STATE OF THE UNION
Setting the S&T Agenda Through the State of the Union
At the start of each year, the President delivers an address to Congress on the State of the Union (SOTU). Generally viewed as a primarily political event, the speech has a less widely understood purpose: it is one of the most important milestones for setting the policy agenda, representing the culmination of months of pre-work across a president’s Administration. We believe science and technology should form a core part of this vision.
But too few members of the S&T community know when or how to contribute their ideas to this process.
This year, the Day One Project has effectively “Crowdsourced the SOTU,” assembling ambitious S&T ideas from across the community that we are bringing forward to inform President Biden’s first State of the Union. Starting this month, we will release new SOTU ideas every week as we count down to the actual State of the Union on March 1. Check back here to read these ideas over the coming weeks!
Table of Contents
- Combat the Mental Health Crisis
- Create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Labor (ARPA-L)
- Bring 10,000 Technologists into Government
- Road to Zero: Eradicating Preventable Injuries
- Launch an “Operational Innovation” Task Force to Improve USAID
- Establish a $100M National Lab of Neurotechnology for Brain Moonshots
- Hone Our Nation’s Technological Edge through a Foundational Tech Fund
- Create a 1% Set-Aside for Research and Development in the Every Student Succeeds Act
- Serve as a Buyer of First Resort for Energy and Climate Goals
- Allow Workers to Opt-in to Investing in the Next Generation of Clean Energy Infrastructure
- Adopt an Open-Source Approach to Pharmaceutical Research and Development
- End the Organ-Donation Waitlist
- Engage all Americans with Science and Technology
- Reform National Security Budgeting
- Direct Federal Chief Financial Officers to Serve as Taxpayer Champions
- Increase the American Healthspan by Five Years
- Work Towards Net-Zero Soil Loss by 2050 to Combat Climate Change
- Join 100 Other Countries in Making Oral Contraceptive Available Over the Counter
- Boost Transparency, Oversight, and Accountability of U.S. Military Use of Drone Technology
- Strengthen U.S. Engagement in International Standards Bodies
- Secure Pharmaceutical Supply Chains
- Launch a $1 Billion Initiative to Create “Self-Driving Laboratories”
- Bring Nationwide Access to Voting Tools
- Combat the Diseases of Despair Epidemic
- Invest in Privacy-at-the-Sensor Civic Technology
- Bridge the Digital Divide with a Tech Extension Initiative
- Revitalize the Diplomatic Workforce
- Address Threats to Freshwater Resources
- Strengthen American Leadership in the Bioeconomy
- Support Domestic Manufacturing through a “Made in America” Bonds Program
- Save Americans Billions with Automated Tax Filing
- Advance Smarter Zoning for Fair Housing
- Solve Childhood Lead Poisoning
- Launch a National Wildfire Resilience and Defense Initiative to Eradicate Catastrophic Megafires
- Expand Regional Clean-Energy Innovation Programs
- Deploy a National Network of Sensors to Improve Air Quality in 300 American Cities by 2030
- Advance Science at the Pace of Progress
- Cultivate Domestic Biomanufacturing
- Create a USDS for Finance in the Public Interest
- Catalyze the Geothermal Transition
- Regulate the Surveillance Technology Industry
- Drive Economic Competitiveness Through Immigration
- Improve Our Nation’s Cybersecurity
- Build a Moonshot Culture
Combat the Mental Health Crisis
We need an immediate and decisive response to the mental health crisis that has swept the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has overburdened a mental-health system already struggling to help patients. Stigma discourages many from seeking help. The U.S. Surgeon General recently called for a whole-of-society effort to mitigate the pandemic’s mental health impacts, address longstanding problems in the U.S.’ mental health system, and prevent future mental health challenges.
President Biden should appoint a Deputy Surgeon General for Mental Health to lead a new $1 billion federal initiative aimed at improving access to quality mental-health care for all Americans.
Our nation is in the throes of a mental health crisis. 37% of Americans (122 million)—and over 60% of rural Americans—live in areas lacking mental-health resources. The nation needs at least 6,400 additional mental health providers to meet current needs. In-patient services for those in acute psychological distress are similarly stretched past the breaking point. Emergency-room visits arising from mental health problems can last for days or weeks before patients are placed into specialized care. Suicides among active-duty troops continue to rise, up 41% since 2015.
Our nation’s mental health crisis predated the pandemic but has worsened since. Even children are suffering. During the pandemic, mental health emergency-room visits increased by 24% for those aged 5–11 and by 31% for those aged 15–17. But only 16% of children visiting an emergency room for psychological care are typically seen by a certified mental health provider.
President Biden should appoint a Deputy Surgeon General for Mental Health to lead a new $1 billion federal initiative aimed at improving access to quality mental health care for all Americans. Specific objectives should include:
- Update Medicare reimbursement policies for digital mental health products.
- Expand funding across the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve regulation, delivery, and reimbursement of digital mental health products.
- Provide incentives for training and placement of mental health professionals in rural and underserved communities.
- Improve access to in-patient care for both adults and children.
- Promote messaging to destigmatize mental health issues.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should support the Deputy Surgeon General by integrating research and development (R&D) into the government’s mental health efforts. In line with recommendations from the Surgeon General’s Advisory, OSTP should coordinate with the relevant National Institutes of Health (NIH) bodies and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to:
- Bolster innovative R&D across the federal government and catalyze private investment for effective telehealth, online therapies, and other digital mental health tools.
- Increase timely data collection and research to more rapidly identify and respond to youth mental health needs.
- Foster public-private research partnerships to better understand needs, track outcomes, and evaluate risk and protective factors for youth mental health.
- Increase investments in basic, clinical, and health-services research to identify treatment targets for mental health conditions and develop innovative, scalable therapies.
- Conduct research to expand understanding of the impacts of social media and digital technology on youth mental health, and to identify opportunities for intervention.
Relevant Proposal: Creating a National Infrastructure for Digital Mental Health Services
Dept. of Health and Human Services (NIH/BARDA/ARPA-H), Office of Science and Technology Policy, Dept. of Veterans Affairs
Create an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Labor (ARPA-L)
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated long standing problems for American workers. Millions of Americans do not earn enough to support themselves or their families. Mismatches between workers’ skills and employers’ needs, coupled with persistent racial and gender inequities, prevent many from reaching their full potential. Technology,automation, globalization, and shifting employer-employee relationships are changing the nature of work in ways that often adversely impact vulnerable populations. The current state of American work is detracting from individual quality of life, weakening our social fabric, and slowing our economy.
The Biden administration should launch an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Labor (ARPA-L) to bolster science, technology, and innovation in tackling the challenges American workers are facing.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and deepened labor-market problems in the United States that have been compounded over several decades. New solutions are desperately needed. The administration should invest in a research and development (R&D) division within the Department of Labor (DOL) modeled on the highly successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Labor (ARPA-L) will integrate cutting-edge research advances with real-world lessons to create powerful, scalable solutions to pressing workforce issues (such as unemployment and market disruption). For example, an ARPA-L could:
- Develop and validate diagnostic systems to improve skill assessments and enable workers to better understand how their skill sets match with employer needs.
- Collect and analyze diverse datasets to identify targeted, effective leverage points for innovative labor policy interventions.
- Explore and evaluate new ways to personalize and accelerate the training process by building on advances in learning science and neuroscience.
To launch ARPA-L, Congress should provide seed funding of $100 million per year for a five-year period, while the Biden administration and the Secretary of Labor jointly identify and appoint a highly qualified director. Within DOL, ARPA-L should be an independent organization that collaborates with other parts of DOL, as well as federal, state, and local agencies. ARPA-L would draw on their expertise and that of other labor market ecosystem actors to understand workforce issues and current practices. These organizations will be ideal partners to fully implement and scale successful ARPA-L program results. With the support of Congress, the White House, and the Department of Labor, ARPA-L can deliver bold advances that ultimately change what’s possible for America’s workers.
Relevant Proposal: Creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency for the Department of Labor
Dept. of Labor, Congress
Bring 10,000 Technologists into Government
Our nation’s ability to solve pressing challenges in today’s tech-driven economy is directly tied to effective utilization of human technical capacity. President Biden recently signed an executive order directing agencies to improve the government’s capacity to meet the needs of its people, and yet the U.S. government at all levels suffers from a shortage of technically skilled employees needed to carry out that goal. We need more public servants trained to interpret and leverage big data, bring a stepwise engineering mindset to complex social problems, and serve as “product managers” organizing, coordinating, and implementing government programs. The government should call on technologists to raise their hand to serve and help make government work for everyone in the digital age.
The Biden Administration should adopt a multi-pronged approach to recruit an additional 10,000 technologists for local, state, and federal government service by 2025.
The Biden Administration should consider implementing the following complementary initiatives to bring more technologists into public service:
- Expand the Digital Corps. Only 3% of the federal tech workforce is younger than 30. Modeled on the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, the newly-launched Digital Corps recruits early-career technologists to tackle cybersecurity threats, better apply technology in public policy, and generally bring fresh perspectives, energy, and skills to government tech. The Administration should work with Congress to increase appropriations and expand the program to support 1,000 early-career technologists by 2025.
- Explore creative, equitable recruiting strategies. College degrees are not the only indicators of skill and experience. The administration should partner with organizations that promote tech training and opportunities in and of underserved communities to incorporate lived experience as a skill and tap into the entire American tech talent pool to provide additional pathways into the government tech workforce.
- Implement underutilized hiring mechanisms. In-house federal technical capacity has eroded. The administration should promote hiring mechanisms, such as Schedule A(r) and the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, that can help quickly fill skills gaps. The Day One Talent Hub serves as an effective resource for leveraging such mechanisms.
- Promote “civic tours of duty”. The administration should work with a coalition of tech companies to enable and encourage talented private-sector and non-profit sector technologists to participate in “civic tours of duty”—i.e., targeted and time-limited stints in government focused on achieving a specific technical objective.
- Encourage Congress to pass the State and Local Digital Service Act. This Act would expand funding for teams focused on delivering user-centered digital services at the state and local levels. The Act would also make it easier for the U.S. Digital Service, 18F, and other federal tech services to provide expertise to state and local governments.
Relevant Proposals: The Digital Corps, Flexible Hiring Authorities for Federal Managers
General Services Administration, Office Personnel Management, White House
Road to Zero: Eradicating Preventable Injuries
An unfortunate side effect of the peace period following major wars is that our military medical community loses its readiness to save lives on the battlefield. This erosion of capabilities directly leads to preventable injuries and deaths during subsequent armed conflicts as well as at home, given that medical advances learned on the battlefield translate into better civilian healthcare outcomes once those practices are adopted by hospitals at home.
To bolster our nation’s capacity to treat and save lives on and off the battlefield, the White House should launch a “Road to Zero” initiative that establishes an integrated national civil-military trauma-care partnership with the goal of achieving zero preventable deaths after injury and minimizing trauma-related disabilities.
Advances in military medicine are hard won during war but easily lost during peace. Though mortality rates of U.S. troops on the battlefield have improved significantly since World War II, the battlefield mortality rate at the beginning of a war is often greater than at the end of the previous war. Conflict researchers call this tragic loss of life due to erosion of military medical readiness the “peacetime effect”, and estimate that better maintaining military medical readiness could have prevented more than 100,000 U.S. combat deaths over the past 80 years.
Death following survivable injury is not unique to the battlefield: of the roughly 150,000 trauma-related deaths that occur in the United States each year, as many as 30,000 may be preventable. Better adoption of military medical advances by the civilian healthcare sector could help cut these numbers. But the military and civilian healthcare systems are largely siloed.
The White House should therefore launch a “Road to Zero” initiative guided by overall national goals of achieving zero preventable deaths after injury and minimizing trauma-related disability—both on the battlefield and at home. Specifically, the Road to Zero initiative would:
- Address regulatory and legal barriers that inhibit communication between the civil and military healthcare systems.
- Establish an integrated national, civil-military, trauma-care partnership intended to ensure that civilian healthcare providers benefit from medical advances made on the battlefield and that military providers can maintain their skills during peacetime.
- Assign accountability and responsibility to federal agencies for developing best practices, data standards, and research objectives across the continuum of trauma care.
- Identify and pursue opportunities to bolster military medical readiness during peacetime.
- Ensure that military and civilian healthcare systems are well-equipped to respond to any (intentional or unintentional) domestic mass-casualty incident.
Relevant Proposal: Maintaining Military Medical Readiness Today Saves Lives Tomorrow
Congress, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Veteran Affairs, White House
Launch an “Operational Innovation” Task Force to Improve USAID
USAID Administrator Samantha Powers recently acknowledged that it is incumbent upon USAID to enhance its responsiveness to address existential global threats including COVID-19 and fighting climate change. Maximizing the impact of USAID’s reach and resources requires addressing redundant, inefficient processes and internal barriers that prevent the agency from functioning as an agile, nimble organization.
