Renewing the Call for Bold Policy Ideas

03.21.24 | 4 min read | Text by Daniel Correa

The original elevator pitch for the Day One Project wasn’t hard to boil down: 100 actionable science and technology policy ideas we could deliver to the victor in January 2021 – ideas ready for the new president on “Day One” of their time in the White House. We saw opportunities for great progress no matter which party emerged victorious – and so we focused on ideas that could garner bipartisan support. We couldn’t be prouder of the policy innovations that surfaced at the outset of Day One – from Mike Stebbins and Geoff Ling’s memo laying out the case for ARPA-H, an agency since launched and funded with over $2.5B in appropriations, to Adam Marblestone and Sam Rodriques’ memo proposing the creation of “Focused Research Organizations,” which has led to the creation of a network of philanthropically-supported research initiatives as well as inspired a number of new federal initiatives. These are but two examples from a very long list.

This is how policy actually changes. We believe our emphasis on concisely outlining the challenge, opportunities and specific steps for policymakers to take represents a leap forward for how technologists, scientists, and those with lived experience could make a difference. I add the last category because it’s often overlooked in policy circles but is where some of the best ideas can originate. At FAS, we take our role in creating the platform to democratize the policy making process seriously and seek to include an array of voices in creating sound and equitable policy.

The “secret sauce” of the Day One Project isn’t just the format of the policy recommendations we publish. It’s the “policy entrepreneurs” who make them happen: the people who make up FAS staff and policy contributors. My colleague Erica Goldman recently wrote eloquently in Issues in Science and Technology about why it’s so important that more scientists take the plunge into policy entrepreneurship. She highlighted the examples of policy entrepreneurs such as Julian Elliott, who rose to the challenge we posed before the last presidential election – individuals who came to us with bold policy ideas, but were also willing to put in the work to hammer those ideas into actionable forms, engage in dialogue with policymakers, and keep pushing for progress, celebrating both incremental and monumental steps toward change.

The thinking behind the Day One Project now has a track record of success – and the proud history of the Federation of American Scientists behind it. Since that initial batch of policy memos we unveiled nearly five years ago, we have launched 18 accelerators, with 183 participants – resulting in 132 additional policy memos and recommendations – all driven by policy entrepreneurs. We continue to mine for talent and remain committed to helping these individuals and teams refine their ideas – and it’s continuing to pay off. Groundwork laid in part by Lauren Shum’s memo about lead pollution from aviation fuel helped spur an endangerment finding from the EPA just this past October.

Now we sit on the verge of another Presidential election – and again FAS sees opportunity for meaningful, science-based policy innovations that can appeal to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. That’s why we’re launching Day One 2025 – and renewing the call for bold policy ideas, grounded in science and evidence, that can tackle the country’s biggest challenges and bring us closer to the prosperous, equitable and safe future that we all hope for.

For this new effort, FAS has identified four priority areas where ideas and action are most sorely needed:

Government Capacity Policy and practice changes that enhance government’s ability to deliver, spanning talent, spending, culture, and more. 

One of my favorite Day One Project memos in this vein is about common-sense reforms to accelerate the “Authority to Operate” process for government tech by Mary Lazzeri, Dayton Williams, Greg Elin and Fen Labalme. 

Emerging Technologies and Global Risk The promise and peril of artificial intelligence, and the resurgent threat of nuclear conflict; emerging biorisks; safeguarding against planetary threats; all of these fields require robust approaches that will leverage technological progress, new policy frameworks and collaboration.

A great example in this vein is about establishing an AI Center of Excellence to address maternal health disparities by Kumba Sennaar and Grace Wickerson. 

Innovation and Competitiveness How can the U.S. better convert the strength of its R&D enterprise into shared prosperity and train it on the biggest challenges of the 21st century? 

We need more ideas to accelerate the development of thriving regional innovation ecosystems, foster the development of a K-12 education system that prepares students for tomorrow’s challenges, expand access to STEM talent pipelines, accelerate translation of promising innovations from lab to market, and more. 

Mark Lemley and Orly Lobel’s (now partially implemented) proposal for an array of strategies to ban non-competes to boost industry competition is a wonderful model of a memo focused on these questions.

Energy and Environment  Steps to accelerate a clean energy transition and ensure a world resilient to a changing climate. 

FAS’s own Zoë Brouns authored a memo on how community navigators could accelerate the distribution of federal climate funding. It’s one of many examples of great environmental policy recommendations already in our library.

We are again on the cusp of a massive policy window, an opportunity to arm a new or second-term administration with new ideas. Leading up to the launch of Day One 2025, FAS will be highlighting stories of policy entrepreneurs on our website. We hope these stories will be a reminder that great policy can come from anywhere – be it a young scientist yet to truly begin their career, or a policy veteran who’s served in the White House.

Maybe, as you read about the passion, persistence and imagination exhibited by one or all of these individuals, you’ll be inspired to try your hand at policy entrepreneurship with a policy proposal to make this country, and the world, a better place.