user-centered solutions that fall within FTF’s mandate. USAID’s emerging Digital Strategy and Digital Development Team includes specific implementation initiatives, such as a Digital Ecosystem Fund and an upcoming Digital Vision for each sector, including agriculture. USAID is also planning to hire Digital Development Advisors, whose scope aligns closely with this initiative but will require intentional integration with existing efforts. Furthermore, USAID country missions, where many of these programs are funded, often do not have enough input in designing agriculture RFPs to incorporate the latest proven solutions and digital technologies, making it harder to implement and innovate within contract obligations.

This renewed strategic focus on food security through improved local agricultural yields and climate-resilient smallholder farmer livelihoods, along with an integration of digital best practices, presents an opportunity for USAID and Feed the Future. By using innovative approaches to digital agriculture, FTF can expand its impact and meet efficiency and resilience standards, currently proposed in the 2022 reauthorization of the Global Food Security Act. While many known agricultural practices, inputs, and technologies could improve smallholder farmers’ yields and incomes, adoption remains low due to structural barriers, farmers’ lack of information, and limitations from existing agriculture development aid practices that prioritize programs over sustainable agricultural productivity growth. Today, with the rapid pace of mobile phone penetration (ranging between 50% and 95% throughout the developing world), we are in a unique moment to deploy novel, emerging digital technologies, and innovations to improve food security, yields, and livelihoods for 100 million smallholder farmers by 2030.

There are many digital agriculture innovations – for example digital agricultural advisory services (DAAS, detailed below) – in various stages of development that require additional investment in R&D. These innovations could be implemented either together with DAAS or as stand-alone interventions. For example, smallholder farmers need access to accurate, reliable weather forecasts. Weather forecasts are available in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), but additional work is needed to customize and localize them to farmers’ needs and to communicate probabilistic forecasts so farmers can easily understand, interpret, and incorporate them in their decision-making. 

Similarly, digital innovations are in development to improve farmers’ linkages to input markets, output markets, and financial services—for example, by facilitating e-subsidies and mobile ordering and payment for agricultural inputs, helping farmers aggregate into farmer producer organizations and negotiate prices from crop offtakers, and linking farmers with providers of loans and other financial services to increase their investment in productive assets.

Digital technologies can also be leveraged to mobilize smallholder farmers to contribute to climate mitigation by using remote sensing technology to monitor climate-related outcomes such as soil organic carbon sequestration and digitally enrolling farmers in carbon credit payment schemes to help them earn compensation for the climate impact of their sustainable farming practices.

Digital agricultural advisory services (DAAS) leverage the rapid proliferation of mobile phones, behavioral science, and human-centered design to build public extension system capacity to empower smallholder farmers with cutting-edge, productivity-enhancing agricultural knowledge that improves their food security and climate resilience through behavior change. It is a proven, cost-effective, and shovel-ready innovation that can improve the resilience of food systems and increase farmer yields and incomes by modernizing the agricultural extension system, at a fraction of the cost and an order of magnitude higher reach than traditional extension approaches.

DAAS gives smallholder farmers access to on-demand, customized, and evidence-based agricultural information via mobile phones, cheaply at $1–$2 per farmer per year. It can be rapidly scaled up to reach more than a hundred million users by 2030, leading to an estimated $1 billion increase in additional farmer income per year.

USAID currently spends over $1 billion on agricultural aid annually, and only a small fraction of this is directed to agricultural extension and training. Funding is often program-specific without a consistent strategy that can be replicated or scaled beyond the original geography and timeframe. Reallocating a share of this funding to DAAS would help the agency achieve strategic climate and equity global food security goals

Scaling up DAAS could improve productivity and transform the role of LMIC government agricultural extension agents by freeing up resources and providing rapid feedback and data collection. Agents could refocus on enrolling farmers, providing specialized advice, and improving the relevance of advice farmers receive. DAAS could also be integrated into broader agricultural development programs, such as FAO’s input e-subsidy programs in Zambia and Kenya.
DAAS: A highly scalable tool to achieve global food security and climate resilience

Plan of Action

To spearhead USAID’s leadership in digital agriculture and create a global pipeline from tested innovation to scaled impact, USAID, Feed the Future, and its U.S. government partners should launch a Digital Agriculture for Food Security Challenge. With an international call to action, USAID can galvanize R&D and investment for the next generation of digitally enabled technologies and solutions to secure yields and livelihoods for one hundred million smallholder farmers by 2030. This digital agriculture moonshot would consist of the following short- and long-term actions:

Recommendation 1: Allocate $150 million over five years to kickstart the Digital Agriculture Innovations Fund (DAI Fund) to fund, support, and scale novel solutions that use technology to equitably secure yields, food security, and livelihoods for smallholder farmers. 

The fund’s activities should target the following:

The fund’s investment priorities should align with stated GFSS and GFSRS objectives, including solutions focused on climate-smart agricultural innovation, enhanced nutrition, and food systems, genetic innovation, and poverty reduction. Program activities and funding should coordinate with FTF implementation in strategic priority countries with large agricultural sectors and mature, low-cost mobile networks such as Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan. It should also collaborate with the FTF Innovation Lab and the AIM for Climate Initiative networks.

Recommendation 2: Convene the Digital Agriculture Summit to create an all-hands-on-deck approach to facilitate and accelerate integrated digital agriculture products and services that increase yields and resilience. 

USAID will announce the dedicated DAI Fund, convening its interagency partners—like the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), US Africa Development Foundation (USADF) as well as philanthropy, private sector capital, and partner country officials and leaders to chart these pathways and create opportunities for collaboration between sectors. The Summit can foster a community of expertise and solidify commitments for funding, in-kind resources, and FTF country partnerships that will enable DAI Fund solutions to demonstrate impact and scale. The Summit could occur on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to allow for greater participation and collaboration with FTF country representatives and innovators. Follow-up activities should include:

Conclusion

With the exponential adoption of mobile phones among smallholder farmers in the past decade, digital agriculture innovations are emerging as catalytic tools for impact at an unprecedented scale and social return on investment. Devoting a small percentage (~2%–5%) of USAID’s agricultural aid budget to DAAS and other digital agriculture innovations could catalyze $1 billion worth of increased yields among 100 million smallholder farmers every year, at a fraction of the cost and an order of magnitude higher reach than traditional extension approaches.

Achieving this progress requires a shift in strategy and an openness to experimentation. We recommend establishing a Digital Agriculture Innovation Fund to catalyze investment from USAID and other stakeholders and convening a global Digital Agriculture Summit to bring together subject matter experts, USAID, funders, and LMIC governments to secure commitments. From our experience at PxD, one of the world’s leading innovators in the digital agriculture sector, we see this as a prime opportunity for USAID to invest in sustainable agricultural production systems to feed the world and power local economic development for marginalized, food-insecure smallholder farmers around the world.

More from Jonathan Lehe, Gautam Bastian, and Nick Milne can be found at Precision Development.

Frequently Asked Questions
What might a commitment from the Digital Agriculture Summit look like?

Using the reach and power of the US government and its leaders as a platform to convene, multi-sector stakeholders can be brought together to outline a common agenda, align on specific targets, and seek commitments from the private sector and other anchor institutions to spur collective, transformational change on a wide range of issues aligned to the goals and interests of the federal agency and Administration’s priorities. External organizations respond to these calls-to-action, often leading to the development of partnerships (formal and informal), grand challenges, and the building of new coalitions to make financial and in-kind commitments that are aligned with achieving the federal government’s goals. A commitment could be modeled after how the State Department’s convened the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves:



  • a financial contribution (e.g.) the U.S. pledged nearly $51 million to ensure that the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves reaches its ‘100 by 20,’ which calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020.

  • shared expertise: the organization mobilizes experts in a variety of issues: gender, health, security, economics, and climate change to address significant risk factors. The U.S. will also offer assistance to implement cookstoves.

  • research and development: the U.S. is committed to an applied research and development effort that will serve as the backbone of future efforts in the field that includes analyzing health and environmental benefits of using clean stoves, developing sustainable technologies, and conducting monitoring to ensure success of the Alliance’s goals. 

How should the Challenge be designed? What existing models could it mimic?

USAID is a leader in the US government in running open innovation challenges and prizes. Other U.S. government agencies, foreign government aid agencies, and philanthropies have also validated the potential of open innovation models, particularly for technology-enabled solutions. USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development (GCDs) are effective programmatic frameworks that focus global attention and resources on specific, well-defined international development problems and promote the innovative approaches, processes, and solutions to solving them.


Conceived, launched, and implemented in coordination with public and private sector partners, Grand Challenges for Development (see list below) emphasize the engagement of non-traditional solvers around critical development problems. The Grand Challenges for Development approach is a complement to USAID’s current programming methods, with each GCD is led by experts at the bureau level. These experts work directly with partners to implement the day-to-day activities of the program. The Grand Challenges for Development programs show how the power of the framework can be leveraged through a variety of modalities, including partnerships, prizes, challenge grant funding, crowdsourcing, hack-a-thons, ideation, and commitments. The Digital Agriculture for Food Security Challenge could mimic a GCD program like Saving Lives at Birth by providing consistent funding, resources, and energy toward new meaningful, cost-effective breakthroughs to improve lives where solutions are most needed.

Why should USAID and the U.S. Government lead on digital agriculture rather than national/local governments, the private sector, or other stakeholders?

Information provision, including DAAS, is a difficult product for private sector entities to deliver with a sustainable business model, particularly for smallholder farmers. The ability and willingness to pay for such services is often low among resource-poor smallholder farmers, and information is easily shareable, so it is hard to monetize. National or local governments, on the other hand, have an interest in implementing digital solutions to complement in-person agricultural extension programs and subsidies but tend to lack the technical capacity and experience to develop and deliver digital tools at scale. 


