FAS Annual Report 2023

12.13.23 | 20 min read | Text by Federation of American Scientists

Friends and Colleagues,

In today’s political climate in Washington, it is sometimes hard to believe that change is possible. Yet, at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), we know firsthand that progress happens when the science community has a seat at the policymaking table. At our core, we believe that when passionate advocates join forces and share a commitment to ongoing learning, adaptation, and a drive toward action – science and technology progress can both solve the toughest challenges and uncover new ways to deliver the greatest impact.

In 2023, we remained steadfast in our ability to spur collective action. FAS supported our federal partners on the most significant investments in science and technology in decades with the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act (CHIPS) and the Inflation Reduction Act. Our Talent Hub team placed 71 Impact Fellows on tours of service in government and secured a first-of-its-kind partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to place 35 Impact Fellows in key positions within USDA over the next five years. Our expert network published 47 actionable policy memos through our Day One Project platform and drove impact by working with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to launch the new Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I). And our renowned Nuclear Information Project continues to inform the public and challenge assumptions about nuclear weapons arsenals and trends with record breaking public attention. I hope you’ll read more about all of our wins in this year’s FAS Impact Report.

FAS remains focused on honoring our 80-year legacy as a leading voice on global risk while seeking out new policy areas and domains that advance and support science and technology priorities. To support this new era for FAS, we completed a full rebrand—modernizing our look and retelling our story—and rolled out organization-wide strategic goals to drive and define the impact we seek to instill across government. Together, we focus on more than progress for its own sake—we intentionally create the systems and paradigms that make such progress sustainable and tangible.

We have continued to build our team and expertise, and with that growth we are inspired by the caliber of our new teammates. We also remain committed to fulfilling our expectations on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) and continue to advocate for stronger commitments to social equality with all of our partners. 

It is impossible for me to fit the entire year’s successes into a single letter, but I hope our annual report brings my update to life.

Thank you for your continued support,

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Dan Correa, FAS CEO

For several years, FAS has been evangelizing the power of policy entrepreneurship to galvanize policy change, helping an entire community of experts and practitioners embrace the tools, mindsets and networks needed to get results. The power of policy entrepreneurship is two-fold: 

In FY23, FAS advanced policy entrepreneurship across all of its core issue domains by convening change agents, crafting policy memos, curating policy ideas, and seeding countless actionable policy ideas through policy entrepreneurship. Below are just some of our highlights over the past year.

Championing Critical Funding across the Science and Technology (S&T) Ecosystem—FY23 Omnibus Spending Bill

Public investments in science and technology have declined precipitously since the Cold War, when two percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) went to research and development (R&D). With estimates of R&D investment currently below one percent of GDP  and challenges from peer competitors like China threatening U.S. leadership in emerging technologies, FAS advocates for strong investments in critical and emerging technologies as well as science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to maintain America’s edge in innovation. 

In December 2022, President Biden signed the FY23 Omnibus appropriations package into law, funding a broad range of new science and technology priorities. This funding will strengthen our country’s ability to invest in better science and technology education, stay globally competitive and ensure that innovation opportunities are available across the country. The bill included provisions that stemmed from a number of ideas that FAS staff and Day One Project contributors helped seed, including:

Reversing Megafire through Science and Data

Against a backdrop of the growing scourge of megafires, FAS has helped to put wildfires on the policy agenda in a bipartisan way that would have seemed impossible only a year ago. FAS organized more than 30 experts to contribute actionable policy ideas that have been shared directly with the Congressionally-mandated Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. Through this effort, we are advancing our goal of helping reduce the risks of catastrophic uncontrolled fires and protect people from the health risks of wildfire smoke while promoting beneficial controlled fire to improve ecosystem health. FAS policy recommendations influenced recommendations in the Commission’s report to Congress to guide a legislative implementation strategy which has included $1.6 billion in appropriations requests for smoke and public health.

Addressing Inequities in Medical Devices

The COVID-19 public health emergency revealed deep disparities in medical device use, specifically with pulse oximeters—devices widely used to measure oxygen saturation in blood. Medical researchers and policymakers had overlooked this issue for years until the COVID-19 pandemic revealed a large disparity in the diagnosis and treatment of severe respiratory conditions in Black and Brown communities. Through policy entrepreneurship, FAS identified an opportunity on a previously under-examined health policy issue and achieved two major wins. 

First, FAS brought together more than 60 stakeholders to highlight policy opportunities to address racial bias in pulse oximeters and to cultivate a comprehensive strategy to address biases and inequities in medical innovation from industry to philanthropy and government by hosting an in-person Forum on Bias in Pulse Oximetry in November 2022. 