The Biden Administration should launch an “Operational Innovation” task force within USAID to (i) optimize the agency’s day-to-day operations, (ii) catalyze creative thinking about how to best deliver aid, and (iii) improve USAID’s ability to access funding, leverage procurement vehicles, collaborate with non-traditional partners (such as local development organizations and startups), and rapidly deliver aid to address existential threats in support of vulnerable populations.
USAID struggles with core operational processes that hamper its execution and efficiency. A new “Operational Innovation” task force within USAID—comprising representatives of USAID missions, bureaus, implementing partners, and shared services—would identify ways to improve USAID operations, such as:
- Streamline and Utilize Innovative Procurement Methods for Impact. Novel procurement mechanisms could harness open-source collaboration and competition to improve aid delivery. USAID could also amplify progress by shifting more of its procurement to outcome- or milestone-based payments for contractors. Finally, rethinking procurement methods can extend the agency’s reach outside of its traditional implementing partners, engaging local organizations and innovative start-ups in executing agency priorities on the ground.
- Create a Center for Learning and Evidence. This new Center would strive to deepen USAID’s use and generation of high-quality evidence and data to deliver results in programming. Specific objectives could include (i) promoting proven policy approaches across international missions, (ii) launching a Learning and Evidence Corps providing embedded support to USAID bureaus and missions on implementing evidence-based program design and novel procurement processes, and (iii) identifying opportunities to generate data from USAID programs that improve understanding of impact and help fill gaps in the global evidence base. USAID should hire a new Chief Evidence Officer responsible for overseeing the Center as well as for improving strategic application of data and evidence across USAID programs, missions, and investments. As the agency looks to advance its internal capacity to perform RCTs and leverage experimental economics, the agency should give evidence and learning a formal home by creating a Center.
- Pursue innovation through personnel. First, better utilizing existing flexible hiring mechanisms like Schedule A(r) enables USAID to quickly onboard talent to support and strengthen its scientific and technical capacities. Flexible hiring authorities may also provide opportunities for USAID to drive progress on its most critical priorities, including COVID-19 response/recovery and climate adaptation/resilience. Secondly, USAID should staff and re-designate the “Chief Innovation Counsel”—an agency lawyer that understands how to get to “yes”—to support and navigate key legal and policy questions aimed at improving and removing operational barriers.
United States Agency for International Development
Establish a $100M National Lab of Neurotechnology for Brain Moonshots
A rigorous scientific understanding of how the brain works would transform human health and the economy. Among other uses, such deep understanding would support the design of therapies for mental and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., depression and Alzheimer’s) that are exponentially more effective than existing treatments.
The Biden Administration should commit $100 million per year to establish a National Laboratory of Neurotechnology to pursue a “Brain Moonshot” as ambitious as President Biden’s relaunched “Cancer Moonshot” program.
Launched in 2013, the BRAIN Initiative has made substantial progress towards advancing biological insights into the function of the normal human brain. But the BRAIN Initiative only funds small teams at existing research institutes. The natural next step is to expand the Initiative by establishing a dedicated center—staffed by a large, collaborative, and interdisciplinary team—capable of developing the investigative infrastructure needed to address complex and persistent challenges in the field of neurotechnology.
The Biden Administration should therefore expand the BRAIN Initiative by investing in a National Laboratory of Neurotechnology (NLN) employing a multidisciplinary team of researchers and engineers with expertise in physical and biomedical sciences. The NLN would multiply the return on investment in brain research that the federal government is making on behalf of American taxpayers. Launching and running the NLN would require about $100 million per year.
The high-cost, large-scale instruments, tools, and methods made by the NLN team would enable researchers to record and manipulate the activity of complex neural circuits in living animals or humans—studies that would unlock deep, detailed understanding of how the brain works. High-impact projects that the NLN team could pursue include:
- Developing a multibeam, large-scale electron microscope to map the wiring of neural circuits.
- Determining the molecular components of each cell of the brain.
- Fabricating a diverse array of implantable and wearable devices.
- Conducting supercomputer-enabled mining of large datasets to support neurotechnology development.
Relevant Proposal: Establish a $100M National Lab of Neurotechnology for Brain Moonshots
National Institutes of Health
Hone Our Nation’s Technological Edge through a Foundational Tech Fund
The United States is vastly underprepared for a full-bore technology-based showdown with global competitors like China and Russia, which are directing trillions in top-down spending to achieve dominance in “winner take all” technologies like artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, advanced materials, quantum computing, and 5G communications.
To address these alarming technological asymmetries, President Biden should create a not-for-profit, federally-backed fund that invests in foundational technologies that will support groundbreaking advances in areas of strategic importance.
In the United States, there is no clear path to commercialization and scaling for foundational technology platforms and infrastructure that do not align well with traditional models of either venture capital or government-funded R&D. Yet these types of platforms can generate incredible new companies, wealth, and technological advances. A nonprofit strategic investment fund, staffed by exceptional talent from the private sector and funded by the U.S. government, could help bridge that “valley of death” by directing public funding towards high-potential technology platforms in areas critical for our nation’s international competitiveness.
The Biden Administration should lead a bipartisan effort to launch a Foundational Tech Fund. In the same way that In-Q-Tel uses a nonprofit structure to direct government capital on behalf of the CIA, the Fund would use a nonprofit structure to direct government capital towards technology platforms with the capacity to spawn hundreds of new companies and create millions of new jobs in areas of strategic importance. As a nonprofit vehicle, the Fund would be designed from the ground up to work with private-sector speed and purpose to leverage public funds for national good.
Congress should capitalize the fund at $5 billion per year for 10 years. This level of funding is needed for our country to mount a serious response to China’s technological challenge.
Dept. of Commerce, Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Energy
Create a 1% Set-Aside for Research and Development in the Every Student Succeeds Act
Increasing global competition, the impact of COVID-19 on traditional learning and teaching, and worsening educational inequities collectively demand innovative educational practices that are readily implementable and will have immediate positive impacts on student achievement—especially for students furthest from opportunity. Identifying and scaling such practices requires investments in R&D for education that are commensurate with investments our nation already makes in R&D for other economic sectors.
The Biden Administration should call for 1% of each major federal program within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to be set aside to support research and development in education.
Section 8601 of ESSA allows the Department of Education to reserve up to 0.5% of key federal educational program budgets to conduct timely, high-quality evaluations of educational initiatives and strategies. Evaluation results help educators and policymakers understand effects of various programs under the law’s different titles, including basic education programs, teacher and school-leader training, programs for English language learners (ELL), and more.
The Biden Administration should call for an equivalent set-aside—equal to 1% of each major federal program within ESSA—focused on education R&D. This money would support efforts to (i) develop innovative, research-based practices that can further strengthen federal educational programs, (ii) raise awareness among policymakers and educators about proven and promising practices, and (iii) introduce such practices to classrooms nationwide. Experts funded by the R&D set-aside would be required to work closely with evaluation experts to ensure that R&D efforts align with ESSA’s myriad program goals. These goals include:
- Ensuring that disadvantaged and high-need students, including ELL students, are receiving effective programming and research-backed tools, and that these students’ needs are being prioritized at the R&D stage.
- Improving teacher professional development, which is too often ineffective and burdensome.
- Identifying and strengthening skills—including collaboration, communication, and critical thinking—that can help students succeed in the modern and rapidly evolving workforce.
- Ensuring that school districts experimenting with new tools can quickly and easily understand how well those tools are working for their students.
Dept. of Education
Serve as a Buyer of First Resort for Energy and Climate Goals
In Executive Order 14008, President Biden directed the government to leverage procurement to achieve (1) zero-emission vehicles for government fleets and (2) a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035. In order to achieve these outcomes and move closer to a decarbonized America, the Administration should convert the Department of Energy into a leader in innovative procurement by becoming a “Buyer of First Resort” for each climate and energy goal outlined in the Department of Energy’s “Energy Earthshots Initiative.” Innovative procurement will help to catalyze private sector investment into, and accelerate the advancement of America’s industrial capacity to supply domestic clean energy, buildings, vehicles, and other necessary products and materials.
Economists distinguish between mechanisms that “push” technological innovation by funding R&D versus those that “pull” innovation using procurement techniques, like milestone-based payments, challenge and prize incentives, advanced market commitments, and other levers. For example, the federal government accelerated private investment in mRNA vaccines by committing in advance to purchase vaccines that received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. NASA saved billions of dollars and years of work by partnering with SpaceX and other companies to serve as a customer for a rocket that could deliver and retrieve cargo and crew to and from the International Space Station, making the U.S. the clear leader in the global market for space launch services. The government is set to invest billions in innovation “push” efforts, but should complement these efforts with “pull” efforts considering the urgency of the climate challenge.
The Department of Energy should equip the Office of Technology Transitions (OTT) with the authority, budget, and expertise needed to design a “demand-pull” intervention for each of the Earthshots in coordination with technology offices at the Department. The announced Earthshots include:
- Hydrogen Shot, to reduce the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per 1kg in 1 decade.
- Long Duration Storage Shot, to reduce the cost of grid-scale energy storage by 90% for systems that deliver 10+ hours of duration in the next decade.
- Carbon Negative Shot, remove gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and durably store it for less than $100/ton of net CO2-equivalent.
OTT is the right entity within DOE to spearhead innovative procurement because it is currently implementing the prize authority granted in the Energy Act of 2020. In addition, OTT is building out a Center of Excellence for prizes that will enable wider and more effective Departmental use of prizes by Applied Energy and other programs.
Designing procurement techniques to “pull” innovation to accomplish these goals will require collaborating with the private sector — like auto manufacturers for carbon-neutral steel and construction companies for carbon-neutral concrete — and relevant Heads of Contracting Activity and Procurement Directors across DOE. OTT could introduce a culture change both in DOE and elsewhere, offering institutional expertise and guidance for navigating regulatory requirements and designing demand-pull interventions. OTT should work to leverage insights from the Department of Homeland Security’s Procurement Innovation Lab, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and the General Services Administration’s Challenge.gov.
White House (National Climate Advisor), Dept. of Energy (Office of Technology Transitions)
Allow Workers to Opt-in to Investing in the Next Generation of Clean Energy Infrastructure
The intensifying impacts of climate change present physical risk to pension funds and retirement plans, which directly threatens the well-being of Americans. Over $56 billion in retirement assets are federally managed. As part of a whole-of-government approach to climate change, all active and retired federal workers should be able to opt out of retirement plans that include risky fossil-fuel investments, and instead choose plans that direct investments towards clean energy and other sustainable investments.
The Biden Administration should support policies that allow federal workers to opt into climate-forward retirement plans, thereby avoiding risky fossil-fuel investments while putting billions of dollars to work for a greener future.
In a May 2021 Executive Order, President Biden called on federal agencies to protect the life savings and pensions of American workers and their families from climate-related financial risk. The RESPOND Act introduced by Representatives Tlaib and Merkley similarly calls on the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to study the economic risks of climate change. To extend these efforts, the Biden Administration should call for legislation establishing a new Climate Choice Index Fund in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). By opting into the Climate Choice Index Fund, current and retired federal workers would be able to protect their retirement funds from fossil-fuel risks while putting billions of dollars to work in helping tackle climate change. The FRTIB could also act without Congress to provide federal workers an option to invest in individual “green” stocks through a brokerage window. The administration should also ask the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the risk to federal workers’ retirement assets posed by extensive fossil-fuel stock investments in the TSP.
Dept. of Labor, Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board, Government Accountability Office
Adopt an Open-Source Approach to Pharmaceutical Research and Development
No approved therapies exist for an estimated 95% of human diseases, diseases that affect hundreds of millions in the United States and worldwide. Market failures in the pharmaceutical industry, such as the failure to scale treatments with high public value but low commercial potential, or limited knowledge sharing on high-value drugs, explain the treatment gap.
The federal government should address market failures in the pharmaceutical industry by supporting an open-source approach to pharmaceutical research and development.
The private U.S. pharmaceutical industry conducts over half the world’s pharmaceutical research and development (R&D). While private companies excel at developing therapies for certain diseases, overreliance on private R&D results in many other diseases being neglected or overlooked altogether. To address market failures, the federal government should launch an effort supporting an open-source approach to pharmaceutical R&D that complements—but does not replace—the private R&D enterprise. This open-source approach would:
- Enable the entire scientific community to work together on challenges that are difficult for any single entity to solve.
- Draw on the totality of human knowledge, without being constrained by discipline-specific technical expertise or limited to knowledge with high profit potential.
- Create universally accessible medicines and vaccines with substantial public-health benefits, even when those therapies do not generate substantial revenue streams.
- Yield new, universally accessible knowledge that accelerates scientific progress.
The Biden Administration should fund this effort with a minimum budget of $100 million in year one and $200 million in year two. This funding level, a fraction of the billions of dollars per new drug required in traditional industry approaches to R&D, would be sufficient to (1) deliver multiple therapeutics that are affordable and serve areas of great health need, and (2) firmly establish a paradigm of open-source pharmaceutical R&D. To be truly transformational, funding for open-source pharmaceutical R&D should eventually increase to several billion dollars annually. This investment would yield economic returns in the forms of: (1) cash savings (by reducing federal health-care expenditures), with a potential annual return on investment of more than 100%; (2) some direct revenues from marketable end-products; and (3) indirect returns associated with improved health and other outcomes for people across America and around the world.