USAID has the technical and institutional capacity to provide digital agriculture services across its programs. It has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in agricultural extension services over the past 60 years and has gained a strong working knowledge of what works (and what doesn’t). Digital tools can also achieve economies of scale for cost relative to traditional in-person agriculture solutions. For instance, in-person extension requires many expenses that do not decrease with scale, including fuel, transportation, training, and most importantly the paid time of extension agents. 


One estimate is that extension agents cost $4,000 to $6,000 per year in low-income countries and can reach between 1,000 to 2,000 farmers each—well above the World Bank recommended threshold of 500 farmers per agent—bringing annual costs to $2–$6 per farmer per year. This estimate assumes a farmer-to-agent ratio well above the World Bank’s recommended threshold of 500:1. In other contexts, it has been estimated as high as $115. We estimate a cost-effectiveness of $10 in increased farmer income for every $1 invested in programs like DAAS, which is an effective return on American foreign development assistance.

What is the long-term sustainability and scaling model for digital agriculture solutions?

Digital solutions require not only the up-front cost of development and testing but also maintenance and upkeep to maintain effectiveness. Scaling these solutions and sustaining impact requires engaged public-private partnerships to reduce costs for smallholder famers while still providing positive impact. Scaling also requires private capital – particularly for new technologies to support diffusion and adaptation –  but is only unlocked by de-risking investments by leveraging development aid.


As an example, PxD engages directly with national governments to encourage adoption of DAAS, focusing on building capacity, training government staff, and turning over systems to governments to finance the operation and maintenance of systems into perpetuity (or with continued donor support if necessary). For instance, the State Government of Odisha in India built a DAAS platform with co-financing from the government and a private foundation, scaled the platform to 3 million farmers, and transitioned it to the government in early 2022. A similar approach could support scale across other geographies—especially given USAID’s long-standing relationships with governments and ministries of agriculture.

How does a digital-enabled technology like DAAS help smallholder farmers?

A growing body of evidence shows that DAAS can have a significant impact on farmers’ yields and incomes. Precision Development (PxD) currently reaches more than 7 million smallholder farming households with DAAS in nine countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and there is a well-established market with many other service providers also providing similar services. This research, including several randomized control trials conducted by PxD researchers in multiple contexts as well as additional research conducted by other organizations, shows that DAAS can improve farmer yields by 4% on average in a single year, with benefit-cost ratios of 10:1, and the potential for these impacts to increase over time to create larger gains. 


There is also evidence of a larger impact in certain geographies and for certain crops and livestock value chains, as well as a larger impact for the subset of farmers who use DAAS the most and adopt its recommendations.

Unlocking the U.S. Bioeconomy with the Plant Genome Project

Summary

Plants are an important yet often overlooked national asset. We propose creating a Plant Genome Project (PGP), a robust Human Genome Project-style initiative to build a comprehensive dataset of genetic information on all plant species, starting with the 7,000 plant species that have historically been cultivated for food and prioritizing plants that are endangered by climate change and habitat loss. In parallel, we recommend expanding the National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS) to include genomic-standard repositories that connect plant genetic information to physical seed/plant material. The PGP will mobilize a whole-of-government approach to advance genomic science, lower costs, and increase access to plant genomic information. By creating a fully sequenced national germplasm repository and leveraging modern software and data science tools, we will unlock the U.S. bioeconomy, promote crop innovation, and help enable a diversified, localized, and climate-resilient food system.

Challenge and Opportunity

Plants provide our food, animal feed, medicinal compounds, and the fiber and fuel required for economic development. Plants contribute to biodiversity and are critical for the existence of all other living creatures. Plants also sequester atmospheric carbon, thereby combating climate change and sustaining the health of our planet. 

However, as a result of climate change and human practices, we have been losing plants at an alarming rate. Nearly 40% of the world’s 435,000 unique land plant species are extremely rare and at risk of extinction due to climate change. More than 90% of crop varieties have disappeared from fields worldwide as farmers have abandoned diverse local crop varieties in favor of genetically uniform, commercial varieties. 

We currently depend on just 15 plants to provide almost all of the world’s food, making our global food supply extremely vulnerable to climate change, new diseases, and geopolitical upheaval—problems that will be exacerbated as the world’s population rises to 10 billion by 2050. 

We are in a race against time to stop the loss of plant biodiversity—and at the same time, we desperately need to increase the diversity in our cultivated crops. To do this, we must catalog, decode, and preserve valuable data on all existing plants. Yet more than two decades since we sequenced the first plant genome, genome sequence information exists for only 798 plant species—a small fraction of all plant diversity.

Although large agriculture companies have made substantial investments in plant genome sequencing, this genetic information is focused on a small number of crops and is not publicly available. What little information we have is siloed, known only to large corporations and not openly available to researchers, farmers, or policymakers. This is especially true for nations in the Global South, who are not usually included in most genome sequencing projects. Furthermore, current data in existing germplasm repositories, State Agricultural Experiment Stations, and land-grant universities is not easily accessible online, making it nearly impossible for researchers in both public and private settings to explore. These U.S. government collections and resources of germplasm and herbaria, documented by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections, have untapped potential to catalyze the bioeconomy and mobilize investment in the next generation of plant genetic advancements and, as a result, food security and new economic opportunities.

Twenty years ago, the United States launched the Human Genome Project (HGP), a shared knowledge-mapping initiative funded by the federal government. We continue to benefit from this initiative, which has identified the cause of many human diseases and enabled the development of new medicines and diagnostics. The HGP had a $5.4 billion price tag ($2.7 billion from U.S. contributions) but resulted in more than $14.5 billion in follow-on genomics investments that enabled the field to rapidly develop and deploy cutting-edge sequencing and other technologies, leading to a drop in genomic sequencing cost from $300 million per genome to less than $1,000.

Today, we need a Human Genome Project for plants—a unified Plant Genome Project that will create a global database of genetic information on all plants to increase food security and unlock plant innovation for generations to come. Collecting, sequencing, decoding, and cataloging the nation’s plant species will fill a key gap in our national natural capital accounting strategy. The PGP will complement existing conservation initiatives led by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and other agencies, by deepening our understanding of America’s unique biodiversity and its potential benefits to society. Such research and innovation investment would also benefit government initiatives like USAID’s Feed the Future (FTF) Initiative, particularly the Global Food Security Research Strategy, around climate-smart agriculture and genetic diversity of crops. 

PGP-driven advancements in genomic technology and information about U.S. plant genetic diversity will create opportunities to grow the U.S. bioeconomy, create new jobs, and incentivize industry investment. The PGP will also create opportunities to make our food system more climate-resilient and improve national health and well-being. By extending this effort internationally, and ensuring that the Global South is empowered to contribute to and take advantage of these genetic advancements, we can help mitigate climate change, enhance global food security, and promote equitable plant science innovation.

Plan of Action

The Biden Administration should launch a Plant Genome Project to support and enable a whole-of-government approach to advancing plant genomics and the bioeconomy. The PGP will build a comprehensive, open-access dataset of genetic and biological information on all plant species, starting with the 7,000 plant species that have historically been cultivated for food and prioritizing plants that are endangered by climate change and habitat loss. The PGP will convene key stakeholders and technical talent in a novel coalition of partnerships across public and private sectors. We anticipate that the PGP, like the Human Genome Project, will jump-start new technologies that will further drive down the cost of sequencing and advance a new era for plant science innovation and the U.S. bioeconomy. Our plan envisions two Phases and seven Key Actions. 

Phase 1: PGP Planning and Formation

Action 1: Create the Plant Genomics and U.S. Bioeconomy Interagency Working Group

The White House OSTP should convene a Plant Genomics and U.S. Bioeconomy Interagency Working Group to coordinate the creation of a Plant Genome Project and initiate efforts to consult with industry, academic, philanthropy, and social sector partners. The Working Group should include representatives from OSTP, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Agricultural Research Service (ARS), National Plant Germplasm System, Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Smithsonian Institution, Environmental Protection Agency, State Department’s Office of Science and Technology Adviser, and USAID’s Feed the Future Initiative. The Working Group should:

Action 2: Launch a White House Summit on Plant Genomics Innovation and Food Security

The Biden Administration should bring together multi-sector (agriculture industry, farmers, academics, and philanthropy) and agency partners with the expertise, resource access, and interest in increasing domestic food security and climate resilience. The Summit will secure commitments for the PGP’s initial activities and identify ways to harmonize existing data and advances in plant genomics. The Summit and follow-up activities should outline the steps that the Working Group will take to identify, combine, and encourage the distribution and access of existing plant genome data. Since public-private partnerships play a core enabling role in the strategy, the Summit should also determine opportunities for potential partners, novel financing through philanthropy, and international cooperation. 

Action 3: Convene Potential International Collaborators and Partners

International cooperation should be explored from the start (beginning with the Working Group and the White House Summit) to ensure that sequencing is conducted not just at a handful of institutions in the Global North but that countries in the Global South are included and all information is made publicly available. 

We envision at least one comprehensive germplasm seed bank in each country or geographical region similar to the Svalbard seed vault or The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew and sequencing contributions from multiple international organizations such as Beijing Genomics Institute and the Sanger Institute. 

Phase 2: PGP Formalization and Launch

Action 4: Launch the Plant Genome Research Institute to centralize and coordinate plant genome sequencing

Congress should create a Plant Genome Research Institute (PGRI) that will drive plant genomics research and be the central owner of U.S. government activities. The PGRI would centralize funding and U.S. government ownership over the PGP. We anticipate the PGP would require $2.5 billion over 10 years, with investment frontloaded and funding raised through matched commitments from philanthropy, public, and private sources. The PGRI could be a virtual institute structured as a distributed collaboration between multiple universities and research centers with centralized project management. PGRI funding could also incorporate novel funding mechanisms akin to the BRAIN Initiative through U.S. philanthropy and private sector collaboration (e.g., Science Philanthropy Alliance). The PGRI would:

Action 5: Expand and Strengthen NPGS-Managed Seed Repositories

We recommend strengthening the distributed seed repository managed by the U.S. National Plant Germplasm System and building a comprehensive and open-source catalog of plant genetic information tied to physical samples. The NPGS already stores seed collections at state land-grant universities in a collaborative effort to safeguard the genetic diversity of agriculturally important plants and may need additional funding to expand its work and increase visibility and access. 