Second, recognizing the importance of continuing the conversation on disparate impacts of technology and the COVID-19 pandemic on underrepresented communities, FAS developed a research and policy agenda for near-term mitigation of inequities in pulse oximetry and other medical technologies as well as the long-term solutions from the Bias in Pulse Oximetry Forum. FAS’ research and convening on this issue prompted the Veterans Health Administration (VHA)—a major health agency within the U.S. government—to evaluate the use of all pulse oximeters (~50 types) and to understand the impact of the technologies on the more than nine million patients served by the VHA system.

FAS experts frequently collaborate with stakeholders in Congress and the executive branch to help solve complex science and technology policy challenges that align with government priorities and needs. In FY23, FAS’s unique ability to coordinate actors across the legislative and executive branches and facilitate crucial discourse and planning efforts across government agencies yielded tangible successes as described below.

Accelerating Technology Deployment through Flexible Financial Mechanisms to Maximize Spending from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)

Promising technologies and opportunities for innovation exist across health, clean energy, and other domains but often lack an existing market—or guarantee of a future market—to support their creation and commercialization. The federal government can play a unique role in signaling and even guaranteeing demand for these solutions, including using its power as a buyer. 

FAS worked with the DOE front office to diffuse flexible financial mechanisms to support and accelerate the deployment of novel clean energy technologies that lower greenhouse gas emissions, while supporting the implementation of BIL and IRA. FAS compiled a set of policy recommendations for how DOE could leverage its Other Transactions Authority (OTA) to accelerate commercialization and scale high-impact clean energy technologies. FAS recommended that DOE use its other transaction authority by establishing a formal internal process that encourages the formation of consortia to promote efficiency and collaboration across technology areas, while still appropriately mitigating risk. 

These recommendations prompted DOE to release informed guidance in September 2023 for how program offices and leaders across the agency can leverage other transactions to catalyze demand for clean energy. DOE continues to engage FAS in ongoing discussions on deploying OTAs and other flexible financial mechanisms to stimulate demand and accelerate deployment of promising technologies.

Creating stronger infrastructure through innovation

The United States faces multiple challenges in using innovation to not only deliver transportation infrastructure that is more resilient against climate change, but also to deliver on the clean energy transition and advance equity for communities that have historically been excluded from decision-making on these projects. To address these challenges, in November 2021 Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which included $550 billion in new funding for dozens of new programs across the USDOT.

The bill created the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Infrastructure (ARPA-I) and historic investments in America’s roads and bridges. ARPA-I’s mission is to unlock the full potential of public and private innovation ecosystems to improve U.S. infrastructure by accelerating climate game-changers across the entire U.S. R&D ecosystem. Since its authorization, USDOT has invited FAS to use our expertise to scope advanced research priorities across diverse infrastructure topics where targeted research can yield innovative new infrastructure technologies, materials, systems, capabilities, or processes through ARPA-I.

For example, this year FAS has engaged more than 160 experts in ARPA-I program idea generation and created 50 wireframes for ARPA-I’s initial set of programs, leading to a powerful coalition of stakeholders and laying a strong foundation for the potential that ARPA-I can achieve as it evolves. ARPA-I’s authorization and subsequent initial appropriation in December 2022 provides an opportunity to tackle monumental challenges across transportation and infrastructure through breakthrough innovation. FAS’s programming is helping shape the future of the ARPA-I office.

Providing Government with the Tools to Assess Risks in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Biosecurity

With increased warnings that AI may support the development of chemical and biological weapons, the federal government must act to protect the public from malicious actors. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Ted Budd (R-NC) introduced the Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act and the Strategy for Public Health Preparedness and Response to Artificial Intelligence Threats Act with FAS’s technical assistance. These two pieces of legislation empower the federal government to better understand public health security risks associated with AI by directing the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to conduct comprehensive risk assessments of advances in AI.

Helping International STEM Students and Workers in the United States

Sixty percent of computer science PhDs and nearly 50% of STEM PhDs are foreign born, and these workers have contributed to America’s continuing science and technological leadership. FAS has worked across the legislative and executive branches of government to keep the best and brightest science and technology minds in the United States.

In the legislative branch, interest in keeping talented scientific and technical talent in the United States has increased as a natural security concern. Recognizing the importance of this moment, FAS provided technical assistance to the offices of Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Representatives Bill Foster (D-IL11) and Mike Lawler (R-NY17) in introducing the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2023, a bill that would make it easier for international students with advanced STEM degrees to stay in the United States after graduation.

An executive branch rule states that most nonimmigrants (i.e., non-green card holders) must renew visas outside the United States at an American embassy or consulate overseas. This rule requires students and workers to leave the United States during school or employment and bear the costs of going back to their country of origin; it also creates an administrative burden for consular officers who have heavy caseloads. FAS experts published a policy document that provides specific recommendations for how to reinstate domestic visa renewal. The State Department implemented some of these recommendations through a pilot program. This pilot program, the first step to solving this challenge, allows high-skilled immigrants to renew their work visas in the United States rather than having to travel to their home country to do so.

At FAS, we are proud of our impact and realize there is still more to be done. While we are working to expand the breadth and depth of our work above, we also see three major opportunities for FAS in the next fiscal year.