Relevant Proposal: Adopting an Open-Source Approach to Pharmaceutical Research and Development
National Institutes of Health
End the Organ-Donation Waitlist
The organ-donation crisis is one of today’s most persistent, expensive, and yet solvable public-health challenges. More than 100,000 Americans – disproportionately patients of color – need an organ transplant, and 33 of them die every day. The number of Americans suffering on the organ waitlist is a massive national moral failure, which bipartisan Congressional offices have called “an urgent health equity issue”, and one which also costs taxpayers more than $36 billion per year in related Medicare costs.
The Biden Administration should act decisively to end the organ donation waitlist by increasing accountability for organ procurement organizations, strengthening transparency and oversight of organ donation, promoting competition for federal organ donation contracts, increasing financial support for living donors, and spurring scientific and technological breakthroughs to improve outcomes for patients with organ failure.
The Biden Administration should take the following actions to address the massive systemic inefficiencies in the U.S. organ-donation system:
- Increase accountability for organ procurement organizations (OPOs), by rapidly releasing all process data to show where potential donors are lost (including by race/ethnicity, given data showing OPOs provide inferior service to patients of color). Bipartisan Congressional leaders have also highlighted that COVID increases the need for organ transplants, creating further urgency for all parts of the country to be served by high-performing OPOs as soon as possible.
- Promote competition for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) contract. The troubled United Network for Organ Sharing is the only entity to ever bid for the OPTN contract, and is currently under bipartisan Senate investigation for “serious concerns”. OPTN contracting process failures should be corrected to align with the principles of President Biden’s Executive Order on promoting competition.
- Increase financial support for living donors so that indirect costs of donation (e.g., childcare, lost wages, transportation) are covered for all donors, and so that no potential donors are discouraged due to financial constraints.
- Create a dedicated Office of Organ Policy within the Department of Health and Human Services to strengthen oversight and coordination related to organ donation. As highlighted by the House Appropriations Committee, this office could address the regulatory patchwork governing organ donation and coordinate federal and non-federal entities around a cohesive organ-donation strategy.
- Spur scientific and technological breakthroughs to improve outcomes for patients with organ failure. In particular, the administration can support development of artificial organs by allocating $25 million per year in federal funding for the innovation accelerator KidneyX, updating Medicare and Medicaid payment policies to include reimbursement for artificial organs, publicizing a national “roadmap” of priorities for organ bioengineering research and development, and coordinating federal efforts around these priorities.
Relevant Proposal: Addressing the Organ-Donation Crisis
Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Management and Budget
Engage all Americans with Science and Technology
Investments in science and technology have the greatest impact when paired with increased public understanding of, access to, and participation in, the scientific enterprise. But the pandemic has exposed a deep-rooted, fundamental disconnect between many Americans and the scientific advancements and technological developments that are central to our society. As the nation continues to battle vaccine hesitancy, fight disinformation, and prepare for future public-health, environmental, and technological crises, we must make systematic improvements to the scientific public engagement enterprise. Most importantly, to guarantee that the outcomes of taxpayer-funded research and development benefit all Americans, we must ensure that all Americans are knowledgeable about and involved in scientific discovery and its outputs.
President Biden should direct federal science agencies to develop and implement a national strategy for equitable public engagement with science and technology.
A national strategy for equitable public engagement with science and technology should be founded on three pillars.
Increase federal agency capacity to engage the public in science. President Biden should direct the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to lead an interagency effort to increase federal capabilities and investments in public engagement with science, starting with the 14 federal agencies that together spend more than $300 million on research and development. As part of this effort, OSTP should:
- Reestablish the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Science Subcommittee on Open Science (SOS) to create a work plan for public engagement in science. This work plan should be crafted in collaboration with public-engagement experts and informed by stakeholders and the public.
- Identify, scale, and replicate effective public science-engagement efforts. This will involve recruiting experienced staff within federal agencies to help spread expertise around public engagement in science, and to support nascent efforts in agencies and divisions where expertise does not yet exist.
- Work with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to clarify the authorities that agencies can use to support and advance public engagement in science.
Strengthen federal support for universities, nonprofits, and state, local, and tribal agencies that engage the public in science. President Biden should direct federal agencies to increase investment in, and collaboration with, the tens of thousands of academic and community organizations—including everything from university extension programs to citizen science platforms to museums, zoos, and libraries—that strive every day to engage the public in diverse scientific topics. In addition, the President should:
- Inaugurate an annual White House Summit on Public Engagement in Science led by OSTP. The Summit would include members of the American public with expertise in equity-forward, community-embedded research; science engagement and communication; social, behavioral, and cultural fluency; ethics; and new media strategies. The Summit would also provide a platform for private organizations and the federal government to together set an actionable agenda for public engagement grounded in a nuanced assessment of public perceptions and priorities. The Summit could feature a showcase of ongoing or proposed community-driven research projects highlighting lifelong learning opportunities and emphasizing participation from marginalized communities and institutions.
- Direct the National Science Foundation (NSF) to work with OSTP to expand NSF’s Broader Impacts (BI) criterion to other agencies. Research proposals that are awarded NSF funding must fulfill multiple criteria. NSF’s longstanding “Broader Impacts (BI)” criterion ensures that funded research has significant societal impacts in addition to intellectual merit. The Biden Administration should build on ongoing efforts to strengthen the BI criterion and expand its use to other scientific agencies during reauthorization of grant programs. Dedicated funding should be added to agency budgets—or a percentage of existing research budgets allocated—for BI activities, such as supporting researchers in achieving and evaluating proposed broader impacts. OSTP can facilitate effective implementation of the BI criterion by documenting and sharing effective, evidenced-based principles and practices for enhancing societal impacts of research.
- Direct OSTP and OMB to work with each of the 14 federal agencies referenced above to allocate at least 0.5% of their total R&D budgets to programs that advance public engagement and participation in science and research. This funding is distinct from funding for STEM education and public affairs—it would go towards fostering connections among community members, engagement experts, and federally funded researchers through proven approaches.
Foster a network of professionals trained to engage the public with science. President Biden should strengthen federal support and incentives for scientists, researchers, and technologists to develop the skills required to effectively engage the public. To this end, the administration should:
- Identify federal scientists and communication and outreach experts who can engage the public on critical science and technology issues, and who can lend their expertise to federal science-engagement efforts.
- Create more opportunities for federally funded, early-career researchers to participate in public-engagement training. Federally-funded, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral researchers are required to complete the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) course, which teaches the principles, regulations, and rules that govern research. OSTP should work with federal science agencies to develop and implement a similar required course on public engagement in science.
- Recognize and reward scientists for outstanding public engagement. Each of the actions presented above—from signaling the importance of public engagement with science through a White House-level event, to emphasizing the importance of broader impacts in grant proposals, to recognizing and building capacity among individual scientists for public engagement in science—will help motivate academic, private, and government research organizations to value the time, energy, and resources that researchers commit to engaging the public with science.
Relevant Proposal: A Federal Strategy for Science Engagement
Office of Science and Technology Policy and the 14 federal agencies that together spend more than $300 million annually on research and development.
Reform National Security Budgeting
The United States risks losing its military advantage over more agile adversaries like China because of poor capacity to adapt and transition high-impact technologies into military operations, as well as failure to make timely investment decisions critical to defense modernization. At the heart of these deficiencies lie antiquated resource-allocation mechanisms, such as the Department of Defense (DOD)’s Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) system. While fitting for defense programs that are costly and take decades to field, the PPBE’s multi-year planning process does not work when threats, operations, and emerging technology solutions are shifting on timescales of months, weeks, and days.
The Biden Administration should work with Congress to stand up a commission to undertake the most sweeping modernization of the U.S. national-security budgeting system since the 1980s.
Overcoming barriers to defense modernization requires reforming the national-security community’s requirements and processes for acquiring and allocating resources. Such reform will require a bipartisan Congressional commission empowered to undertake the most sweeping modernization of the DOD’s budgeting system since the 1980s. The following questions should guide the commission’s structure and focus:
- How do rigid processes like PPBE—and related appropriations rules—limit the transition of emerging technologies from prototyping to production at scale on the battlefield?
- How can DOD’s planning processes better translate future concepts of operations into the programmatic guidance needed to develop broad capabilities for future warfighting as opposed to narrow weapon-specific platforms?
- Increase financial support for living donors so that indirect costs of donation (e.g., childcare, lost wages, transportation) are covered for all donors, and so that no potential donors are discouraged due to financial constraints.
- Do existing systems (i) hinder DOD’s ability to rapidly adopt emerging technologies, and/or (ii) undermine its use of recent procurement reforms?
- How does the DOD’s reliance on inflexible technologies such as manual data calls, PowerPoint presentations, and PDF spreadsheets hosted on different enterprise systems hinder effective budgetary oversight and digital transparency?
- Are year-of-execution reprogramming authorities sufficiently broad and flexible for the DOD to participate in dynamic emerging-technology markets?
- Do DOD’s programmatic measures of effectiveness and performance incentivize adherence to original predictions in ways that cause unforeseen outcomes to be overlooked or ignored?/span>
Relevant Proposal: Next-Generation Defense Budgeting Literature
Congress, Dept. of Defense, Office of Management and Budget, Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Direct Federal Chief Financial Officers to Serve as Taxpayer Champions
The American public is understandably mystified about the state of the U.S. government’s fiscal condition and the gravity of its ever-expanding national debt. The nation’s fiscal condition, combined with declining trust in government overall, is undermining public confidence that anyone in Washington is truly concerned about the levying and use of taxpayer dollars.
At the same time, current responsibilities of federal Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are becoming obsolete. Since CFO positions were first established in 1990, people in those positions have narrowly focused on transactional and compliance activities. But since such tasks can now be automated, there is space for CFOs to instead work more broadly on applying technology, data, and evidence to optimize government performance.
President Biden should propose a reimagination of the role of federal CFOs as “taxpayer champions” using modern technology and data to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and transparently.
The American public deserves a federal government that smartly uses technology and security to deliver goods and services well and in ways that minimize cybersecurity risks. Federal CFOs are appropriately positioned to lead federal agencies in moving effectively at the ever-increasing speed of business. But the CFO role needs to be redefined for such leadership to occur.
President Biden should characterize CFOs at each of the 24 agencies listed under the CFO Act as taxpayer champions whose primary responsibility is to ensure that public funds are spent wisely and transparently. CFOs should be directed away from transactional work and toward activities that incorporate financial, budget, and performance data to ensure better use of taxpayer dollars. In this revamped role, CFOs would:
- Lead teams of data analysts and data scientists working to maximize returns on taxpayer investments.
- Intelligently leverage technological advances (e.g., AI and robotic process automation) and the growing availability of big data.
- Apply rigorous analytical techniques to illuminate fiscal implications of policies.
- Promote openness, public engagement, and public outreach around agency spending.
President Biden should direct the Department of the Treasury to facilitate this reimagination by working with CFOs across federal agencies to develop government-wide balance sheets development and to standardize, consolidate, and automate processes that have traditionally consumed the time and attention of CFOs.
Dept. of Treasury and the other 23 federal agencies listed under the CFO Act.
Increase the American Healthspan by Five Years
Recent research is strengthening support for the “geroscience hypothesis” that there are underlying mechanisms associated with aging. This research suggests that it is possible to develop therapies that delay the onset of multiple age-related diseases and allow Americans to lead longer and healthier lives.
The Biden administration should launch a ten-year research initiative to investigate the underlying mechanisms of aging, and to support translational research, with a goal of increasing the average American healthspan by at least five years.
Growing evidence for the geroscience hypothesis suggests that it is possible to increase healthspan (the period of one’s life that one is healthy) and delay the onset of multiple chronic diseases by understanding and attacking the underlying mechanisms of aging. An example of a mechanism of aging is cellular senescence. These are cells that stop dividing, release molecules that damage nearby tissues, and contribute to age-related diseases.
Unfortunately, the National Institute of Aging (NIA) only has the resources to fund 10% of the proposals it receives that are not related to Alzheimer’s. The administration should therefore work with Congress to fund a $400 million/year geroscience-research initiative, allocated as follows:
- $300 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to invest in fundamental geroscience research; support early-stage (Phase I and Phase IIA) clinical trials large enough to test the effectiveness of a given intervention; expand the workforce capable of conducting translational research and clinical trials; curate and share biological samples and data to advance geroscience; develop new animal models for geroscience research and increase availability of pre-aged animals for research studies; and support ambitious flagship projects that cannot be accomplished by an individual lab.
- $75 million for the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH) to support collaboration between government agencies, industry, academia, and philanthropies. FNIH funding would advance public-private partnerships that (i) identify and validate biomarkers, which can play an important role in drug-discovery and -approval processes; and (ii) provide matching funds for clinical trials of off-patent drugs.