Action 6: Create a Plant Innovation Fund within AgARDA

The Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AgARDA) is a USDA-based advanced research projects agency like DARPA but for agriculture research. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized AgARDA’s creation to tackle highly ambitious projects that are likely to have an outsize impact on agricultural and environmental challenges—such as the PGP. The existing AgARDA Roadmap could guide program setup. 

Phase 3: Long-Term, Tandem Bioeconomy Investments

Action 7: Bioeconomy Workforce Development and Plant Science Education

Invest in plant science and technical workforce development to build a sustainable foundation for global plant innovation and enable long-term growth in the U.S. bioeconomy. 

Conclusion

We are in a race against time to identify, decode, catalog, preserve, and cultivate the critical biodiversity of the world’s plant species before they are lost forever. By creating the world’s first comprehensive, open-access catalog of plant genetic information tied to physical samples, the Plant Genome Project will unlock plant innovation for food security, help preserve plant biodiversity in a changing climate, and advance the bioeconomy. The PGP’s whole-of-government approach will accelerate a global effort to secure our food systems and the health of the planet while catalyzing a new era of plant science, agricultural innovation and co-operation.

Frequently Asked Questions
How much will this proposal cost?

We estimate that it would cost ~$2.5 billion to sequence the genomes of all plant species. (For reference, the Human Genome Project cost $5.4 billion in 2017 to sequence just one species).

Will the PGP access existing private sequence information?

Yes, we recommend active solicitation of existing sequence information from all entities. This data should be validated and checked from a quality control perspective before being integrated into the PGP.

Who will undertake the sequencing effort?

The newly created Plant Genome Research Institute (PGRI) will coordinate the PGP. The structure and operations of the PGRI will follow recommendations from the OSTP-commissioned Stakeholder Working Group. All work will be conducted in partnership with agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, private companies, and public academic institutions.

What about existing sequencing efforts and seed banks?

Existing sequencing efforts and seed banks will be included within the framework of the PGP.

Is the PGP a national or international effort?

The PGP will start as a national initiative, but to have the greatest impact it must be an international effort like the Human Genome Project. The White House Summit and Stakeholder Working Group will help influence scope and staging. The extinction crisis is a global problem, so the PGP should be a global effort in which the United States plays a strong leadership role. 

How will plant collection be prioritized?

In Phase 1, emphasis might be placed on native “lost crops” that can be grown in areas that are suffering from drought or are affected by climate change. Collection and selection would complement and incorporate active Biden Administration initiatives that center Indigenous science and environmental justice and equity. 


In Phase 2, efforts could focus on sequencing all plants in regions or ecosystems within the U.S. that are vulnerable to adverse climate events in collaboration with existing state-level and university programs. An example is the California Conservation Genomics Project, which aims to sequence all the threatened, endangered and commercially exploited flora and fauna of California. Edible and endangered plants will be prioritized, followed by other plants in these ecosystems.


In Phase 3, all remaining plant species will be sequenced. 

Where will the collected plants/germplasm be stored?

All collected seeds will be added to secure, distributed physical repositories, with priority given to collecting physical samples and genetic data from endangered species. 

How will the legal, ethical, and social issues around sample collection and benefit sharing be addressed?

The PGP will work to address and even correct some long-standing inequalities, ensuring that the rights and interests of all nations and Indigenous people are respected in multiple areas from specimen collection to benefit sharing while ensuring open access to genomic information. The foundational work being done by the Earth BioGenome Project’s Ethical, Legal and Social Committee will be critically important. 

Who will be invited to the White House Summit?

Invitees could include but would not be limited to the following entities with corresponding initial commitments to support the PGP’s launch:



  • Genome sequencing companies, such as Illumina, PacBio, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, and others, who would draft a white paper on the current landscape for sequencing technologies and innovation that would be needed to enable a PGP. 

  • Academic institutions with active sequencing core facilities such as the University of California, Davis and Washington University in St. Louis, among others, who would communicate existing capacity for PGP efforts and forecast additional capacity-building needs, summarize strengths of each entity and past contributions, and identify key thought leaders in the space.

  • Large ag companies, such as Bayer Crop Science, Syngenta, Corteva, and others, who are willing to share proprietary sequence information, communicate industry perspectives, identify obstacles to data sharing and potential solutions, and actively participate in the PGP and potentially provide resources. 

  • Government agencies and public institutions such as NIH/NCBI, NSF, USDA, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, CGIAR, Missouri Botanical Garden, would draft white papers communicating existing efforts and funding, identify funding gaps, and assess current and future collaborations.

  • Current sequencing groups/consortiums, such as the Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium, Earth BioGenome Project, Open Green Genomes Project, HudsonAlpha, and others, would draft white papers communicating existing efforts and funding needs, identify gaps, and plan for data connectivity.

  • Tech companies, such as Google and Microsoft, could communicate existing efforts and technologies, assess the potential for new technologies and tools to accelerate PGP, curate data, and provide support such as talent in the fields of data science and software engineering.

The STEMpathy Task Force: Creating a Generation of Culturally Competent STEM Professionals

Summary

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are powerful levers for improving the quality of life for everyone in the United States. The connection between STEM’s transformative potential and its current impact on structural societal problems starts in the high school classroom. 

Teachers play a critical role in fostering student cultural awareness and competency. Research demonstrates that teachers and students alike are eager to affect progress on issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA). Educational research also demonstrates that DEIA and empathy enhance student sense of belonging and persistence in professional STEM pathways. However, formal STEM learning experiences lack opportunities for students to practice cultural competency and explore applications of STEM to social justice issues.

Cultural Competency is the ability to understand, empathize, and communicate with others as part of a diverse community.

The Biden-Harris Administration should establish the STEMpathy Task Force to aid high school STEM teachers in establishing cultural competency as an overarching learning goal. Through this action, the Administration would signal the prioritization of STEM equity—reflected in both the classroom and the broader community—across the United States. The program would address two pertinent issues in the STEM pipeline: the lack of momentum in STEM workforce diversification and STEM’s unfulfilled promise to relieve our society of systems of oppression and bias. Students need to be taught not only the scientific method and scientific discourse, but also how to approach their science in a manner that best uplifts all people.

Challenge & Opportunity

In a 2017 survey, over 1,900 U.S. companies listed the ability to work effectively with customers, clients, and businesses from a range of different countries and cultures as a critical skill. Since then, the importance of cultural competency in the U.S. workforce has become increasingly apparent. 

Culturally competent workers are more creative and better equipped to solve tricky problems. For example, foresters have managed wildfires by following the instruction and guidance of tribal nations and traditional ecological knowledges. Engineers have designed infrastructure that lowers the water bills of farmers in drought-stricken areas. Public health representatives have assuaged concerns about COVID-19 vaccines in under-served communities. STEM professionals who improve Americans’ quality of life do so by collaborating and communicating with people from diverse backgrounds. When students can see these intersections between STEM and social change, they understand that STEM is not limited to a classroom, lab, or field activity but is also a tool for community building and societal progress. 

Today’s middle and high school students are increasingly concerned about issues around race/ethnicity, gender, and equity. Recent college graduates also share these interests, and many demonstrate a growing desire to participate in meaningful work and to pursue social careers. When students realize that STEM fields are compatible with their passion for topics related to identity and social inequities, they are more likely to pursue STEM careers—and stick with them. This is the way to create a generation of professionals who act with STEMpathy.

To unite STEM subjects with themes of social progress, cultural competency must become a critical component of STEM education. Under this framework, teachers would use curricula to address systemic social inequities and augment learning by drawing from students’ personal experiences (Box 1). This focus would align with ongoing efforts to promote project-based learning, social-emotional learning, and career and technical education in classrooms across the United States.

American high school STEM students will demonstrate an understanding of and empathy for how people from varied backgrounds are affected by environmental and social issues. An environmental sciences student in California understands the risks posed by solar farms to agricultural production in the Midwest. They seek to design solar panels that do not disrupt soil drainage systems and financially benefit farmers.An astronomy student in Florida empathizes with Indigenous Hawaiians who are fighting against the construction of a massive telescope on their land. The student signs petitions to prevent the telescope from being built.A chemistry student in Texas learns that many immigrants struggle to understand healthcare professionals. They volunteer as a translator in their local clinic.A computer science student in Georgia discovers that many fellow residents do not know when or where to vote. They develop a chatbot that reminds their neighbors of polling place information.
Box 1. Examples of Cultural Competency Outcomes.

With such changes to the STEM lessons, the average U.S. high school graduate would have both a stronger sense of community within STEM classrooms and the capacity to operate at a professional level in intercultural contexts. STEM classroom culture would shift accordingly to empower and amplify diverse perspectives and redefine STEM as a common good in the service of advancing society. 

Plan of Action

Through an executive order, the Biden-Harris Administration should create a STEMpathy Task Force committed to building values of inclusion and public service into the United States’ STEM workforce. The task force would assist U.S. high schools in producing college- and career-ready, culturally competent STEM students. The intended outcome is to observe a 20 percent increase in the likelihood of students of color and female- and nonbinary-identifying students to pursue a college degree in a STEM field and for at least 40 percent of surveyed U.S. high school students to demonstrate awareness and understanding of cultural competence skills. Both outcomes should be measured by National Center for Education Research data 5–10 years after the task force is established. 

