Emerging Technology

Implementing the Bioeconomy Executive Order: Lessons Learned and Future Considerations

01.22.24 | 5 min read | Text by Nazish Jeffery

With the U.S. bioeconomy valued at over $950 billion and predicted to steadily increase, the potential for significant economic impact is unmistakable. To leverage this economic opportunity, the 2022 Bioeconomy Executive Order (EO) took a significant step towards addressing the complexities of the bioeconomy and creating a whole-of-government approach. The scope of the EO was vast, assigning around 40 tasks to many different federal agencies, in order to create a national framework to leverage bio-based innovations for sustainable economic growth. 

To track the numerous tasks assigned by the EO, the Federation of American Scientists have put together a living Bioeconomy EO tracker to monitor the progress of these tasks, enhance accountability and to allow stakeholders to stay informed on the state of the U.S. bioeconomy as it evolves. This FAS tracker was inspired by the initial tracker created by Stanford University when the EO was first published.

Preliminary Benefits Made Possible Through the Bioeconomy EO

The Bioeconomy EO was an ambitious attempt at a whole of government approach. One year after its publication and implementation, we now have the opportunity to conduct a preliminary assessment to understand the impact the EO has had on the U.S. bioeconomy to date and to identify areas where there is still room for improvement and growth. 

The Bioeconomy EO has generated a number of tools and reports to guide this emerging economic sector such as the:

The reports created thus far have served to highlight the gaps within the U.S. bioeconomy and have taken the first step in figuring out how to fill in these missing links, such as the Bold Goals report by OSTP that highlights a possible future for the U.S. bioeconomy and The Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology reports that is the first step in addressing challenging regulatory hurdles the biotechnology sector faces. Furthermore, many of these reports have highlighted the need for a “coordination of intergovernmental investments, efforts, and resources” – an ongoing challenge for the U.S. bioeconomy.

The EO assigned around 40 tasks to a few agencies and each of these tasks required a substantial amount of work to be conducted in a short amount of time. A challenge that has been identified as a result of the implementation of the EO is the need to better allocate proper resources needed (e.g., staff, funds, and time) in order to ensure effective implementation. Federal agencies are often under-resourced and staff are overstretched. The additional work that an EO adds to these agencies and their staff can further overwhelm offices and lead to implementation delays or failures. For example, reports such as the Vision, Needs, and Proposed Actions for Data for the Bioeconomy Initiative which involve monumental effort to produce, was not published until December 2023 due to the lack of resources needed to complete this complex task. To ensure successful implementation, future EOs should include realistic resources, guidelines, timetables, and a more specific implementation plan to help agencies deliver on these promising areas.

While the Bioeconomy EO recognized the need for a whole-of-government approach, the foundational pieces that underpin the bioeconomy strategy have yet to be established. Some of these foundational areas include: 

  1. Consensus on the scope of the U.S. bioeconomy
  2. Consensus on how to better measure different aspects of the bioeconomy (i.e. biological resources, biotech, biomanufacturing, and sustainability)
  3. Development of an updated classification system needed to more accurately analyze the U.S. bioeconomy
  4. Increased capacity within federal agencies to properly research and analyze the U.S. bioeconomy
  5. A coordinating body within the federal government to oversee and guide the U.S. bioeconomy
  6. Synergistic interoperability between federal agencies

The Bioeconomy EO was the first step in creating a national framework and strategy for the U.S. bioeconomy and the OSTP Bold Goals Report highlighted and outlined what the U.S. bioeconomy could achieve with such a strategy.To ensure success, prevent future lags in implementation, and to achieve the full potential of the U.S. bioeconomy, future EO’s should ensure that the foundations that are needed to achieve the work are already in place or incorporated as individual tasks that inform implementation. 

Coordinating Efforts of New Programs to Strengthen Future Capabilities 

The Bioeconomy EO and the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 has spurred many different regional programs to be established (e.g., Economic Development Administration’s Tech Hubs and National Science Foundation Engines and Biofoundries), which demonstrates the regional opportunities the U.S. bioeconomy can create. However, it remains to be seen whether these programs are working in synergy to advance the larger bioeconomy goals and how they are leveraging federal resources through coordination. It will be essential for the U.S. bioeconomy to have a whole-of-government approach, which includes making sure that federal agencies are discussing relevant programs with each other to make sure that there are no redundancies. Future EO’s should help shepherd the execution of these tasks by proposing a coordination framework.

The execution of the Bioeconomy EO this past year has provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities associated with such an ambitious executive order. As we reflect on the lessons learned, it is evident that future EOs in similar scale that propose a whole-of-government approach must carefully consider future and existing agency resources to ensure success. For the future success of the U.S. bioeconomy, it will be imperative to establish a body to coordinate efforts, ensure seamless communication, and foster interoperability between agencies. As the Biden-Harris administration continues to pursue actions from this EO in 2024 and beyond, it should focus on creating a national framework that has longevity and success. By incorporating these lessons, the administration could pave the way for sustainable and impactful initiatives that contribute to the continued economic growth and success of the U.S. bioeconomy.