- $25 million for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which supports multiple Centers of Excellence in Regulatory Science and Innovation (CERSI). Regulatory science generates the fundamental understanding and scientific tools that allow the FDA to make better decisions and provide clearer regulatory pathways for novel interventions. Increased funding for regulatory science related to geroscience would allow the FDA to (ii) develop regulatory pathways for emerging aging treatments; and (ii) contribute to an FNIH-led public-private partnership to discover and validate aging-related biomarkers.
Food and Drug Administration, Dept. of Health and Human Service (NIH), Foundation for the National Institutes of Health
Work Towards Net-Zero Soil Loss by 2050 to Combat Climate Change
Soil is the largest terrestrial carbon repository on the planet, containing three times the amount of carbon in the Earth’s atmosphere. And because agriculture has removed roughly half the carbon once stored in soil, soil represents a potential sink for 133 billion tons of carbon (equal to 25 years of U.S. fossil-fuel emissions). The health of the planet and its people depend on soil preservation, and the United States can lead the way.
To protect the nation’s agricultural productivity, combat climate change, and contribute to achieving a carbon-neutral economy, the Biden Administration should announce its intention to achieve net-zero soil loss by 2050 in ways that prioritize storage of stable carbon and directly address environmental injustices associated with soil erosion.
The administration should consider the following actions to achieve net-zero soil loss by 2050:
- Invest in a data repository for agriculture and soil carbon. Using discretionary funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Agricultural Library should develop a robust, searchable repository of precision agriculture and “smart farm” data. These data will support new products and business services that generate income for farmers while improving soil health.
- Fund research to reduce soil erosion and increase carbon sequestration. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation should develop a joint Request for Proposals for competitive grants funding research into alternative land-management practices and development of decision-support tools that help farmers choose strategies to reduce erosion in a financially viable manner.
- Develop programs that help farmers transition to soil-protective practices. USDA’s Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency should consider using proposed increases in FY22 funding to develop new loan and insurance products that (i) incentivize and reward farmers for transitioning to soil-protective practices and (ii) pay farmers for secondary benefits of such practices (e.g., ecosystem services).
- Help young entrepreneurs restore and protect soil. USDA should partner with the Small Business Administration and the Minority Business Development Administration to develop a program that (i) supports young entrepreneurs developing businesses that restore and protect soil, and (ii) fill USDA Extension workforce gaps in underserved and under-resourced communities.
- Support diversity in the agricultural-workforce pipeline. President Biden should direct the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to jointly invest $20 million per year in initiatives that, for instance, (i) promote diversity in recruitment for the proposed Civilian Climate Corps (CCC), (ii) equip the CCC with professional-development programs connecting participants to careers in agriculture, (iii) increase research funding and fellowships for students entering the agricultural sciences at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges, and other minority-serving institutions.
- Increase USDA’s capacity to conduct soil-saving research and development. USDA policymakers should consider enhancing AgARDA (the ARPA-style agency authorized by the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act (also known as the Farm Bill)) with a budgetary increase of $150 million annually and an accompanying directive to fund risky but potentially catalytic agricultural projects that build and protect soil.
- Launch an “Earth Cities” initiative. USDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the White House, should convene a coalition of mayors, soil experts, private industry, developers, nonprofit organizations, and local soil stewards to design an “Earth Cities” initiative that leverages existing housing-subsidy programs and provides new seed grant funding (around $50 million/year) to support localities that are actively restoring, enriching, and protecting soil.
Dept. Housing and Urban Development, Small Business Administration, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, White House, National Science Foundation
Join 100 Other Countries in Making Oral Contraceptive Available Over the Counter
Limited access to birth control is a key reason why unintended pregnancy rates are higher in the United States—especially among low-income women, cohabiting women, and women of color—than in other developed countries. In addition to directly imposing adverse consequences on mothers and their families, spillover burdens of unintended pregnancies cost American taxpayers more than $10 billion annually. With reproductive funding and family-planning services under attack in multiple states, the Biden administration should remain steadfast in protecting women’s rights to contraception, regardless of circumstance.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should establish common-sense guidelines that make oral contraceptives (birth-control pills) available over the counter, as more than 100 other countries already do.
The 2020 CARES Act established the Over the Counter (OTC) Monograph Reforms program within the FDA’s Department of Nonprescription Drugs with $110 million over five years to produce more OTC drugs. An OTC monograph is a rulebook that provides specific instructions on manufacturing, distributing, and marketing non-prescription drugs. It is high time to establish an OTC monograph for oral contraceptives, a class of drugs that has proven safe and effective for over 60 years.
The first step is for the FDA to file an order creating an OTC Drug Monograph category for oral contraceptives. The FDA should then conduct outreach to drug companies to encourage submissions of candidate OTC oral contraceptives. The FDA (and supporting advisors) should design an outreach program to (i) notify the pharmaceutical industry of the nascent opportunity to manufacture OTC oral contraceptives, and (ii) encourage them to do so through tailoring outreach programs or establishing incentives for drug companies who produce OTC pills.
Simultaneously, the Biden Administration should work with Congress to expand Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage to include OTC oral contraceptives. While the ACA currently covers all forms of prescription-based oral contraceptives, it does not guarantee coverage of OTC oral contraceptives when and if they become available. The Affordability Is Access Act is an example of legislation that has already been proposed to ensure coverage of OTC birth control.
Relevant Proposal: Federal Approval of Over-the-Counter Birth-Control Pills
Congress, Food and Drug Administration
Boost Transparency, Oversight, and Accountability of U.S. Military Use of Drone Technology
Over the past several decades, the U.S. military’s use of drone warfare has resulted in countless international controversies and unnecessary civilian casualties. Curbing wanton use of drone technology is key to helping America repair its reputation on the global stage.
Through executive action and joint efforts with Congress, the Biden Administration should lead by example in boosting transparency, oversight, and accountability surrounding military use of drone technology.
In the 21st century, military use of drone technology has become commonplace. In fact, drones are increasingly preferred by both state and non-state actors over other modes of warfare. But widespread use of drones in war engenders considerable controversy. Civilian casualties and collateral damage have increased sharply as more and more drones are deployed with little accountability or transparency. Rethinking when and how drones are used by the military will not only help curb excessive and irresponsible drone warfare, but will also help the Biden administration rebuild America’s place on the world stage and as a member of the global community. Specifically, the administration should (1) sign an executive order to boost transparency and oversight of drone technology used by the military, (2) work with Congress to review use of drones in U.S. military operations, and (3) lead efforts to launch an international drone accountability regime.
Relevant Proposal: Reevaluating U.S. Military Use of Drone Technology
National Security Council, Dept. of Defense
Strengthen U.S. Engagement in International Standards Bodies
Technical standards underpin the functionality of digital devices central to everyday life. Setting technical standards might seem to be a wonky, low-stakes process, but the practice has emerged as an arena of geopolitical competition, especially given that technical standards set today will have significant economic impacts for years to come. Throughout the 20th century, the United States had a track record of robust engagement in standards bodies, including in terms of leadership roles, representation, and technical proposals. Today, our nation’s engagement has eroded in ways that undermine American economic competitiveness and leave vulnerable the vision of a free, open, and interoperable global digital ecosystem.
In the face of China’s willingness to weaponize standards-setting for economic and strategic gain, the federal government should take decisive action to restore and maintain its influence in international standards bodies.
As the world’s largest exporter of goods and a key player in the global technology landscape, China’s participation in standards bodies is essential and unavoidable. However, their robust participation should not overtake long-standing standards processes, at risk of politicizing what should be primarily a technical exercise. Moreover, the Chinese government has distorted standards-development processes by providing financial rewards to Chinese companies that propose technical standards and whose representatives obtain leadership roles in standards bodies. An illustrative example of China’s pursuit of dominance is the ongoing development of standards for 5G technology through the standards organization 3GPP, where Huawei, a Chinese company, has made three times as many contributions as Qualcomm, the leading US telecom company. Since 2012, China has increased its leadership at the International Standards Organization, one of the major international standards-setting bodies, by 53%. While U.S. leadership at most standard bodies has remained strong, participation in important multilateral fora such as the International Telecommunication Union has been found to be lackluster. The United States should reclaim and retain a strong presence in all three major international standards bodies. As the economy becomes increasingly digitized, American companies can and should continue to lead on information and communications technology standards.
In line with congressionally-commissioned reports and bipartisan legislation, The Biden Administration can take the following actions to strengthen U.S. engagement in international standards bodies:
- Direct and organize federal departments and agencies to better coordinate input to (and participation in) international standards bodies.
- Work with allies and other like-minded countries to advance technically sound standards proposals that preserve the free, open, and interoperable nature of the information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem.
- Facilitate a public-private partnership to encourage and support greater participation of U.S. companies in international standards bodies.
- Seek transparency reforms within international standards bodies, including advocating for “cooling-off periods” that prevent former government officials from assuming leadership roles in standards bodies for a specified period following government service.
Relevant Proposal: Strengthening U.S. Engagement in International Standards Bodies
Dept. of Commerce, Dept. of State, Federal Communications Commission, International Trade Commission, National Institutes of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation
Secure Pharmaceutical Supply Chains
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of readily available pharmaceuticals. But the pandemic has also underscored how outdated and vulnerable our existing pharmaceutical-manufacturing infrastructure is. The pandemic immobilized drug supply chains, resulting in shortages of 29 out of 40 drugs used to combat the coronavirus, as well as 67 out of 156 acute care medicines.
The federal government should invest $5 billion over five years to bring advanced-manufacturing technologies to the pharmaceutical sector, with a goal of making all 223 of the Food and Drug Administration’s list of essential medicines available through a responsive, end-to-end, on-demand production system that eliminates drug shortages.
The United States experienced 1,929 national drug shortages between 2001 and 2014. One cause of shortages is over reliance on foreign drug manufacturers. In early 2021, the government found that domestic facilities can only produce the active ingredients for 60 out of the 118 medicines studied from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Essential Medicines List (223 medicines total). 78% of active-pharmaceutical-ingredient manufacturers are located outside of the United States. The federal government can correct this over reliance by investing $5 billion over five years in platform technologies that enable point-of-care manufacturing of medicines. Deep investment in advanced medicine-production technologies will make our existing pharmaceutical infrastructure far more flexible, responsive, and resilient. To motivate progress, investment into next-generation pharmaceutical manufacturing should be aligned with clear goals. Making at least 50% of the FDA’s list of essential medicines available through a responsive, end-to-end, on-demand production system within two years, and making 100% of the list available through the system by the end of the investment period. The investment should be made in close collaboration with the FDA as well as the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services. The latter agencies play important roles in securing the nation’s supply of essential medicines and ensuring that medicines for pandemic outbreaks are available without interruption.
Relevant Proposal: A Federal Adaptive, On-Demand Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Initiative
Dept. of Defense (DARPA, DHA, USN), Food and Drug Administration, Dept. of Health and Human Services (ASPR, ARPA-H, BARDA)
Launch a $1 Billion Initiative to Create “Self-Driving Laboratories”
Today, it can take as long as 20 years for scientists to discover, develop, and commercialize new materials and other critical technologies. We can accelerate the pace of scientific discovery. The federal government can leverage America’s strengths in basic science, robotics, simulation and artificial intelligence to, for instance, create “self-driving laboratories”: automated labs that continuously conduct experiments 24/7, guided by machine learning algorithms that determine which experiment to do next.
The Biden Administration should invest $1 billion/year to launch a 10-year “AI for Science” initiative that dramatically accelerates the pace of American research and innovation.
While human ingenuity underlies and should continue to drive the American scientific enterprise, coupling human and computer-aided capabilities could transform the current scientific enterprise into something that is exponentially faster and more efficient. Leveraging AI and machine learning could, among other beneficial outcomes:
- Help researchers sift through and analyze large amounts of scientific data.
- Apply natural-language processing to extract insights from existing scientific literature.
- Reduce the time and cost of solving a computationally intensive problem.
- Identify which experiments are likely to have the highest value—a benefit that is particularly important in high-resource areas of science and engineering where the “brute force” approach of trying many options is not feasible.
- Pursue inverse-design approaches—e.g., starting with the desired properties of a material (such as atomic identity, composition, and structure) and identifying the material that is likely to have those properties.
The Biden Administration should invest $1 billion/year to launch a 10-year “AI for Science” initiative to realize these and related possibilities. Key agencies that should be included in the initiative include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Dept, of Defense (DARPA), Dept. of Energy, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, White House
Bring Nationwide Access to Voting Tools
Our democracy is most representative when the greatest number of Americans vote, but access is hindered by manual, form-based operations that make it difficult for citizens to register to vote or access their ballots. Existing technologies could give far more Americans the opportunity to participate in democratic systems—but these technologies are sadly underused.
The Biden Administration should direct federal agencies to establish a standard application programming interface (API) for election-administration systems in order to bring nationwide access to voter tools.