The STEMpathy Task Force would be coordinated by the Subcommittee on Federal Coordination in STEM Education (FC-STEM) from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The interagency working group would partner with education-focused organizations, research institutions, and philanthropy foundations to achieve their goals (FAQ #6). These partnerships would allow the White House to draw upon expertise within the STEM education sphere to address the following priorities:

Working toward these priorities will equip the next generation of STEM professionals with cultural competence skills. The task force will form effective STEM teaching methods that result in measurable improvement in STEM major diversity and career readiness.

Diagram
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Figure 1. Roadmap of STEMpathy Task Force priorities, including reinforcing elements.

This approach meets the objectives of existing federal STEM education efforts without imposing classroom standards on U.S. educators. In the Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan, the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (Co-STEM) aims to (1) increase work-based learning and training, (2) lend successful practices from across the learning landscape, and (3) encourage transdisciplinary learning. The Department of Education also prioritizes the professional development of educators to strengthen student learning, as well as meet students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. In these ways, the STEMpathy Task Force furthers the Administration’s education goals.

Conclusion

Current national frameworks for high school STEM learning do not provide students with a strong sense of belonging or an awareness of how STEM can be leveraged to alleviate social inequities. The STEMpathy Task Force would establish a rigorous, adaptable framework to address these challenges head-on and ensure that the United States provides high school students with inclusive, hands-on science classrooms that prepare them to serve the diverse communities of their country. Following the implementation of the STEMpathy Task Force, the Biden-Harris Administration can expect to see (1) an increase in the number and diversity of students pursuing STEM degrees, (2) a reduction in race/ethnicity- and gender-based gaps in the STEM workforce, and (3) an increase in STEM innovations that solve critical challenges for communities across the United States.

Frequently Asked Questions
What cultural competence skills would students learn and apply?

In any team setting, students will function effectively and with empathy. They will interact respectfully with people from varied cultural backgrounds. To achieve these behavioral goals, students will learn three key skills, as outlined by the Nebraska Extension NebGuide:



  1. Increasing cultural and global knowledge. Students understand the historical background of current events, including relevant cultural practices, values, and beliefs. They know how to ask open-minded, open-ended questions to learn more information.

  2. Self-assessment. Students reflect critically on their biases to engage with others. They understand how their life experience may differ from others based on their identity.

  3. Active Listening. Students listen for the total meaning of a person’s message. They avoid mental chatter about how they will respond to a person or question, and they do not jump directly to giving advice or offering solutions. 

Would this task force incentivize, influence, or coerce states into adopting standards or curricula?

No. Although the task force will conduct research on STEM- and cultural-competency-related learning standards and lesson plans, the OSTP will not create incentives or regulations to force states to adopt the standards or curricula. The task force is careful to work within the existing, approved educational systems to advance the goals of the Department of Education and Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education (Co-STEM).

What are the associated risks with teaching cultural competency?

As observed during recent efforts to teach American students about structural racism and systemic inequality, some parents may find topics pertaining to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility sensitive. The STEMpathy Task Force’s cultural competency-focused efforts, however, are primarily related to empathy and public service. These values are upheld by constituents and their representatives regardless of political leaning. As such, the STEMpathy Task Force may be understood as a bipartisan effort to advance innovation and the economic competitiveness of U.S. graduates.


Another associated risk is the burden created for teachers to incorporate new material into their already-packed schedules and lesson plans. Many teachers are leaving their jobs due to the stressful post-pandemic classroom environment, as well as the imbalance between their paychecks and the strain and value of their work. These concerns may be addressed through the STEMpathy Task Force’s objectives of paid training and rewards systems for educators who model effective teaching methods for others. In these ways, teachers may receive just compensation for their efforts in supporting both their students and the country’s STEM workforce.

What would be the outputs and milestones of the STEMpathy Task Force over its first four years?

In its first two years, the STEMpathy Task Force would complete the following:



  • Revise FC-STEM’s “Best Practices For Diversity and Inclusion in Stem Education and Research” guide to include information on evidence-based or emerging practices that promote cultural competence skills in the STEM classroom.

  • Train 500+ teachers across the nation to employ teaching strategies and curricula that improve the cultural competence skills of STEM students.


In the next two years, further progress would be made on the following:



  • Measure the efficacy of the teacher training program by assessing ~10,000 students’ cultural competence skill development, STEM interest retention and performance, and classroom sense of belonging.

  • Reward/recognize 100 schools for high achievement in cultural competency development.

Why approach cultural competency goals through STEM classes?

STEM subjects and professionals have the greatest potential to mitigate inequities in American society. Consider the following examples wherein marginalized communities would benefit from STEM professionals who act with cultural competency while working alongside or separate from decision-makers: 



Furthermore, although the number of STEM jobs in the United States has grown by 7.6 million since 1990, the STEM workforce has been very slow to diversify. Over the past 30 years, the proportion of Black STEM workers increased by only 2 percent and that of Latinx STEM workers by only 3 percent. Women hold only 15 percent of direct science and engineering jobs. LGBTQ male students are 17 percent more likely to leave STEM fields than their heterosexual counterparts.


Hundreds of professional networks, after-school programs, and nonprofit organizations have attempted to tackle these issues by targeting students of color and female-identifying students within STEM. While these commendable efforts have had a profound impact on many individuals’ lives, they are not providing the sweeping, transformative change that could promote not only diversity in the STEM workforce but a generation of STEM professionals who actively participate in helping diverse communities across the United States.

How much funding would the STEMpathy Task Force and its programming require?

Based on the president’s budget for ongoing STEM-related programming, we estimate that the agency task force would require approximately $100 million. This amount will be divided across involved agencies for STEMpathy Task Force programming.

Who are potential experts to include in the STEMpathy Task Force?

Regulating Use of Mobile Sentry Devices by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Summary

Robotic and automated systems have the potential to remove humans from dangerous situations, but their current intended use as aids or replacements for human officers conducting border patrols raises ethical concerns if not regulated to ensure that this use “promot[es] the safety of the officer/agent and the public” (emphasis added). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) should update its use-of-force policy to cover the use of robotic and other autonomous systems for CBP-specific applications that differ from the military applications assumed in existing regulations. The most relevant existing regulation, Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, governs how semi-autonomous weapons may be used to engage with enemy combatants in the context of war. This use case is quite different from mobile sentry duty, which may include interactions with civilians (whether U.S. citizens or migrants). With robotic and automated systems about to come into regular use at CBP, the agency should proactively issue regulations to forestall adverse effects—specifically, by only permitting use of these systems in ways that presume all encountered humans to be non-combatants. 

Challenge and Opportunity

CBP is currently developing mobile sentry devices as a new technology to force-multiply its presence at the border. Mobile sentry devices, such as legged and flying robots, have the potential to reduce deaths at the border by making it easier to locate and provide aid to migrants in distress. According to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report, 22% of migrant deaths between 2010 and 2021 that involved an on-duty CBP agent or officer were caused by medical distress that began before the agent or officer arrived on the scene. However, the eventual use cases, rules of engagement, and functionalities of these robots are unclear. If not properly regulated, mobile sentry devices could also be used to harm or threaten people at the border—thereby contributing to the 44% of deaths that occurred as a direct result of vehicular or foot pursuit by a CBP agent. Regulations on mobile sentry device use—rather than merely acquisition—are needed because even originally unarmed devices can be weaponized after purchase. Devices that remain unarmed can also harm civilians using a limb or propeller. 

Existing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations governing autonomous systems seek to minimize technological bias in artificially intelligent risk-assessment systems. Existing military regulations seek to minimize risks of misused or misunderstood capabilities for autonomous systems. However, no existing federal regulations govern how uncrewed vehicles, whether remotely controlled or autonomous, can be used by CBP. The answer is not as simple as extending military regulations to the CBP. Military regulations governing autonomous systems assume that the robots in question are armed and interacting with enemy combatants. This assumption does not apply to most, if not all, possible CBP use cases.

With the CBP already testing robotic dogs for deployment on the Southwestern border, the need for tailored regulation is pressing. Recent backlash over the New York Police Department testing similar autonomous systems makes this topic even more timely. While the robots used by CBP are currently unarmed, the same company that developed the robots being tested by CBP is working with another company to mount weapons on them. The rapid innovation and manufacturing of these systems requires implementation of policies governing their use by CBP before CBP has fully incorporated such systems into its workflows, and before the companies that build these systems have formed a powerful enough lobby to resist appropriate oversight. 

Plan of Action

CBP should immediately update its Use of Force policy to include restrictions on use of force by mobile sentry devices. Specifically, CBP should add a chapter to the policy with the following language:

These regulations should go into effect before Mobile Sentry Devices are moved from the testing phase to the deployment phase. Related new technology, whether it increases capabilities for surveillance or autonomous mobility, should undergo review by a committee that includes representatives from the National Use of Force Review Board, migrant rights groups, and citizens living along the border. This review should mirror the process laid out in the Community Control over Police Surveillance project, which has already been successfully implemented in multiple cities

Conclusion

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is developing an application for legged robots as mobile sentry devices at the southwest border. However, the use cases, functionality, and rules of engagement for these robots remain unclear. New regulations are needed to forestall adverse effects of autonomous robots used by the federal government for non-military applications, such as those envisioned by CBP. These regulations should specify that mobile sentry devices can only be used as humanitarian aids, and must use de-escalation methods to indicate that they are not threatening. Regulations should further mandate that mobile sentry devices maintain clear distance from human targets, that use of force by mobile sentry devices is never considered “reasonable,” and that mobile sentry devices may never be used to pursue, detain, or arrest humans. Such regulations will help ensure that the legged robots currently being tested as mobile sentry devices by CBP—as well as any future mobile sentry devices—are used ethically and in line with CBP’s goals, alleviating concerns for migrant advocates and citizens along the border.

Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of regulating CBP use of autonomous robots as mobile sentry devices rather than purchasing of autonomous robots?