Expanding Government’s Capacity 

The U.S. government is critical to solving the largest problems of the 21st century. While significant progress has been made, institutional complexity challenges the government’s ability to quickly innovate and deliver on its mission. Lackluster incentives, bureaucratic bottlenecks, and the lack of feedback loops slow progress and hinder capacity building across four key areas: financial mechanisms, evidence, talent, and culture. This work is especially important in an election year where either a second term or new administration will bring new people and ideas to Washington, DC, and the government’s ability to execute these ideas hinges on its capacity.

FAS is in a unique position to support the federal government in building federal capacity. Since delivering 100 implementation-ready policy proposals for the 2020 presidential transition, FAS has grown and matured, expanding our capabilities as an organization. We are working to diagnose key science and technology policy issues ripe for bipartisan innovation and support. As we move forward with our findings, FAS will use our Day One platform to publicize grand challenges in this space and gather the best ideas from experts across the country on how best to solve these issues.

Mitigating Global Risk

FAS was founded to address the new, human-created nuclear danger that threatened global extinction. Today, in a world vastly more complicated than the one into which nuclear weapons were introduced, FAS supports the development and execution of sound public policy based on proven and effective technical skills to improve the human condition and, increasingly, to reduce global risks. 

FAS’s new Global Risk program is focused on both the promise and peril posed by evolving AI capabilities in the nuclear landscape and beyond. Dedicated to reducing nuclear dangers and ensuring that qualified technical experts are integral parts of the policy process, FAS seeks to advance its work in support of U.S. and global security at the intersection between nuclear weapons, AI, and global risk. By drawing on technical experts, engaging the policy community, convening across multiple skill sets and sectors, and developing joint projects and collaborations with the government, FAS seeks to drive positive policy outcomes and shape the security landscape for the better.

Deepening Knowledge of Emerging Technologies across All Branches of Government

AI’s rapid evolution, combined with a lack of understanding of how it works, makes today’s policy decisions incredibly important but fraught with misconceptions. This is a pivotal moment, and FAS seeks to engage, educate, and inspire congressional staff, executive branch personnel, military decision makers, and state lawmakers on AI’s substantial potential—and risks. Our mission is to translate this transformative technology for lawmakers by advancing impactful policy development and promoting positive and productive discourse.  

FAS finds itself in an unprecedented position to directly inform and influence crucial decisions that will shape AI governance. Our nonpartisan expertise and ability to move rapidly have made us the go-to resource for members of Congress across party lines when they require technical advice on AI-related issues. In the 118th Congress, FAS’s AI team has provided support on six vital AI bills and received requests for assistance and briefings on AI-related topics from over 40 congressional offices.

We recognize that this momentum offers FAS a unique opportunity to not only continue guiding policymakers with much-needed perspectives but also strive for actionable and equitable policy change that addresses the challenges linked with advancements in artificial intelligence.

The Federation of American Scientists continued our fundraising momentum from FY22 into FY23, securing $51 million in new commitments across 47 total awards and 31 unique funders, representing a 46% increase in funding allocations from last year. These investments by FAS’s philanthropic and agency partners reflect a sustained focus by FAS staff to continue diversifying and expanding our funding portfolio while simultaneously deepening our connections with existing partners and positioning FAS as an indispensable voice for evidence-based, scientifically-driven policy analysis and research.

The majority of the funding FAS receives (99.6%) is restricted for the use of specific projects and initiatives, while unrestricted funding (which only accounts for 0.04% of funding) bolsters the organization’s operational capacity.

The critical work being done at FAS would not be possible without the generous support of its philanthropic partners who continue to invest in the organization’s vision for the future.

Anonymous DonorFuture of Life InstituteLEGO FoundationOceans 5The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Arnold VenturesThe Gates FoundationLincoln NetworkOpen PhilanthropyThrive Together LLC
Bayshore GlobalGeneral Services AdministrationLongview PhilanthropyThe David and Lucille Packard FoundationUnited States Department of Agriculture
Breakthrough EnergyGood Ventures FoundationThe John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationPIT FundUnited States Department of Transportation
Camelback VenturesHorizon Institute for Public ServiceMercatus CenterThe Ploughshares FundUnited States Economic Development Administration
Carnegie Corporation of New YorkThe William and Flora Hewlett FoundationThe Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationThe Prospect Hill FoundationUnlockAid
The Catena FoundationKapor CenterNational Center for Entrepreneurship and InnovationResource Legacy FundThe Walton Family Foundation
Chan Zuckerberg InitiativeKorea FoundationNational Philanthropic TrustSchmidt Futures
The Dallas FoundationThe Ewing Marion Kauffman FoundationThe New Land FoundationSiegel Family Endowment
The Energy FoundationThe Kresge FoundationNorwegian People’s AidSilicon Valley Community Foundation