As Americans faced the twin obstacles of a global pandemic and an overwhelmed postal service, the 2020 election amplified the importance of digital tools that make it easy for voters to register, apply for absentee ballots, and track their ballot status. The election also highlighted deficiencies in (or lack of) these capabilities from locality to locality. Passage of sweeping voter-suppression measures in multiple states that further limit ballot access only compounds these issues.
With the 2022 midterm election rapidly approaching, there is an urgent need for the federal government to expand voting access nationwide. Proposed federal legislation would mandate making digital voting tools available for all voters, but without incentives or standards, these tools would remain available only on local government websites, which suffer from discoverability and usability hurdles. Creating a standard API for election-administration systems will enable civic groups and other outside organizations to create consistent, discoverable, and innovative nationwide voter tools that interoperate directly with local voter rolls, resulting in a more participatory electorate and a stronger, more representative democracy. Creating a standard API strongly aligns with the recent executive order on improving the customer experience and service delivery of government services. Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have already created APIs, which are demonstrating early success; for example, Pennsylvania reported that applications received via their API were more accurate and complete, yielding a 20% higher acceptance rate than applications submitted through other means.
The administration should expand the National Institutes of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) existing remit in voting technology to include standards for voter-serving APIs:
- Publish a standard API specification that would ensure that any API used would allow voters to register, apply for absentee ballots, and track their ballot status.
- Create security requirements for API implementation in order to preserve data security and election integrity.
- Develop a compliance certification program, to continuously validate that API implementations comply with the API specification and security requirements.
NIST should carry out these actions in coordination with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
Relevant Proposal: Creating an API Standard for Election Administration Systems to Strengthen U.S. Democracy
National Institutes for Standards and Technology, Dept. of Homeland Security (CISA)
Combat the Diseases of Despair Epidemic
Economic challenges coupled with erosion of strong familial and social support networks have driven soaring rates of substance abuse, alcohol dependency, and suicidal ideations and actions, collectively known as diseases of despair, in the United States. The increases in diseases of despair over recent decades reveal clear failures in our national public-health ecosystem that must be addressed.
The National Institutes of Health should coordinate an interagency research and development initiative to (i) better understand factors that contribute to diseases of despair, and (ii) design, implement, and disseminate effective social and policy interventions informed by research findings. This initiative should leverage the power and potential of diverse sources of data and advances in artificial intelligence to combat the diseases of despair.
Despite recent progress in medicine, the past two decades have seen a marked decline in health outcomes and life expectancies for several groups in the United States. Diseases of despair disproportionately impact middle-aged, non-Hispanic, non-college-educated, and rural populations, and amplify existing health inequities for Hispanic and Black Americans. These troubling increases in diseases of despair have coincided with decades of economic decline for less educated, unskilled, and semiskilled workers; stagnant or falling wages and family incomes, declining marriage rates; increasing shares of single-parent households; and declining labor-force participation in certain economic sectors. Effective strategies for combating the diseases of despair epidemic call for research to gain a deep understanding of contributing risk factors, design effective interventions at the individual and population levels, and efficiently translate research findings and proposed interventions into public policies and healthcare practice, with particular emphasis on preventive measures.
Given the debilitating human, societal and economic costs of diseases of despair, combating the epidemic needs to become a national priority. The Biden administration should direct the NIH to coordinate and lead an interagency effort that:
- Recognizes wellness as an integral component of public health.
- Leverages the power and potential of data—including electronic health records as well as sociodemographic, economic, and environmental data—and advanced artificial-intelligence methodologies to inform and evaluate proposed interventions.
- Works with policymakers and public-health officials at the national, state, and local levels to translate research findings into general practice.
National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Dept. of Veterans Affairs
Invest in Privacy-at-the-Sensor Civic Technology
The next generation of American infrastructure should be designed and built to be resilient, energy efficient, and to integrate harmoniously with network communications, autonomous vehicles, and other “smart” systems. Emerging civic technologies—such as those that can support billing and payment, manage public resources, monitor integrity of structures, track traffic flows, and more—can improve infrastructure performance and enhance community livability. However, widespread public perception that civic technologies invade individual privacy and enrich tech companies has disrupted multiple civic-technology projects around the world.
The federal government should invest in research and development (R&D) on new, sensor-based civic technologies that inherently preserve privacy in a manner verifiable by citizens.
The Biden Administration, working through key agencies such as the Departments of Energy and Transportation and the National Science Foundation should fund the following research and development projects to promote smart-city technologies, architectures, and protocols that are inherently privacy-preserving in a manner that is verifiable and trusted by the public:
- Develop verifiable “privacy-at-the-sensor” technologies ($100 million). The federal government should fund development of novel sensor technologies that are inherently privacy-preserving in a manner that is verifiable and trustable by the public. This new class of sensors should possess capabilities and features such as the abilities to (i) redact information the public considers sensitive before that information is stored, (ii) only record when specified classes of objects are observed by the sensor, (iii) anonymize collected data at the sensor, (iv) only indicate the presence or absence of a specified class of objects, (v) intelligently focus and defocus, and (vi) incorporate noise, randomization, and permutation to protect privacy. The government should also fund development of techniques for removing subtle signals in civic-technology data that could be used to circumvent otherwise robust privacy measures.
- Study public perception and privacy concerns surrounding civic technologies ($75 million). Successful deployment of civic technologies will require deeper understanding of how the public perceives those technologies, and of what types of civic technologies are most likely to receive quick public acceptance. The government should launch a large-scale study to answer these questions. The study should also explore the extent to which the public is willing to sacrifice some elements of privacy in exchange for progress on priorities such as affordable housing, job creation, and mobility. Knowledge gained from this study should be incorporated into models and simulation tools to inform policy decisions and to facilitate design, deployment, operation, and decommissioning of civic technologies.
- Establish smart-city test beds ($150 million). The federal government, in cooperation with civic authorities, nongovernmental organizations, and academic institutions, should establish a network of test beds to evaluate the civic-technology performance, privacy and safety issues, and public acceptance before such technologies are deployed at scale. These test beds could also be used to determine how to structure public-private partnerships in ways that equitably balance the needs and interests of all parties.
Provisions in the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill offer pathways to fund privacy-preserving R&D. For instance, the aforementioned projects could be undertaken through ARPA-I (if funding is appropriated) or through the Department of Transportation’s Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant program. Additionally, such an effort could be coordinated with allied, democratic nations to create a baseline standard for privacy-affirming technology, under the recently launched Summit of Democracy International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies.
Relevant Proposal: Investing in “Privacy-at-the-Sensor” Civic Technologies to Advance Next-Gen American Infrastructure
Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Transportation, National Science Foundation, Dept. of State
Bridge the Digital Divide with a Tech Extension Initiative
Our nation faces a pervasive digital divide, in which Americans with access to technology and opportunities to develop digital skills are increasingly leaving behind those who do not. We need a national program that enables all Americans to navigate the digital landscape.
Using already-authorized funding from the Digital Equity Act, the Biden Administration should work through the proven Cooperative Extension System to launch a national Tech Extension initiative designed that advances tech proficiency across nationwide.
As our economy and the world have digitized, technology has become an indispensable component of life. The COVID-19 pandemic proved that broadband access is critical public infrastructure. Links have been found between digital isolation and poor health outcomes. Universal internet access could contribute more than $160 billion in annual output gains nationally. Strong universal knowledge, understanding, and awareness of technology is needed not only to ensure equitable participation in society, but also to combat negative impacts of technology such as misinformation, identity theft, or ransomware. Yet many Americans, especially rural Americans, still lack access to the internet, technology, and opportunities for digital-skills development.
Congress created the Cooperative Extension System (CES) in 1914 to support Americans in agriculture. The CES continues in robust form today, employing more than 32,000 existing university and county-based workers and engaging an additional 2.8 million volunteers. But with agriculture making up a much smaller—and tech a much greater—share of the American economy than it did a century ago, there is a strong argument for using CES resources to support a new Tech Extension initiative.
The Tech Extension initiative would (i) extend the CES’s scope to include instruction in technology and support for technology access, (ii) empower and train a subset of CES affiliates to focus on tech knowledge, and (iii) leverage CES relationships, programs, and infrastructure to increase tech proficiency in communities nationwide and help all Americans navigate the digital landscape effectively. The Tech Extension initiative would complement K–12 instruction in computer science and related fields, and would extend the existing but limited support the CES already provides for technology needs.
A model for such an initiative already exists at the state level in Maryland. The University of Maryland (UMD) Extension at College Park is developing a new Tech Extension to deliver training, educational opportunities, and outreach to bridge the digital divide and support broadband adoption statewide. The UMD Tech Extension is operating in parallel and in partnership with other divisions of the UMD Extension at College Park, such as the 4-H Youth Development, Family & Consumer Sciences, and Environment & Natural Resources divisions.
While CES programs are run locally through land-grant universities, CES is a largely federal program. Federal funding supports the CES, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) plays a critical and coordinating role. As such, the federal government already has authority to direct CES to place greater emphasis on serving tech needs. To maximize impact and avoid duplicate efforts, USDA should consider partnering with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on launching and managing the Tech Extension. The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure bill allocated over $45 billion for the NTIA to support the Biden Administration’s goal of providing broadband access to the entire country. Uniting NTIA’s funding and mission with USDA’s thriving CES ecosystem is a potent recipe for national tech success.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Dept. of Agriculture
Revitalize the Diplomatic Workforce
The skill, integrity, versatility, and resolve of America’s diplomats and civil servants are crown jewels of American foreign policy. However, a growing number of State Department personnel describe the organization as rigid, hierarchical, parochial, and risk-averse, with a backwards-looking departmental culture. This is a problem that goes beyond employee satisfaction. The State Department workforce is the foreign-policy vanguard that represents U.S. interests abroad, navigates competition with great powers, responds to pressing international crises, and nurtures domestic prosperity. We need to preserve what the State Department and its Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has done right over the last century to train generations of capable staff. At the same time, the Department must boldly experiment with new concepts and practices that bring a spirit of innovation to the diplomatic mission. Our diplomacy succeeds when we invest in our diplomatic workforce. Now is the moment to build a State Department that supports its employees to succeed in an evolving and complex world.
To revitalize the State Department’s workforce, the Biden Administration should (1) foster a learning culture, (2) solicit diverse perspectives on workforce revitalization, (3) better support homegrown innovation efforts, (4) strive to bring in outside expertise, and (5) rethink how education and training are carried out.
A multi-pronged approach is needed to foster an organizational culture at the State Department that encourages personnel to experiment, innovate, and adapt:
- Soliciting diverse, external perspectives on workforce revitalization will enable the State Department to realize its full potential. The Department of Defense (DOD) benefited from the establishment of a robust Defense Innovation Board in 2016, which is populated by leaders from across the national-security innovation base and has enjoyed bipartisan support. The State Department should explore creating an analogous Diplomacy Innovation Board to unlock additional workforce capacity. For example, the Defense Innovation Board recommended that DOD prioritize five focus areas: Design Thinking, Lean Startup, Agile Software Development, Data Science, and Innovation Management. Subsequent reports emphasized machine learning and artificial intelligence. The Diplomacy Innovation Board could similarly explore opportunities to strengthen digital competencies at the State Department.
- Examples of homegrown innovation efforts at the State Department include the Collaboratory in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Strategy Lab in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, and Tech@State. Yet the Strategy Lab and Tech@State were discontinued, and the Collaboratory’s work has migrated to other units. The State Department should change its approach to embrace rather than discourage such efforts.
- To bring in outside expertise, the State Department should establish executive-exchange programs and expand temporary external-detail opportunities for Department personnel. For example, DOD effectively recruited technical talent by establishing a Defense Digital Service. A State Digital Service could be equally effective.
- Finally, the State Department must rethink how education and training are carried out. One option is to increase use of practical exercises, simulations, and experiments. The FSI has steadily integrated scenario-based training into its curricula, but there are further Department-wide opportunities to explore. The State Department must also embrace a learning paradigm that makes emerging technology a priority—not an afterthought—in training and education. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need and capacity for Departmental training to rely on a hybrid virtual-physical model.
Dept. of State, Foreign Service Institute
Address Threats to Freshwater Resources
Freshwater resources in the United States have become increasingly vulnerable, posing a significant threat to nature and to human wellbeing. Severe drought across western states continues to take an economic and human toll. Toxic exposure to lead and other contaminants in places like Benton Harbor, MI, or runoff-induced hazardous algal blooms in Florida aren’t receiving the rapid and sustained interagency attention they need. Despite this real threat, the White House lacks any high-level leadership position assigned solely to water issues.
To address urgent challenges related to U.S. water resources and infrastructure, the Biden Administration should significantly strengthen its water-policy staff across the Executive Office of the President.
The Biden Administration has named a number of capable leaders to key positions within agencies that manage water. However, siloed agency expertise is not a substitute for White House leadership when it comes to anticipating, avoiding, mitigating, and responding to water crises. Strengthening the water-policy staff housed at the Executive Office of the President will support the Biden Administration’s infrastructure, resilience, and equity priorities, and will help the administration minimize economic, health, and environmental damage from predictable water crises. To this end, the administration should take the following low-cost, high-impact actions:
- Appoint a Special Assistant to the President for Water. Creating such a position would be the most significant elevation of water issues in any recent White House. The new Special Assistant to the President should be supported by the Council on Environmental Quality’s Senior Director for Water and by a new Federal Water Coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget.