Regulations on purchasing are not sufficient to prevent mobile sentry device technology from being weaponized after it is purchased. However, DHS could certainly also consider updating its acquisition regulations to include clauses resulting in fines when mobile sentry devices acquired by the CBP are not used for humanitarian purposes.

Why is Department of Defense (DOD) Directive 3000.09 not sufficient to regulate the use of force by all government agencies?

DOD Directive 3000.09 regulates the use of autonomous weapons systems in the context of war. For an autonomous, semi-autonomous, or remotely controlled system that is deployed with the intention to be a weapon in an active battlefield, this regulation makes sense. But applications of robotic and automated systems currently being developed by DHS are oriented towards mobile sentry duty along stretches of American land where civilians are likely to be found. This sentry duty is likely to be performed by uncrewed ground robots following GPS breadcrumb trails along predetermined regular patrols along the border. Applying Directive 3000.09, the use of a robot to kill or harm a person during a routine patrol along the border would not be a violation as long as a human had “meaningful control” over the robot at that time. The upshot is that mobile sentry devices used by CBP should be subject to stricter regulations.

What standards do robotics companies have on the use of their technologies?

Most companies selling legged robots in the United States have explicit end-user policies prohibiting the use of their machines to harm or intimidate humans or animals. Some companies selling quadcopter drones have similar policies. But these policies lack any enforcement mechanism. As such, there is a regulatory gap that the federal government must fill.

Is updating its Use of Force policy the only way for CBP to regulate its use of mobile sentry devices?

No, but it is an immediately actionable strategy. An alternative—albeit more time-consuming—option would be for CBP to form a committee comprising representatives from the National Use of Force Review Board, the military, migrant-rights activist groups, and experts on ethics to develop a directive for CBP’s use of mobile sentry devices. This directive should be modeled after DoD Directive 3000.09, which regulates the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems by the military. As the autonomous systems in DOD Directive 3000.09 are assumed to be interacting with enemy combatants while CBP’s jurisdiction consists mostly of civilians, the CBP directive should be considerably more stringent than Directive 3000.09.

Would the policies proposed in this memo vary with the degree of autonomy possessed by the robot in question?

The policies proposed in this memo govern what mobile sentry devices are and are not permitted to do, regardless of the extent to which humans are involved in device operation and/or the degree of autonomy possessed by the technology in question. The policies proposed in this memo could therefore be applied consistently as the technology continues to be developed. AI is always changing and improving, and by creating policies that are tech-agnostic, CPB can avoid updating regulations as mobile sentry device technology evolves.

Combating Bias in Medical Innovation

There is a crisis within healthcare technology research and development, wherein historically marginalized groups are under-researched in preclinical studiesunder-represented in clinical trialsmisunderstood by clinical practitioners, and harmed by biased medical technology. These issues in turn contribute to costly disparities in healthcare outcomes, leading to losses of $93 billion a year in excess medical-care costs, $42 billion a year in lost productivity, and $175 billion a year due to premature deaths. COVID-19 put these disparities into especially sharp focus. In December 2020, pulse oximeters, critical for healthcare monitoring during the pandemic, were shown to be much less accurate in patients with darker skin, thereby putting those patients at a greater risk of organ damage. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) responded by issuing a safety communication, but not with any changes to regulation of pulse oximeters. 

Especially for an administration that has embedded equity throughout its policy agenda, this situation is unacceptable. The Biden-Harris Administration must act to address bias in medical technology at the development, testing and regulation, and market-deployment and evaluation phases. This will require coordinated effort across multiple agencies. In the development phase, science-funding agencies should crack down on federally funded studies that do not conduct mandatory subgroup analysis for diverse populations. Funding agencies should also expand funding for under-resourced research areas. In the testing and regulation phase, the FDA should raise the threshold for evaluation of medical technologies, make diversity requirements binding, and expand data-auditing processes. In the market-deployment and evaluation phases, the FDA should strengthen reporting mechanisms for adverse outcomes, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should require impact assessments of deployed technologies, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) should identify technologies that could address healthcare disparities.

Challenge and Opportunity

Bias is regrettably endemic in medical innovation. Drugs are incorrectly dosed to people assigned female at birth due to historical exclusion of women from clinical trials. Medical algorithms make healthcare decisions based on biased health dataclinically disputed race-based corrections, and/or model choices that exacerbate healthcare disparitiesMuch medical equipment is not accessible, thus violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Biased studies, technology, and equipment inevitably produce disparate outcomes in U.S. healthcare.

The problem of bias in medical innovation manifests in multiple ways: cutting across technological sectors in clinical trials, pervading the commercialization pipeline, and impeding equitable access to critical healthcare advances.

Bias in medical innovation cuts across technology sectors

The 1993 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Revitalization Act required federally funded clinical studies to (i) include women and racial minorities as participants, and (ii) break down results by sex and race or ethnicity. Yet a 2019 study found that only 13.4% of NIH-funded trials performed the mandatory subgroup analysis. Moreover, the increasing share of industry-funded studies are not subject to Revitalization Act mandates — they are only governed by non-binding FDA recommendations for clinical-trial diversity. These studies frequently fail to report differences in outcomes by patient population as a result. The resulting disparities in clinical-trial representation are stark: African Americans represent 12% of the U.S. population but only 5% of clinical-trial participants, Hispanics make up 16% of the population but only 1% of clinical trial participants, and sex distribution in some trials is 67% male. Finally, many medical technologies approved prior to 1993 have not been reassessed for potential bias. One outcome of such inequitable representation is evident in drug dosing protocols: sex-aware prescribing guidelines exist for only a third of all drugs.

Bias in U.S. medical innovation — perpetuated by weak or weakly enforced federal regulations — extends beyond clinical trials. As explained below, bias pervades medical algorithms, medical devices, and the pharmaceutical sector as well. 

Algorithms

Regulation of medical algorithms varies based on end application, as defined in the 21st Century Cures Act. Only algorithms that (i) acquire and analyze medical data and (ii) could have adverse outcomes are subject to FDA regulation. Thus, clinical decision-support software is not regulated even though these technologies make important clinical decisions in 90% of U.S. hospitals

Even when a medical algorithm is regulated, regulation may occur through relatively permissive de novo pathways and 510(k) pathways. A de novo pathway is used for novel devices determined to be low to moderate risk, and thus subject to a lower burden of proof with respect to safety and equity. A 510(k) pathway can be used to approve a medical device exhibiting “substantial equivalence” to a previously approved device, i.e., it has the same intended use and/or same technological features. Different technical features can be approved so long as there are not questions raised around safety and effectiveness.

Medical devices approved through de novo pathways can be used as predicates for approval of devices through 510(k) pathways. Moreover, a device approved through a 510(k) pathway can remain on the market even if its predicate device was recalled. Widespread use of 510(k) approval pathways has generated a “collapsing building” phenomenon, wherein many technologies currently in use are based on failed predecessors. Indeed, 97% of devices recalled between 2008 to 2017 were approved via 510(k) clearance. 

Even more alarming is evidence showing that machine learning can further entrench medical inequities. Because machine learning medical algorithms are powered by data from past medical decision-making, which is rife with human error, these algorithms can perpetuate racial, gender, and economic bias. Even algorithms demonstrated to be unbiased at the time of approval can evolve in biased ways over time, with little to no oversight from the FDA. As technological innovation progresses, an intentional focus on this problem will be required.

Finally, there is not a list of approved medical algorithms on the market, making it difficult for researchers to assess them for bias.

Medical devices

Currently, the Medical Device User Fee Act requires the FDA to consider the least burdensome appropriate means for manufacturers to demonstrate the effectiveness of a medical device or to demonstrate a device’s substantial equivalence. This requirement was reinforced by the 21st Century Cures Act, which also designated a category for “breakthrough devices” subject to far less-stringent data requirements. Such legislation shifts the burden of clinical data collection to physicians and researchers, who might discover bias years after FDA approval. This legislation also makes it difficult to require assessments on the differential impacts of technology.

Like medical algorithms, many medical devices are approved through 510(k) exemptions or de novopathways. The FDA has taken steps since 2018 to increase requirements for 510(k) approval and ensure that Class III (high-risk) medical devices are subject to rigorous pre-market approval, but problems posed by equivalence and limited diversity requirements remain. 

Pharmaceuticals

The 1993 Revitalization Act strictly governs clinical trials for pharmaceuticals and does not make recommendations for adequate sex or genetic diversity in preclinical research. The results are that a disproportionately high number of male animals are used in research and that only 5% of cell lines used for pharmaceutical research are of African descent. Programs like All of Us, an effort to build diverse health databases through data collection, are promising steps towards improving equity and representation in pharmaceutical research and development (R&D). But stronger enforcement is needed to ensure that preclinical data (which informs function in clinical trials) reflects the diversity of our nation. 

Bias in medical innovation exists throughout the commercialization pipeline

Bias occurs not only in multiple medical innovation sectors, but also across the development, testing and regulation, and market-deployment and evaluation phases of the medical innovation pipeline. This can be understood through the example of pulse oximeters.

Development

Pulse oximetry was developed by Biox and given FDA approval in 1980. The technology works by shining a light through the skin and measuring the difference in light absorbance to estimate arterial oxygen saturation. Melanin absorbs visual and infrared light and will interfere at all wavelengths. No algorithm has yet been developed to account for melanin attenuation. Hence pulse oximeter calibration data does not accurately reflect Black patients.

Testing and regulation

The first pulse oximeter was approved by the FDA at a time when clinical trials did not require gender and racial diversity. Thus, the foundational, 1980s-era pulse oximeter technology upon which subsequent 510(k) clearance for pulse oximeters has been granted is one that was tested almost exclusively on white, male patient populations.

With the 510(k) clearance, only 10 people are required in a study of any new pulse oximeter’s efficacy. The FDA states that pulse oximetry study populations should have a range of skin pigmentations and must include at least two darkly pigmented individuals or 15% of the participant pool, whichever is larger. But the FDA does not provide an objective standard for “darkly pigmented”. Moreover, this requirement (i) does not have the statistical power necessary to detect differences between demographic groups, and (i) does not represent the composition of the U.S. population. Finally, FDA guidance is silent on how pulse oximetry technology should be calibrated — it does not, for instance, specifically recommend studies on melanin interference.

Market deployment and evaluation

To clinical practitioners, pulse oximeters are a metaphorical “black box”, with oxygenation calculations hidden by proprietary algorithms. When errors or biases occur in oximeter data (if they are even noticed), the practitioner may blame the patient for their lifestyle rather than the technology used for assessment. This in turn leads to worse clinical outcomes for patients with darker skin tones, as they are at greater risk of becoming sicker before receiving care. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that clinicians who use oximeter technology for the first time (as was the case during COVID-19) generally are not trained to spot factors that cause inaccurate measurements. This leads to underreporting of adverse events to the FDA — which is already a problem due to the voluntary nature of adverse-event reporting. When problems are ultimately identified during market deployment and evaluation of a given technology, government can be slow to respond. The pulse oximeter’s limitations in monitoring oxygenation levels across diverse skin tones was identified as early as the 1990s. 31 years later, despite repeated follow-up studies indicating biases, no manufacturer has incorporated skin-tone-adjusted calibration algorithms into pulse oximeters. It required the large Sjoding study, and the media coverage it garnered, for the FDA to issue a safety communication. Even then, the safety communication has not been followed with any additional regulatory action. 

Inequitable access to medical innovation represents a form of bias

Americans face wildly different levels of access to new medical innovations. As many new innovations have high cost points, these devices exist outside the price range of many smaller healthcare institutions and/or federally funded healthcare services, including Veterans Affairs, health centers, and the Indian Health Service. Emerging care-delivery strategies might not be covered by Medicare and Medicaid, meaning that patients under those systems cannot access the most cutting-edge treatments. Finally, the shift to digital health in response to COVID-19 has compromised access to healthcare in rural communities without reliable broadband access. 

Finally, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) has a commitment to have all programs and projects consider equity in their design. To fulfill ARPA-H’s commitment, there is a need for action across the federal government to ensure that medical technologies are developed fairly, tested with rigor, deployed safely, and made affordable and accessible to everyone.

Plan of Action

The Biden-Harris Administration should launch “Healthcare Technology for All Americans” (HTAA), a government-wide initiative to address systemic inequities in U.S. healthcare wrought by biased medical technology. Through a comprehensive approach that addresses bias in all medical sectors, at all stages of the commercialization pipeline, and in all geographies, the initiative will strive to ensure unbiased, equitable care delivery across the entire medical-innovation ecosystem. HTAA should be a joint mandate of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) to work with federal agencies on priorities of health equity, and initiative leadership should sit at both HHS and OSTP. 

This initiative will require involvement of multiple federal agencies, as summarized in the table below. Additional detail is provided in the subsequent sections describing how the federal government can mitigate bias in the development phase; testing, regulation, and approval phases; and market deployment and evaluation phases.

Three guiding principles should underlie the initiative:

  1. Equity should drive action. Actions should seek to improve the health of those who have been historically excluded from medical research and development. We should design standards that repair past exclusion and prevent future exclusion. 
  2. Coordination and cooperation are necessary. The executive and legislative branches must collaborate to address the full scope of the problem of bias in medical technology, from federal processes to new regulations. Legislative leadership should task the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to engage in ongoing assessment of progress towards the goal of achieving equity in medical innovation.
  3. Transparent, evidence-based decision making is paramount. There is abundant peer-reviewed literature that examines bias in drugs, devices, and algorithms used in healthcare settings — this literature should form the basis of an equity-driven approach to medical innovation. Gaps in evidence should be focused on through deployed research funding. Moreover, as algorithms become ubiquitous in medicine, every effort should be made to ensure that these algorithms are trained on representative data of those experiencing a given healthcare condition.

Addressing bias at the development phase

The following actions should be taken to address bias in medical technology at the innovation phase:

Addressing bias at the testing, regulation, and approval phases

The following actions should be taken to address bias in medical innovation at the testing, regulation, and approval phases:

Addressing bias at the market deployment and evaluation phases 

A comprehensive road map is needed

In January 2021, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Ron Wyden called for an FDA review of pulse oximetry measurements and their skin tone bias, citing the lack of understanding about clinical outcomes of this bias in their call to action. The GAO should go a step beyond this call to action and conduct a comprehensive investigation of “black box” medical technologies utilizing algorithms that are not transparent to end users, medical providers, and patients. The investigation should inform a national strategic plan for equity and inclusion in medical innovation that relies heavily on algorithmic decision-making. The plan should include identification of noteworthy medical algorithms exacerbating inequities, creation of enforceable regulatory standards, development of new sources of research funding to address knowledge gaps, development of enforcement mechanisms for bias reporting, and ongoing assessment of equity goals.

Timeline for action

Realizing HTAA will require mobilization of federal funding, introduction of regulation and legislation, and coordination of stakeholders from federal agencies, industry, healthcare providers, and researchers around a common goal of mitigating bias in medical technology. Such an initiative will be a multi-year undertaking and require funding to enact R&D expenditures, expand data capacity, assess enforcement impacts, create educational materials, and deploy personnel to staff all the above.

Near-term steps that can be taken to launch HTAA include issuing a public request for information, gathering stakeholders, engaging the public and relevant communities in conversation, and preparing a report outlining the roadmap to accomplishing the policies outlined in this memo. 

Conclusion

Medical innovation is central to the delivery of high-quality healthcare in the United States. Ensuring equitable healthcare for all Americans requires ensuring that medical innovation is equitable across all sectors, phases, and geographies. Through a bold and comprehensive initiative, the Biden-Harris Administration can ensure that our nation continues leading the world in medical innovation while crafting a future where healthcare delivery works for all.

Frequently Asked Questions
1. How will the success of HTAA be evaluated?

HTAA will be successful when medical policies, projects, and technologies yield equitable health care access, treatment, and outcomes. For instance, success would yield the following outcomes:



  1. Representation in preclinical and clinical research equivalent to the incidence of a studied condition in the general population.

  2. Research on a disease condition funded equally per affected patient.

  3. Existence of data for all populations facing a given disease condition.

  4. Medical algorithms that have equal efficacy across subgroup populations.

  5. Technologies that work equally well in testing as they do when deployed to the market.

  6. Healthcare technologies made available and affordable to all care facilities.

2. Why does this memo propose an expansive multi-agency effort instead of just targeting the FDA?

Regulation alone cannot close the disparity gap. There are notable gaps in preclinical and clinical research data for women, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups that need to be filled. There are also historical biases encoded in AI/ML decision-making algorithms that need to be studied and rectified. In addition, the FDA’s role is to serve as a safety check on new technologies — the agency has limited oversight over technologies once they are out on the market due to the voluntary nature of adverse reporting mechanisms. This means that agencies like the FTC and CMS need to be mobilized to audit high-risk technologies once they reach the market. Eliminating bias in medical technology is only possible through coordination and cooperation of federal agencies with each other as well as with partners in the medical device industry, the pharmaceutical industry, academic research, and medical care delivery.

3. Why is ARPA-H critical to this effort?

Working together to address the enormous challenge of bias in medical innovation will require communication, coordination, and collaboration. ARPA-H provides the essential platform for these three tasks. As an agency bridging academic research and industry, ARPA-H will focus on developing technologies that address some of the greatest healthcare challenges facing Americans, including inequities existing in healthcare. By committing to consider equity in every project, ARPA-H provides the basis for practice of technological development that is inclusive, responsible, and accountable. ARPA-H’s deep relationships with industry will spur medical device companies to align with ARPA-H’s processes.

4. Why create a new initiative when we have standing offices like the Office of Minority Health (OMH) focused on health equity?

Offices like the OMH do necessary work in identifying disparities in care and pointing out solutions. For example, the call for digital infrastructure improvements to improve care access for vulnerable populations has been echoed by OMH. But these offices lack the ability to operationalize multi-agency collaborations needed to address cross-cutting challenges related to medical bias. A new initiative led by the White House      in close partnership with HHS leadership is needed to ensure that the broad scope of the plan outlined in this memo is actualized.

5. What challenges might the administration encounter from industry in launching this initiative?

A significant focus of the medical device and pharmaceutical industries is reducing      the time to market for new medical devices and drugs. Imposing additional requirements for subgroup analysis and equitable use as part of the approval process could work against this objective. On the other hand, ensuring equitable use during the development and approval stages of commercialization will ultimately be less costly than dealing with a future recall or a loss of Medicare or Medicaid eligibility if inequitable outcomes are discovered. FAR regulation can also be employed to incentivize companies to adhere to equity standards in order to receive federal contracts.

6. How can the Administration build the bipartisan support necessary to secure the funding for this initiative?

Healthcare disparities exist in every state in America and are costing billions a year in economic growth. Some of the most vulnerable people live in rural areas, where they are less likely to receive high-quality care because costs of new medical technologies are too high for the federally qualified health centers that serve one in five rural residents as well as rural hospitals. Furthermore, during continued use, a biased device creates adverse healthcare outcomes that cost taxpayers money. A technology functioning poorly due to bias can be expensive to replace. It is economically imperative to ensure technology works as expected, as it leads to more effective healthcare and thus healthier people.

Carbon Capture in the Industrial Sector: Addressing Training, Startups, and Risk

This memo is part of the Day One Project Early Career Science Policy Accelerator, a joint initiative between the Federation of American Scientists & the National Science Policy Network.