- Issue an executive order that modifies and expands President Trump’s Executive Order on Modernizing Water Resource Management and Water Infrastructure. A revised order is needed to better capture the current President’s policy direction on water, put more emphasis on drinking-water needs of disadvantaged communities, and remove provisions that work at cross purposes with the Biden Administration’s agenda. In particular, Trump-era executive orders that promoted older ideas about water storage and dam construction need to be replaced with a new direction for water equity, drought resilience, natural infrastructure, and water-policy coordination.
- Integrate the interagency National Drought Resilience Partnership and the Water Subcabinet into one structure. The new water governing body should have regular meetings led by senior White House leaders, and should coordinate closely with essential partners in state, local, territorial, and tribal governments—as well as the private and non-governmental sectors—on key water-policy issues.
Environmental Protection Agency, White House
Strengthen American Leadership in the Bioeconomy
Synthetic biology—the science and engineering of building with biology—offers a powerful set of approaches for effectively and sustainably meeting challenges in health, manufacturing, agriculture, energy and beyond. The growth of synthetic biology, and the bioeconomy more generally, in America also has the potential to create tens of thousands of new, well-paying jobs nationwide.
To strengthen American leadership in synthetic biology, the federal government should (1) launch a National Lab for Biotechnology, (2) invest $150 million to improve biological standards and measurement, and (3) establish a dedicated bioeconomy unit within the Department of Commerce.
Experts believe that synthetic biology could revolutionize fields ranging from medicine to manufacturing. Though the field has only been around for a few decades, it is growing exponentially and has already demonstrated its value. The federal government should take the following three steps to harness this potential and position the United States as a global leader in synthetic biology and the bioeconomy more generally:
- The Department of Energy should launch a National Lab for Biotechnology. Through a large, collaborative, and interdisciplinary team, this new National Lab would help the United States build world-leading capabilities in reading and writing DNA and other building blocks of biological systems, measuring and manufacturing with biological systems, and much more. The National Lab would also act as a research and community hub for the growing number of scientists and innovators working in the bioeconomy.
- $150 million should be allocated to the National Institute of Standards and Technology to improve and harmonize biological standards and measurement. This work is needed for rigorous characterization of living systems, reproducibility of experiments and accomplishments in synthetic biology, and communication across sub-disciplines.
- The Department of Commerce should establish a dedicated bioeconomy unit. A major work product of this unit would be a regularly updated strategic roadmap for synthetic biology. The unit should also launch a federal web portal (akin to AI.gov for the field of artificial intelligence) and engage in other efforts to facilitate coordination across the public and private bioeconomy sectors.
Dept. of Commerce, Dept. of Energy, National Institutes of Standards and Technology
Support Domestic Manufacturing through a “Made in America” Bonds Program
Domestic manufacturers, especially the small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) who have long relied on now-defunct local banking relationships for credit access, have struggled to adopt advanced production technologies at scale due to large upfront financing costs. Fortunately, the high-yield taxable bond market offers a ready solution to this problem.
The Treasury Department should create a “Made in America” Bonds Program to ensure that small- and medium-sized domestic manufacturers (SMMs) have sufficient financing to deploy the latest production technologies.
Progress in technologies such as solar panels, semiconductors, and electric vehicles demands close integration of the research and development (R&D) phase and the “learning-by-building” manufacturing phase. Worryingly, the United States lacks the domestic capacity to support the latter. This has led key startups in semiconductor, biotechnology, climate-solutions technology, and quantum industries to conduct their innovative operations overseas—a significant loss for the American economy, talent ecosystem, and reputation.
A Made in America Bonds (MABs) program would support small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) in building tomorrow’s technologies in the United States. The MABs program would build on the successful Build America Back bond program included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Traditional municipal bonds are subsidized through a complete exemption from federal taxes. The Build America Back bonds, by contrast, were taxable municipal bonds that offered higher yields but subsidized a portion of the tax costs to the borrower in a way that increased revenues for the municipality. This novel bond structure generated bipartisan applause from senators, award-winning economists, the National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Treasury Department data showed rapid uptake (with issuance of the Build America Bonds achieving one-fifth of all municipal bonds only a year after launch) as well as issuer savings (of up to $20 billion relative to traditional municipal bonds).
The MABs program would attract new investors to the domestic manufacturing sector by creating a new class of municipal bonds that offer either a 25% direct federal subsidy to the borrower or a tax credit worth 25% of the interest owed to the investor (e.g., state and local government agencies or public-investment enterprises). Just as Build America Back bonds were over-indexed for large metropolitan areas, MABs could be over-indexed for states and localities hosting one of the 16 Manufacturing USA Institutes or Manufacturing Extension Partnerships with a large SMM representation. This targeted focus would extend access to capital that SMMs need to reap the full benefits of participating in the Manufacturing USA network (such as having sufficient financing to adopt an Institute-demonstrated production technology, or to train a workforce to use a new technology). By extending favorable rates for municipal bonds that support SMMs, the Treasury Department can simultaneously strengthen our nation’s supply-chain resilience and innovation ecosystem.
Dept. of Commerce, Internal Revenue Service, Dept. of Treasury
Save Americans Billions with Automated Tax Filing
It takes the average American 13 hours to file their taxes. Imagine if doing your taxes was as easy as ordering delivery for dinner. Recent research has shown that half of American households can have their taxes automated—and that doing so could save taxpayers over $200 billion. Doing so would also significantly reduce poverty by helping millions of Americans access benefits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Given recent expansions of such benefits, now is the perfect time to take the much-overdue step of automating tax filing.
The Biden Administration should direct the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to automate tax filing for millions of Americans by 2026.
In America, tax preparation has become complicated, byzantine, and unwieldy to navigate, especially for low-income families. Several European countries already have long established automated tax systems that are cheap, efficient, and accurate. However, there is an opportunity for the federal government to dramatically streamline and automate the tax-filing process over half of American households. Tax-filing for those households is ripe for automation because those households have relatively uncomplicated tax situations and the IRS collects most of their relevant tax data, such as W2s and 1099s. With expanded tax benefits like the Advance Child Tax Credit and the forthcoming $4.1 billion IRS modernization funded through Build Back Better Act, it is an opportune time to begin to simplify the tax filing process for millions of Americans.
More importantly, the IRS has already begun successfully automating filing for low-income households through the development of the Economic Impact Payments portal in 2020 and the subsequent ACTC non-filer portal in 2021. These portals, along with the Code for America GetCTC.org tool—released in collaboration with the White House and the Department of the Treasury—have helped millions of Americans access crucial tax benefits in the midst of the pandemic and successfully demonstrated that the tax filing process can indeed be greatly simplified. The Code for America portal alone helped over 115,000 non-filers access more than $438 million in tax benefits in just two and a half months. Over a quarter of their users had never filed a return before, and over three quarters of these filers said the simplified filing tool was “easy” or “extremely easy” to complete.
Through the Taxpayer First Act, the IRS is about to undergo a $4.1 billion comprehensive modernization of their taxpayer-facing and backend computer systems. Imagine how much they can build on what has been accomplished with simplified filing in the past few years with that additional funding and time. Now is the time to bring the IRS into the 21st Century, utilizing massive new funding in the Build Back Better bill. Even if the Build Back Better bill undergoes major changes, there will likely be another legislative vehicle to fund these direly needed modernization efforts in the near future that could be utilized for this purpose and follow the plan below:
- The IRS can start by expanding the successful AdvCTC non-filer portal to more Americans in the next tax season by raising the eligibility income level to those making $30,000 a year or less.
- They should also open simplified filing up to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Next year, the EITC is slated to be expanded for childless workers, and simplifying it would open up tax benefits to the most vulnerable households.
- The IRS should develop a roadmap for building an automated, free tax-filing system, using the $15 million in funding specifically allocated for this purpose through the Build Back Better Act.
- By 2023, the IRS should implement the roadmap and expand simplified filing even further up the income ladder to include moderate-income tax filers as well.
- By 2024, the IRS should begin piloting their automated tax filing process and by 2026, it should be available to all Americans with simple tax filing situations.
Internal Revenue Service
Advance Smarter Zoning for Fair Housing
Without reform, exclusionary zoning will continue to damage equity and inhibit growth and opportunity in many parts of America. Even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down expressly racial zoning in 1917, many local governments persist with zoning that discriminates against low-wage families—many of them families of color. Research has connected such zoning to racial segregation that creates greater disparities in measurable outcomes. Better zoning would enable fairer housing outcomes and boost growth across America.
To address historic inequities caused by zoning rules, the Biden Administration should direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to (i) promote smarter zoning practices, and (ii) motivate state and local governments to adopt them.
HUD should take the following steps to advance smarter zoning for fair housing:
- Develop a model Smarter Zoning Code. Under the new Unlocking Possibilities Program, the HUD Secretary should fund development of a model Smarter Zoning Code. The new code would help states and local governments implement best practices (such allowing opt-ins to higher zoning at small scales, including single streets and blocks) emerging from efforts such as minimum-lot-size reform in Houston, parking reform, and others.
- Conduct Smarter Zoning pilots. The HUD Secretary should launch a suite of Smarter Zoning pilots demonstrating implementation of the model Smarter Zoning Code. Specifically, HUD should work through the Unlocking Possibilities Program to provide planning grants, skills-development workshops, and technical assistance under the Unlocking Possibilities Program to states, local governments, and potentially other groups that wish to enact Smarter Zoning reforms.
- Improve coordination among federal programs. HUD should work with the Environmental Protection Agency to update examples of Smart Growth codes to include smarter zoning techniques. This will mitigate climate impacts of unnecessary urban sprawl caused by current exclusionary zoning rules. HUD should also work with the Department of Transportation to explore what federally provided funding can be made conditional on participation by state and local governments in smarter zoning programs.
Relevant Proposal: Smarter Zoning for Fair Housing
Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency
Solve Childhood Lead Poisoning
Decades ago, our nation took decisive action to tackle the public-health challenge of lead. The blood level of the U.S. population has declined over 90% thanks to programs, laws, regulations, and services implemented in the 1970s. Yet today, 29 million American homes—including 22% of homes with a child under six—still have a lead hazard in the form of deteriorated lead paint, lead-contaminated house dust or bare soil, and/or lead-contaminated water. We must finish the fight.
The Biden Administration should set and pursue a goal to eliminate the scourge of childhood lead poisoning within a decade.
The fact that childhood lead poisoning continues to occur in the United States is an unacceptable public-health failing and environmental injustice. Every year, an estimated 500,000 children are needlessly exposed to levels of lead that threaten their ability to learn and thrive. The impacts of lead poisoning are disproportionately concentrated among underserved populations: average blood lead levels are 40% higher for Black children than white children nationwide.
The time is right to solve childhood lead poisoning once and for all. The Biden administration released its Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan in December 2021, and both the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act fund removal of lead from paint, soil, and water. The administration should build on this momentum with the following actions targeted at eliminating childhood lead poisoning within a decade:
- Mark the 30th anniversary of Title X of the Housing and Community Development Act—the nation’s primary legislation governing lead paint—this year by passing a much-needed upgrade to the law, including closing the disclosure loophole by requiring lead inspections/risk assessments at the time of sale or lease, allowing parents to know if and where lead may be found in their homes.
- Diversify and increase funding streams and financing mechanisms to support remediation of lead-based paint hazards in homes.
- Ban partial lead-pipe replacements (which can increase lead exposure) and cover all expenses associated with full lead-pipe replacement to address equity concerns with replacement programs that rely on property owners to pay the costs.
- Increase enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule, which has an estimated return on investment of more than $3 for every dollar spent on implementation.
- Revise and strengthen federal standards set by the Food and Drug Administration to get lead out of food and other consumer products, especially those intended for children.
- Modernize data systems to allow for earlier detection and remediation of potential childhood lead exposure.
- Incentivize the innovation needed to address technological barriers to identifying and responding to lead exposure, such as through a new funding stream at the National Science Foundation.
The Biden administration should establish a cabinet-level task force to coordinate these actions at the federal level. The administration must also work with Congress to properly fund the steps needed to eliminate lead poisoning (keeping in mind that recommendations advanced by the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children were not fully implemented in part due to lack of funding). Preventing lead poisoning will also provide tangible benefits to the economy, create new jobs, increase home values, and reduce energy emissions. This is a tractable issue—eradicating lead hazards has broad support on both sides of the aisle. There is no reason to wait to act.
Dept. of Health and Human Services, Dept. of Energy, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Launch a National Wildfire Resilience and Defense Initiative to Eradicate Catastrophic Megafires
Massive uncontrolled wildfires, or “megafires,” are imposing unacceptable costs. Smoke from wildfires is killing Americans, compromising child health, interfering with pregnancy, costing billions in agriculture and tourism, and releasing alarming amounts of greenhouse gas. People of all political persuasions agree that it’s past time to take decisive action to eradicate catastrophic megafires.