Summary

Decarbonizing our energy system is a major priority for slowing and eventually reversing climate change. Federal policies supporting industrial-scale solutions for carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration (CCUS) have significantly decreased costs for large-scale technologies, yet these costs are still high enough to create considerable investment risks. Multiple companies and laboratories have developed smaller-scale, modular technologies to decrease the risk and cost of point-source carbon capture and storage (CCS). Additional federal support is needed to help these flexible, broadly implementable technologies meet the scope of necessary decarbonization in the highly complex industrial sector. Accordingly, the Department of Energy (DOE) should launch an innovation initiative comprising the following three pillars:

  1. Launch a vocational CCS training program to grow the pool of workers equipped with the skills to install, operate, and maintain CCS infrastructure.
  2. Develop an accelerator to develop and commercialize modular CCS for the industrial sector.
  3. Create a private-facing CCS Innovation Connector (CIC) to increase stability and investment. 

These activities will target underfunded areas and complement existing DOE policies for CCS technologies.

Challenge and Opportunity

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the largest driver of human-induced climate change. Tackling the climate crisis requires the United States to significantly decarbonize; however, CCS and CCUS are still too costly. CCUS costs must drop to $100 per ton of CO2 captured to incentivize industry uptake. U.S. policymakers have paved the way for CCUS by funding breakthrough research, increasing demand for captured CO2through market-shaping, improving technologies for point-source CCS, and building large-scale plants for direct-air capture (DAC). DAC has great promise for remediating CO2 in the atmosphere despite its higher cost (up to $600/ton of CO2 sequestered), so the Biden Administration and DOE have recently focused on DAC via policies such as the Carbon Negative Shot (CNS) and the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). By comparison, point-source CCS has been described as an “orphan technology” due to a recent lack of innovation.

Part of the problem is that few long-term mechanisms exist to make CCS economical. Industrial CO2 demand is rising, but without a set carbon price, emissions standard, or national carbon market, the cost of carbon capture technology outweighs demand. The Biden Administration is increasing demand for captured carbon through government purchasing and market-shaping, but this process is slow and does not address the root problems of high technology and infrastructure costs. Therefore, targeting the issue from the innovation side holds the most promise for improving industry uptake. DOE grants for technology research and demonstration are common, while public opinion and the 45Q tax credit have led to increased funding for CCS from companies like ExxonMobil. These efforts have allowed large-scale projects like the $1 billion Petra Nova plant to be developed; however, concerns about carbon capture pipelines, the high-cost, high-risk technology, and years needed for permitting mean that large-scale projects are few and far between. Right now, there are only 26 operating CCUS plants globally. Therefore, a solution is to pursue smaller-scale technologies to fill this gap and provide lower-cost and smaller-scale — but much more widespread — CCS installations. 

Modular CCS technologies, like those created by the startups Carbon Clean and Carbon Capture, have shown promise for industrial plants. Carbon Clean has serviced 44 facilities that have collectively captured over 1.4 million metric tons of carbon. Mitsubishi is also trialing smaller CCS plants based on successful larger facilities like Orca or Petra Nova. Increasing federal support for modular innovation with lower risks and installation costs could attract additional entrants to the CCS market. Most research focuses on breakthrough innovation to significantly decrease carbon capture costs. However, there are many existing CCS technologies — like amine-based solvents or porous membranes — that can be improved and specialized to cut costs as well. In particular, modular CCS systems could effectively target the U.S. industrial sector, given that industrial subsectors such as steel or plastics manufacturing receive less pressure and have fewer decarbonization options than oil and gas enterprises. The industrial sector accounts for 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions through a variety of small point sources, which makes it a prime area for smaller-scale CCS technologies.

Plan of Action

DOE should launch an initiative designed to dramatically advance technological options for and use of small-scale, modular CCS in the United States. The program would comprise three major pillars, detailed in Table 1.

Table 1.
Three complementary efforts to increase industrial uptake of CCS technologies.
PillarPurposeChampionCostFundingTime Frame
Vocational TrainingIncrease CCS workforceDOE OCED$5 millionIIJA2-4 years
Modular CSS Innovation ProgramDevelop modular CCS technology for industry subsectorsDOE OCED or FECM$10 millionIIJA, DOE grants1 year
CCS Innovator ConnectorEncourage private CCS investmentDOE OCED$750,000/yearIIJA2 years

DOE should leverage IIJA and the new DOE Office of Clean Energy Demonstration (OCED) to create a vocational CCS training program. DOE has in the past supported — and is currently supporting — a suite of regional carbon capture training. However, DOE’s 2012 program was geared toward scientists and workers already in the CCS field, and its 2022 program is specialized for 20–30 specific scientists and projects. DOE should build on this work with a new vocational CCS training program that will:

This educational program would be cost-effective: the online course would require little upkeep, and the vocational training programs could be largely developed with financial and technical support from external partners. Initial funding of $5 million would cover course development and organization of the vocational training programs.

Pillar 2. Create an accelerator for the development and commercialization of modular CCS technologies.

The DOE Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) or OCED should continue to lead global innovation by creating the Modular CCS Innovation Program (MCIP). This accelerator would provide financial and technical support for U.S. research and development (R&D) startups working on smaller-scale, flexible CCS for industrial plants (e.g., bulk chemical, cement, and steel manufacturing plants). The MCIP should prioritize technology that can be implemented widely with lower costs for installation and upkeep. For example, MCIP projects could focus on improving the resistance of amine-based systems to specialty chemicals, or on developing a modular system like Carbon Clean that can be adopted by different industrial plants. Projects like these have been proposed by different U.S. companies and laboratories, yet to date they have received comparatively less support from government loans or tax credits. 

Figure 1. 

Proposed timeline of the MCIP accelerator for U.S. startups.

As illustrated in Figure 1, the MCIP would be launched with a Request for Proposals (RFP), awarding an initial $1 million each to the top 10 proposals received. In the first 100 days after receiving funding, each participating startup would be required to submit a finalized design and market analysis for its proposed product. The startup would then have an additional 200 days to produce a working prototype of the product. Then, the startup would move into the implementation and commercialization stages, with the goal to have its product market-ready within the next year. Launching the MCIP could therefore be achieved with approximately $10 million in grant funding plus additional funding to cover administrative costs and overhead — amounts commensurate with recent DOE funding for large-scale CCUS projects. This funding could come from the $96 million recently allocated by DOE to advance carbon capture technology and/or from funding allocated in the IIJA allocation. Implementation funding could be secured in part or in whole from private investors or other external industry partners.

Pillar 3. Create a private-facing CCS Innovation Connector (CIC) to increase stability and investment. 

The uncertainty and risk that discourages private investment in CCS must be addressed. Many oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil have called for a more predictable policy landscape and increased funding for CCS projects. Creating a framework for a CCS Innovation Connector (CIC) within the DOE OCED based on a similar fund in the European Union would decrease the perceived risks of CCS technologies emerging from MCIP. The CIC would work as follows: first, a company would submit a proposal relating to point-source carbon capture. DOE technical experts would perform an initial quality-check screening and share proposals that pass to relevant corporate investors. Once funding from investors is secured, the project would begin. CIC staff (likely two to three full-time employees) would monitor projects to ensure they are meeting sponsor goals and offer technical assistance as necessary. The CIC would serve as a liaison between CCS project developers and industrial sponsors or investors to increase investment in and implementation of nascent CCS technologies. While stability in the CCS sector will require policies such as increasing carbon tax credits or creating a global carbon price, the CIC will help advance such policies by funding important American CCS projects. 

Conclusion

CO2 emissions will continue to rise as U.S. energy demand grows. Many existing federal policies target these emissions through clean energy or DAC projects, but more can and should be done to incentivize U.S. innovation in point-source CCS. In particular, increased federal support is needed for small-scale and modular carbon capture technologies that target complex areas of U.S. industry and avoid the high costs and risks of large-scale infrastructure installations. This federal support should involve improving CCS education and training, accelerating the development and commercialization of modular CCS technologies for the industrial sector, and connecting startup CCS projects to private funding. Biden Administration policies — coupled with growing public and industrial support for climate action — make this the ideal time to expand the reach of our climate strategy into an “all of the above” solution that includes CCS as a core component.

Scaling Proven IT Modernization Strategies Across the Federal Government

Summary

Seven years after the creation of the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) and 18F, the Federal Government still struggles to buy, build, and operate technology in a modern, scalable way. While there have been small success stories, most government technology and delivery practices remain antiquated and ineffective. Critical systems underperforming during the COVID-19 crisis is the latest example of technology and delivery failing to meet the needs of Americans. The federal government will spend $90.9 billion on information technology (IT) projects in fiscal year (FY) 21, an increase of $15.3 billion since it began to embrace the digital-services movement in earnest in FY14 in response the high failure rate of federal IT projects. Yet the public is not receiving the value expected from this substantial investment in technology. Between 2003 and 2012, only 6.4% of IT projects with a budget of over $10 million were considered successful. 41% were complete failures that had to be scrapped and started again. There is no evidence that performance has improved on a large scale since FY12.

In spite of efforts to implement transformative technological practices, most government systems still fail to meet modern standards or expectations. The next administration should undertake a series of actions outlined in this memo to scale proven IT modernization strategies across the Federal Government to improve its structure and culture, and buy, build, and deliver technology that meets the needs of Americans today and into the future.

A National Initiative to Revitalize American Farming and Advance Regenerative Agriculture

Summary

A national regenerative agriculture initiative launched by the federal government could transform how American farmers provide food, fiber, and land stewardship. This initiative would commit to matching what farmers earn growing food and fiber with an equal investment in farmers’ work to rebuild the country’s natural capital.

Regenerative agriculture produces a safe and abundant food supply while building soil health and regenerating natural resources. This approach recognizes the key roles farmers and ranchers have in providing clean air, clean water, and ecosystem services that benefit all society.