The Biden Administration should launch a National Wildfire Resilience and Defense Initiative to make our country safer, economically stronger, and more climate resilient.
Over the next 10 years, the federal government should fund a National Wildfire Resilience and Defense Initiative (NWRDI) with an initial investment of $2 billion—an investment that reflects the scale of the problem. The NWRDI would comprise four pillars:
Eliminate Uncontrolled Megafires. Develop and deploy data-driven technology systems. The federal government should establish a National Early Warning and Response System for wildfire that uses the best technologies from civil and defense systems to stop uncontrolled wildfires before they get big. This warning system should:
- Target investments in development and adoption of innovative fire-management technologies across the full spectrum of the problem, and consider formation of a “ARPA-Fire” with funding sufficient to accelerate their readiness.
- Include a shared, integrated platform for uniting diverse sources of wildfire data and information.
- Conduct new wildfire-risk assessments with high-resolution mapping technologies.
- Improve scientific understanding of “megafires” through retrospective analysis.
- Enhance fire-behavior models and associated inputs to support real-time prediction.
- Enable cost-benefit analyses to compare proactive prevention against reactive management strategies.
Restore Beneficial Fires and Reduce Hazardous Fuels. The federal government should support the current strategy of treating 50 million acres of forest and natural land through aggressive and proven fuel-management strategies (e.g., prescribed burns, managed fires, and forest thinning); and after five years, the federal government should consider doubling that target goal. The government should also suspend policies that impede beneficial wildland fires, and should restore insurance markets that allow prescribed burns to happen quickly and at scale.
Cut Red Tape. The federal government should identify and address barriers, such as limits on data sharing between local, state, and federal entities, that prevent key federal agencies and the private sector from collaborating effectively on wildfire mitigation and response:
- The President should consider the designation of a White-House level position to align and coordinate all federal fire initiatives for a limited period.
- The White House should direct agencies with control and access to classified information relevant to wildfire management to move rapidly to improve access to that data, and fund the development of systems that better enable such use.
- The federal government should improve policies and law so that mitigation programs are aligned with recovery programs to create long-lasting wildfire resiliency.
Protect Communities from Health Impacts. Smoke from catastrophic wildfires kills many more people than direct exposure to wildfire flames, and impacts many more communities than the communities located inside wildfire perimeters. The CDC, FEMA and EPA should work together to:
- Systematically track mortality and morbidity due to smoke from wildfire disasters.
- Fund research to better understand the scale of wildfire-smoke health impacts, and to develop cost-effective approaches for reducing those impacts.
- Ensure that approaches to respond to, recover from, and prevent wildfire disasters include goals to equitably reduce wildfire-smoke health impacts.
Relevant Proposals: Reduce Disaster Costs by Better Tracking Health Impacts of Wildfire Smoke, Preventing Catastrophic Wildfire Under Climate Change, Eliminate Billion-Dollar Disasters: Equitable Science-Based U.S. Disaster Policy for a Resilient Future
U.S. Forest Service, Department of Interior, Council on Environmental Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dept. of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, White House
Expand Regional Clean-Energy Innovation Programs
Regional clean-energy innovation ecosystems—active groups of geographically connected stakeholders that support research, development, and deployment of clean-energy technologies—are instrumental to our nation’s transition to a 100% clean-energy future. These ecosystems serve two purposes: first, they help tap talent and ideas from all pockets of the country, and second, they help distribute the benefits of the clean-energy economy to Americans from all walks of life.
The Department of Energy should dramatically expand regional clean-energy innovation programs to quickly, equitably, and efficiently achieve a national clean-energy revolution.
Supporting regional innovation ecosystems is a proven way to align federal investments and priorities with local and state economic-development goals. Such ecosystems cultivate connections among stakeholders (e.g., academic institutions, private companies, entrepreneurs, investors, public officials) in a sector, and help stakeholders leverage nearby resources (e.g., the regional workforce, lab research capabilities, manufacturing facilities) to pursue mutually beneficial projects.
Supporting innovation ecosystems oriented around clean energy is already paying dividends in states like Colorado and Maryland. Similar investments could benefit regions hard-hit by closures of coal mines and conventional energy plants, such as Appalachia and Alaska. The Department of Energy (DOE)’s Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) program and Local Energy Action Program (LEAP) are already bringing regional clean-energy innovation to communities nationwide. With the Biden Administration’s leadership, the government can capitalize on momentum from EPIC, LEAP, and COP26 in Glasgow to further grow regional clean-energy innovation.
Specifically, DOE should fund planning grants (ranging from $1–10 million) to support state, local, and Tribal governments in assessing regional opportunities for clean-energy innovation. DOE should also fund implementation grants (ranging from $15–50 million) for activities that contribute to strong regional clean-energy innovation ecosystems grounded in existing regional capabilities and assets. For example, an implementation grant could support a vocational program—designed with input from regional employers and administered by a regional community-college system—to train workers in installation and maintenance of electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. DOE could fund these grants in tandem with the investments made by the administration’s proposed Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator, acting as a green bank to invest in clean-energy projects around the country. Grants should prioritize activities that lay the foundation for large-scale clean-energy demonstration projects in domains such as carbon capture and grid resilience that will be funded under the bipartisan infrastructure bill. These grant programs should be implemented in coordination with the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
Congress, Dept. of Energy, Economic Development Administration
Deploy a National Network of Sensors to Improve Air Quality in 300 American Cities by 2030
Cities contribute more than 70% of total greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the United States. Aerosols, toxic gasses, and microscopic particulates are emitted in huge quantities alongside those GHGs. These local air pollutants increase risks of heart disease, lung cancer, and asthma, costing Americans more than $800 billion in medical bills and resulting in over 100,000 premature deaths annually. It is hard to fix what we do not measure. Fortunately, advances in sensor technology now enable cost-effective capture of real-time data on harmful air pollutants and GHGs—data that can inform policy strategies to reduce GHGs, improve air quality, and support better health outcomes in cities nationwide.
The federal government should (1) deploy a national network of neighborhood-scale sensors to reduce emissions and improve air quality in 300 American cities by 2030, and (2) coordinate data-driven approaches to simultaneously meet climate, air-quality, health, and equity targets.
Improvements in sensor technologies have made it possible to cost-effectively collect real-time, hyper-local data on GHG and air-pollutant emissions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Science Foundation (NIST) should lead a $100 million “300 by ’30: The American City Urban Air Challenge” to deploy low-cost, real-time, ground-based sensors by the year 2030 in all 300 U.S. cities with populations greater than 100,000 residents. The Challenge will also be open to participation by states and territories whose largest cities have populations less than 100,000.
These localized sensor networks would greatly improve local air-quality forecasts and GHG “inventory” estimates. Highly granular data on CO2, CH4, CO, NO2, NO, O3, and PM2.5 emissions will support improve municipal decision-making and federal policies. Integrating these ground-based data with data from satellites and other observing systems will support more accurate and higher-resolution climate and air-quality maps and models for regions, states, and the nation. Finally, hyper-local and temporally granular data will enable rapid, robust assessment of the efficacy of policies intended to reduce GHG emissions and air pollution.
Scaling up the number of local sensor networks to include 300 U.S. cities would drive down sensor costs by creating a market for engineering improvements and high-volume manufacturing. Such up-scaling will similarly lower modeling costs and improve efficiencies of integrating large data sets. Finally, ground-based sensors located near schools could be used by K–12 educators to engage students on “real-time” and “actionable science” and demonstrate how science and technology can address our nation’s most challenging issues.
NOAA would coordinate sensor deployment, network integration, and data management across localities, and would report findings to the public through a federal web portal. NOAA would work with NIST and EPA provide a uniform format for data-sharing, collate data, and support cities on data interpretation and application. The Challenge would proceed via a phased approach that leverages lessons learned from similar pilot projects in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Providence, and Houston. Leveraging its Regional Collaboration Network, NOAA would launch the Challenge in 2023 with an initial cohort of nine cities (one in each of NOAA’s nine regions). The Challenge would expand to 25 cities by 2024, 100 cities by 2027, and all 300 cities by 2030.
National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Economic Analysis, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Advance Science at the Pace of Progress
COVID-19 “Fast Grants” accelerated pandemic research by awarding scientists philanthropic dollars to fund research within 48 hours of receiving a promising research proposal. The success of privately funded Fast Grants argues for faster and more flexible federal science-funding processes, particularly in time-sensitive crisis situations. More broadly, federal science agencies should recognize that science thrives in research cultures that value risk-taking, experimentation and constant iteration. To catalyze breakthroughs, federal science agencies must integrate these values into their extramural funding apparatuses.
The Biden Administration should direct federal science-funding agencies to provide more support for high-risk scientific exploration, experiment with and evaluate novel funding mechanisms, and create targeted funding opportunities to support young scientists.
Federal agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have been patrons of groundbreaking scientific research for decades. But there are still many ways the federal science-funding apparatus could improve. First, by coupling controlled experiments with rigorous evaluations, science agencies could better understand the impact of their grant programs, refine their grant-funding models, and uncover fresh, powerful approaches to funding science. The federal government spent about $160 billion dollars on R&D in 2021 alone—it is shocking that it doesn’t routinely seek to optimize how those dollars are spent. Novel funding mechanisms that federal agencies could explore include:
- Establishing a “fast-grant” track within grantmaking processes that awards select grants to scientists within 48 hours of proposal submission.
- Funding grant lotteries where a set of proposals are funded at chance, either from the outset or after passing a basic quality filter.
- Creating a public-private “marketplace of funders” where researchers can opt into having their grant proposal automatically submitted if not selected for federal funding.
Second, our federally funded scientific workforce is aging. In recent years, NIH allocated seven times more funding through its flagship R01 grants to scientists older than 65 than it did to scientists under 35. The most straightforward way for agencies to empower new investigators is to (i) explicitly dedicate a percentage of net research funding to young scientists, and (ii) evaluate applications from young scientists separately from the larger application pool.
Third, federal agencies can use science funding to encourage more scientific risk-taking. Federal science-funding agencies could, for instance:
- Take a portfolio-based approach to funding extramural R&D that balances funding of safe but incremental research with funding of high-risk, high-reward research.
- Experiment with exploration grants and evaluation criteria that emphasize scientific risk-taking.
- Embed new methods into traditional peer-review processes, such as taking a second look at proposals that receive high-variance evaluations (i.e., when an idea is either “loved or hated”) or implementing a “golden ticket” model of proposal evaluation (wherein a minority of evaluators can assure funding of a select number of proposals in which they see promise).
Increasing funding for science is a necessary but not sufficient part of catalyzing scientific progress. The other side of the coin is ensuring that research dollars are being spent creatively, effectively, and in a way that optimizes scientific return on investment.
National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Institutes of Standards and Technology, and more.
Cultivate Domestic Biomanufacturing
Before biomanufacturing technologies can be adopted commercially in the United States, they must obtain current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) data showing that process, control, contamination, and other manufacturing risks have been sufficiently studied and addressed. But cGMP data are extraordinarily difficult to collect.
The federal government should establish a dedicated Center for current Good Manufacturing Practice Data (CcGMPD) to address bottlenecks in the scaled adoption of biomanufacturing technologies and foster the growth of the domestic biomanufacturing sector.
Nations like China and the United Kingdom are collectively investing billions into biomanufacturing. If we don’t make it easy for biomanufacturing innovators to operate in the United States, our future capabilities for pandemic response, sustainable agriculture, and other key areas will be anemic. However, the business case for scaling biomanufacturing technologies requires innovators to obtain “current Good Manufacturing Practice”’ (cGMP)-based data. Large companies will not invest in and commercialize innovations for products like vaccines or biopharmaceuticals unless cGMP data demonstrates little risk. Manufacturing USA Institutes like the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) offer a cost-shared home for innovators to develop and derisk biomanufacturing technologies. But these facilities do not directly support innovators in collecting cGMP data.
The administration should therefore create a Center for current Good Manufacturing Practice Data (CcGMPD) to help innovators collect the data they need to de-risk and commercialize biomanufacturing technology. The CcGMPD should begin by working with the three bio-Manufacturing USA Institutes (BioMADE, BioFABUSA, and NIIMBL). Future efforts could expand support for cGMP data collection to other Manufacturing USA Institutes and/or institutions that are not part of the Manufacturing USA network.
Dept. of Commerce, Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Health and Human Services
Create a USDS for Finance in the Public Interest
The United States Digital Service (USDS) was created in 2014 to streamline and improve the federal government’s technology use. USDS has since drastically improved government effectiveness. Similarly, a variety of financial tools help the federal government meet public goals such as fostering economic recovery, defeating climate change, and advancing racial justice. But many of these tools are antiquated or underutilized.
The Biden Administration should work with Congress to create a United States Financial Service (USFS) that employs a cadre of economic experts to improve how the government leverages finance to accomplish its goals, just as the USDS’s digital experts improved how the government leverages technology.