A national regenerative agriculture initiative would provide needed investment in rural economies while simultaneously empowering current and future farmers to grow food in ways that improve soil health, ecosystem services, and natural resources. This strategic initiative would support the return of farming as a more widely valued job in America.

To achieve truly regenerative agricultural systems nationwide, the federal government should catalyze new markets and focus federal funding for regenerative agriculture programs, research, and development. Key steps towards this goal include creating a Regenerative Agriculture Advisory Task Force, mobilizing substantial investments to upgrade the agricultural sector, and prioritizing regenerative agriculture as a major theme in agricultural innovation.

An Initiative to Build the National Climate Bank

The next administration should support legislation to fund the National Climate Bank, a non- profit that will create millions of jobs through public-private investment in clean energy and climate-related technologies. Built on the successful “green bank” model, the Climate Bank will spur $500 billion of private and public investment, create 5.4 million jobs, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while driving capital into frontline and environmental-justice communities. Legislation to support this policy passed the House of Representatives with billions of dollars in funding in July. The administration can enact this policy by including funding for the National Climate Bank in its climate and infrastructure-oriented stimulus proposals to Congress.

Approximately 30 million Americans—one in five workers—are collecting unemployment benefits. Labor-force participation is at its lowest level in nearly fifty years. These figures are worse than anything seen during the Great Recession. Deep, forward-thinking, and transformative measures are needed to revitalize our economy and open stable, well-paying opportunities for working Americans. Yet Congress has focused exclusively on short-term relief.

The next administration must quickly correct this error by investing substantially in job creation. Investments should meet three critical requirements:

Transitioning the United States to a 100% clean electric grid over the next 20 years will require an estimated $225 billion of new investment per year. We are far short of this benchmark. Only $78 billion was invested into U.S. clean energy in 2019. Investment shortfalls and barriers can and must be overcome through an influx of public capital, with a particular focus on investing in underserved, frontline communities and communities of color.

Plan of Action

The next administration should endorse the National Climate Bank Act in Congress to put Americans back to work building our nation’s clean-energy future. The National Climate Bank created under this Act would be an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit finance entity that would use federal funds to mobilize greater private investment to address climate change. The next administration should, therefore, include funding for the National Climate Bank in stimulus proposals. 

Building off of the “green bank” model already proven at the state and local levels, the National Climate Bank could use $35 billion of federal funds to achieve $500 billion of investment in domestic clean energy and climate-related infrastructure in just five years. This level of investment would create an estimated 5.4 million jobs spread across the country (since cleanenergy projects are needed in every community). This level of investment would also create opportunities for workers of all skillsets, not just technical workers. No new authority or government agency is needed to create the National Climate Bank as an independent nonprofit. Legislation is only needed for seed funding. 

The National Climate Bank would invest across a broad set of sectors to ensure that communities can build the climate solutions they most need: solutions that include renewable-power projects, building efficiency and electrification, clean transportation, industrial decarbonization, improved grid infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, and resilience efforts. This model works. State and local green banks across the United States have already catalyzed over $5 billion of investment into such solutions, with each green bank dollar driving an average $2.60 of private coinvestment.

Solutions financed by green banks are not only environmentally prudent, but materially improve economic well-being for individual Americans as well. For instance, alternative underwriting criteria can give low-income communities access to rooftop solar and efficiency projects that lower home energy bills. Coupling roof replacement with solar energy increases community resilience while lowering home-insurance costs. Improving building efficiency for small businesses enables small businesses to hire more workers thanks to lower operating expenses.

The National Climate Bank would also be uniquely positioned among federal agencies to advance equity and environmental justice nationwide. The National Climate Bank could and should direct investment towards frontline and communities of color, delivering benefits like job creation, lower energy costs, and increased public health. The National Climate Bank would also be flexible and nimble enough to quickly respond to community needs as they emerge. By combining multiple financing tools (e.g., co-investment, subordinated debt, credit enhancements) with market-development strategies, the National Climate Bank would leverage new private investment and reach untapped markets. Finally, the National Climate Bank would only directly finance projects that are national in scale. For all other projects, the National Climate Bank would partner with local leaders to form state and local green banks where they don’t already exist. Such decentralization would ensure that funded projects are tailored instead of “one size fits all” and that project benefits and wealth accrue within targeted communities instead of leaking out and trickling up.

There is already considerable support for a national green bank in Congress. Senators Ed Markey and Chris Van Hollen and Representative Debbie Dingell introduced the National Climate Bank Act in 2019. And the policy (under the name Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator) was included in the $1.5 trillion Moving Forward Act that recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. Establishing a national green bank was a key recommendation of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and is part of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s CLEAN Future Act. Nearly 100 organizations, including environmental organizations and industry associations, have signed a letter of support for a national green bank. Polling shows that 7 in 10 Americans—including a majority of independents and Republicans—support the funding and creation of the National Climate Bank. Finally, the idea of a national green bank was endorsed by multiple presidential candidates including Jay Inslee, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, and Kamala Harris. The next Administration can harness this legislative and popular momentum and fund the NCB through stimulus.

Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we need public funding for climate investment? Don’t private capital markets work fine?
In some geographies and for certain customers, there is ample private capital to finance technologies like utility-scale solar and wind projects. The same is true of efficiency projects for high-credit owners of large buildings. However, we can’t transition to a clean-energy economy and sustainable climate future on the timeline we need by investing in only a subset of people and places. Clean-energy and climate solutions must be distributed fairly across the United States without raising costs. But right now, very little private capital flows into low-income or communities of color for any climate-related activity. And many solutions—such as reforestation, industrial decarbonization, electric-vehicle fleet replacement, and distributed energy storage— are undercapitalized for all communities. The National Climate Bank will address these market failures, catalyzing private investment in underserved technologies and communities to the benefit of all Americans.
Why form the National Climate Bank as a non-profit?

The National Climate Bank must be non-political to succeed. Companies and investors must view the National Climate Bank as a trusted and stable market participant that they can securely contract with for multiple decades. This will not be the case if the Bank’s short-term viability vacillates with changing administrations and national fiscal conditions. This truth has been sadly proven out by green bank institutions in and outside the U.S. that have been hampered or shut down by changing political conditions.


Studying existing green banks (such as state and local green banks) provides strong evidence that a national-level green bank will only work if it operates outside of government. The government-owned Connecticut Green Bank, for instance, was operating successfully but nevertheless had funding swept back as part of a fiscal austerity measure. The governmentowned Australian national green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has had its mission and operating procedures altered regularly as different political parties have come into power.


While the National Climate Bank should be formed as an extra-governmental non-profit, it should still coordinate closely with federal, state, and local government to utilize incentives, rebates, and tax credits and to optimize program design for efficient delivery of capital.

Doesn’t the Department of Energy Loan Programs Office already do this?

The Loan Programs Office (LPO) is a “commercialization”-focused tool within the federal government. As such, there are stringent constraints on the kinds of projects the LPO can fund. The LPO also has limited financing tools at its disposal and cannot prioritize investment in underserved communities. The result is that the LPO has not closed a clean-energy loan in nearly a decade. This lack of investment is partly due to the political impact of being within government. The LPO was hampered post-Solyndra, and has been effectively shut down during the Trump administration. Political influence has sadly undermined the legitimacy of the LPO, a finance entity that still has tens of billions of dollars of unused investment capacity. Reviving or reforming the LPO are worthy goals, but would still not be a substitute for creating a National Climate Bank

How will the National Climate Bank relate to existing state and local green banks?
The National Climate Bank will provide technical assistance to geographies that want but do not have green bank. The National Climate Bank will also provide capital to help new and existing green banks finance projects. These roles are critical given that lack of local public funds to capitalize state green banks is the main barrier to green-bank growth. Lastly, the National Climate Bank will only directly finance projects of regional or national scale (e.g., a long-distance transmission line for renewable energy). Otherwise, most financing activity of the National Climate Bank will flow through the state and local green banks with which it partners.
Does the National Climate Bank really need so much money? Is that much necessary?

The climate investment gap is considerable in the U.S. Investing federal funds in a National Climate Bank allows each public dollar to be multiplied, moving us significantly closer to filling that gap. Modeling has shown that in just five years, if the National Climate Bank received $35 billion of public capital, for example, that could catalyze nearly $500 billion of total investment. This is because public funds will be multiplied in 3 ways through a Climate Bank. First, it will finance projects using techniques that leverage multiple private dollars for each public dollar deployed. The second is that public dollars will be recycled and then re-lent out for future investment because they are used for financing, rather than grants. And the third is that, over time, the National Climate Bank will be able to directly borrow private capital onto its balance sheet based on its track record and investment income. This means the National Climate Bank can ultimately triple its own investment capacity beyond its initial capitalization (which is conservative from a risk perspective, as typical commercial banks leverage their balance sheets 10:1). Collectively these financing methods (which are proven and standard across development banks, commercial banks and green banks), will allow the National Climate Bank to drive far more investment than its initial appropriation. The more public funds the National Climate Bank is given up front, the greater this multiplicative effect is and the closer we can get to entirely filling the climate investment gap.

Modernizing the Relationship between Scientists and the Public

Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed science to the forefront of public attention. For many Americans, following daily reports about the novel coronavirus represents the first time they are seeing science and scientists operate in “real time”. This experience is new for scientists too. Scientists are not trained to engage the public, despite the fact that scientific research is put to work daily to help improve lives, address the needs of diverse communities, and solve problems at a national and global scale.

This proposal offers a set of actions to give federally-funded Ph.D. students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), specific training to enable them to engage effectively with the public. In turn, this will increase trust in and support for the scientific enterprise, drive stronger interest in STEM careers, set the stage for faster response to threats, and build a stronger, science-driven U.S. economy. Lastly, at a local level, taxpayers will benefit directly as more scientists are trained to engage regularly and meaningfully with schools, community institutions, and local governments.