There are a multitude of innovative ways to leverage private capital to meet public goals. A United States Financial Service (USFS) would improve the government’s capacity to harness financial tools (e.g., capital stacks, first loss capital, securitization, and portfolio theory, novel asset classes, and financial intermediaries) so that every dollar of federal investment is leveraged with 10x of private capital. The USFS will also better position the government to partner with powerful financial actors. For example, long-term investors (pension funds, sovereign wealth funds) have almost $100 trillion in assets under management. Many of these investors are actively exploring ways in which they can increase their impact in areas of public interest, such as infrastructure and sustainability.
A USDS for Finance could augment public finance decision-making needed to address a broad range of national and global problems such as increased funding for drug discovery and development; building affordable housing; improving infrastructure (broadly defined to include 21st-century infrastructure); advancing American education and training (e.g., through a new class of Career Impact Bonds); spurring transit-oriented development through inclusive land-value-capture schemes; and creating wealth for low- and moderate-income families (e.g., through targeted Mixed-Income Neighborhood Trusts).
Specifically, the USFS would be tasked with the following responsibilities:
- Providing technical assistance to agencies with limited expertise in using finance.
- Administering finance programs on behalf of other agencies via inter-agency transfer of funds.
- Pooling public and private funds to create “first of a kind” investment vehicles or financial instruments.
- Administering a competitive grant program to support the emergence of a “public interest finance” field.
The USFS could be based within the White House (like the USDS). An alternative would be to base the USFS at a Center of Excellence within the Department of Treasury. The Biden administration should work with Congress to provide appropriations for the Department of Treasury to recruit experts to serve on the USFS. Simultaneously, the Biden administration should work with Congress to introduce and pass legislation that establishes and expands both government-wide and agency-specific authorities to leverage financial tools. A recent example of such legislation is the BUILD Act of 2018, which combined the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Development Credit Authority to create a new U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC). The BUILD Act also gave the DFC new authorities, such as the abilities to make direct equity investments and to support emerging market investment funds with debt or equity financing.
Dept. of Treasury, Congress
Catalyze the Geothermal Transition
Next-generation geothermal technologies could provide enough clean energy to power the planet for the next billion years and beyond.
Congress should catalyze the geothermal transition by making the approval process for geothermal drilling on federal lands as simple as the approval process for oil and gas operations.
To develop next-generation geothermal technologies, entrepreneurs need access to the shallow geothermal resources that overlap considerably with Federal lands. Conducting geothermal-energy operations using these shallow resources will support accumulation of process knowledge that could eventually enable geothermal energy to become viable anywhere on the planet. Getting approved for an exploration or production geothermal well on Federal lands currently takes up to two years, as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must process an environmental assessment before an approval can be issued. Illogically, the same types of wells for oil or gas purposes are categorically excluded from environmental review under to Section 390 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (provided certain conditions hold). This means that getting approved for oil and gas wells often takes as little as two weeks.
The Biden administration should ask Congress to create legislative parity for geothermal energy so that more geothermal entrepreneurs can learn by doing. Specifically, Congress should expand the aforementioned Section 390 to create a parallel categorical exclusion for exploration and production geothermal wells on Federal lands (subject to the same conditions as currently exist for oil and gas wells). This action enjoys broad bipartisan support, with concerted opposition coming from only a minority of progressives who are against all legislative categorical exclusions for energy operations on Federal lands. Accelerating geothermal technology will also significantly advance national climate goals. It is estimated that once the sector matures, geothermal technology be able to supply virtually unlimited clean, baseload electricity with a power density similar to fossil-fuel plants, for a cost of around 3¢/kWh. With federal support, multiple terawatts of this new energy capacity could feasibly come on board as early as 2050.
Congress, Bureau of Land Management
Regulate the Surveillance Technology Industry
Advances in artificial intelligence, video analytics, and the Internet of Things have made unprecedented surveillance capabilities widely available. Global demand for surveillance tech has skyrocketed in turn changing what is required to preserve democracy. Government oversight has not kept pace with surveillance tech’s explosive growth. Acquisition and deployment of surveillance technologies constitutes a regulatory “wild west”, in which surveillance vendors tout the capabilities of their technologies without appropriate attention to adverse impacts while law enforcement acquires and deploys such technologies with little or no due process.
The Biden Administration should work with Congress to condition, by 2024, all federal funding for state and local law-enforcement purchases of surveillance technology on the passage of state and local surveillance ordinances that impose rigorous transparency and community-based accountability requirements on acquisition and use of such technology.
From ethnicity-specific recognition algorithms to intrusion devices that hack into phones if the target misses a voice call, governments armed with new age surveillance capabilities can and have embraced digital repression to undermine democracy. With the second half of the world set to gain access to the Internet in the coming years, and many of these digitizing communities already on the margins of society and vulnerable to government repression, there is good reason to expect what happened to Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province of China will happen elsewhere. America must lead by example by designing models of oversight for surveillance technologies that are consistent with democratic values.
Cities such as Oakland, CA, Somerville, MA, and at least a dozen other localities across the United States, have adopted Local Surveillance Ordinances that have enhanced community transparency, oversight, and trust in law enforcement’s acquisition and deployment of surveillance technologies. Using public reports based on real-world implementation experience and data, and with special attention to adverse and disparate impacts on different communities, these ordinances are the building blocks for use of surveillance technology in ways that are consistent with democratic values. To spur other state and local governments to adopt similar ordinances, the federal government should condition allocation of federal funding for state and local acquisition of surveillance technologies—funding that is on the order of billions of dollars annually—on the implementation of rigorous transparency and community-based accountability requirements.
Relevant Proposal: A Strategy to Blend Domestic and Foreign Policy on Responsible Digital Surveillance Reform
Congress, White House
Drive Economic Competitiveness Through Immigration
The strength of the United States lies in our people: our inventors, entrepreneurs, and innovators. But outmoded immigration laws and procedures have discouraged countless would-be Einsteins or Alice Balls from bringing their skills to the United States. We are turning away talent at a time when we dearly need it: when competing nations like China are producing more trained STEM professionals than we are. We must reform immigration reform to ensure that America continues to welcome the best and brightest inventors, the next Nobel laureates and vaccine scientists, and everyone else who will drive our nation forward.
The federal government should remove caps on green cards and streamline the visa process to bring more talent into the United States, driving economic competitiveness through immigration.
The Administration should work with Congress to overhaul U.S. immigration laws and procedures in ways that draw top talent to the United States, including by streamlining the visa process, providing greater flexibility for foreign scholars and workers through open work permits, raising visa caps, and creating a visa class for entrepreneurs. More specifically, the following legislative changes could be made in line with introduced bipartisan legislation:
- Remove caps on green cards for individuals (and their spouses and children) with advanced STEM degrees who are working in STEM and pursuing EB-1 or EB-2 visas.
- Remove caps on employment-based green cards for employees with jobs included on the Department of Labor’s Schedule A list, which allows for petition processing shortcuts for professions experiencing labor shortages.
- Allow individuals who are already in the United States and applying for a green card (such as students) to file early for work authorization while they wait in line for green-card approval.
- Automatically grant green cards to individuals who have waited in line for more than 10 years automatically get a green card. Spouses and children should not count towards green card numbers.
To complement legislative reform, the State Department and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should simultaneously take steps to ground visa processes in evidence, build analytic capabilities to better evaluate immigration laws and procedures, implement machine-learning tools to expedite and improve visa processing, and redesign security-screening procedures to more precisely target immigration threats.
Imminent action on immigration is crucial because green cards are going to be lost if the calculation for flow between family preference and employment-based green cards remains as unstable as it is now.
Relevant Proposal: Competitiveness Through Immigration
Dept. of State, Dept. of Homeland Security (USCIS), House Judiciary Committee (Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship)
Improve Our Nation’s Cybersecurity
Today’s cyber environment is rife with constant threats to our economy and national security. The U.S. government has to date taken a reactive stance to cyber disruption. Recent events like the SolarWinds cyberattack have clearly demonstrated the inadequacy of such an approach.
The federal government should adopt a proactive, “whole-of-government” approach to bolstering our nation’s cybersecurity, including by safeguarding critical infrastructure and bolstering the federal cybersecurity workforce.
It is high time to take cyber security as seriously as other national-security threats. The federal government should take the following action to improve our nation’s cybersecurity:
- Establish a national Bureau of Cyber Statistics (BCS) to collect and publish data on cybersecurity incidents. Currently, there is a stark lack of data on what cyber incidents have occurred in the United States, the actors involved, the outcomes, and the collateral damage done. Reducing cyber threats demands better communication and information-sharing between the federal government and the private sector on cyber incidents. The BCS would help accomplish these goals.
- Identify and safeguard critical infrastructure. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) should establish a transparent, stakeholder-driven process to systematically designate critical infrastructure and economic sectors that are vulnerable to cyber threats. The government should also encourage those sectors to hold themselves to a federal standard of resilience. This action would build on Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s designation of 16 cyber-critical sectors, and would align with recommendations outlined in the Securing Systemically Important Critical Infrastructure Act.
- Establish best cybersecurity practices for agencies, large corporations, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to adopt. For example, CISA could implement a program to spread robust and scalable cybersecurity best practices throughout manufacturing-based supply chains.
- Bolster the federal cybersecurity workforce. There is unmet demand for thousands of professionals in the federal cybersecurity workforce. The Biden administration should create more diverse pathways for federal cyber talent through apprenticeships, upskilling programs for college grads and veterans, STEM curricula for schools, and military career tracks.
Congress, White House
Build a Moonshot Culture
Imagine if 10-20 years from now, we as a nation had developed new therapies that delay the onset of diseases of aging and achieved breakthroughs in fusion energy.
The Biden Administration should launch a “Moonshot Initiative” to identify and pursue more moonshots—ambitious but achievable goals that require bold scientific and technological efforts to achieve.
Taking inspiration from ongoing efforts such as President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot and the Department of Energy’s Earth Shots, the White House should direct all federal secretaries to mobilize their agencies, researchers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropic partners to identify ambitious goals in a broad range of domains (including health, education, workforce development, space, energy, and climate) and to explain why these goals are achievable. Once a candidate list of moonshots is finalized, the administration should work with Congress to advance the most promising ideas through investment, public-private partnerships, and policy reforms. Examples of candidate moonshots are listed in the table below:
|Moonshot||Why is this goal achievable?|
|Create the infrastructure to develop new vaccines in 100 days||Advancement of mRNA technology during the COVID-19 pandemic indicates the possibility of quickly developing vaccines for every major family of pathogens|
|Increase the wages of non-college educated workers by $20,000 in less than six months||Coupling accelerated training technologies with competency-based hiring could increase the wages of non-college educated workers|
|Double the percentage of low-income students proficient in 8th grade-level math||AI-based digital tutoring technology developed by DARPA could make high-quality educational support available to all students, regardless of location or socioeconomic status|
|Increase the average American healthspan by five years||Recent progress in geroscience is elucidating aging mechanisms and may lead to new anti-aging therapies|
|Create additional sources of carbon-neutral, reliable power to complement wind and solar||Engineering advances enabling deeper wells could dramatically expand geothermal power Low-cost fusion technology could slash capital costs of nuclear power by 10–100x|
Congress, White House
Over the past several months, the Federation of American Scientists’ Day One Project team worked to engage a diverse set of contributors from across the S&T community to develop the collection of ideas that will be released over the coming weeks. Contributors to specific ideas are also recognized above. We also wanted to thank a number of individuals who have contributed to the SOTU process including:
Jennifer Anastasoff, Tom Baer, Miranda Bain, Ulrich Boser, Ray Boyle, Erika Cheung, Kayla Cohen, Ron Cohen, Peter Colohan, Rena Conti, Daniel Correa, Andrew Coy, Doug Criscitello, Donna Cryer, Tanya Das, Eli Dourado, Jennifer Erickson, Mahmud Farooque, Teresa Feo, Mike Fisher, Crystal Gadegbeku, Kumar Garg, James Glazier, Erica Goldman, Michelle Sullivan Govani, Jamie Graybeal, Jo Handelsman, Vasant Honavar, George Hovey, Michael Jewett, Tom Kalil, Jeff Kaplan, David J. Kappos, Jennifer Kraschnewski, Nicoleta Krenteras, Nicholaos Krenteras, Ryan Ko, Kelvin Lee, David Lang, Tim Male, Josh Marcuse, Erik Martin, David Mascarenas, Sudhanshu Mathur, Jaykumar Menon, Mark Montgomery, Bernard Munos, John Myers, David Newville, Greg Novick, Megan Palmer, Amanda Renteria, Will Rieck, Stephanie Rodriguez, Loully Saney, Josh Schoop, Greg Segal, Ishan Sharma, Kenneth Shepard, Russell Shilling, Joy Silvern, Lawrence Sinoway, Andrew Sosanya, Michael Stebbins, Elizabeth Stulberg, Abe Sutton, Natalie Thompson, George Whitesides, John E. Whitley, Rafael Yuste