The Office of Science and Technology Policy

Adaptation to a President's Operating Style May Conflict With Congressionally Mandated Assignments Gao ID: PAD-80-79 September 3, 1980

GAO studied the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to examine the extent to which OSTP studied the 13 issues on federal organization and management of science and technology policy, and to determine the extent of OSTP involvement in strategic planning for science and technology. Top OSTP officials believe that the broad legislative mandate for OSTP cannot be fully met under present conditions and operating styles within the Executive Office of the President (EOP). OSTP management and staff also believe that all their work must be tied to the existing policymaking process in EOP, because they have no independent control over any portion of the U.S. policymaking system. OSTP interprets its environment as requiring it to be continually active in initiating its work and then fostering implementation of its recommendations, many of which demonstrate a strategic perspective. OSTP is most active in its extensive collaboration with the Office of Management and Budget in the research and development budget process.

GAO found that OSTP does not intend to prepare the mandated comprehensive survey report. This assignment to OSTP placed a large burden on OSTP and significantly increased its responsibilities without increasing its resources. The small and active OSTP has produced no comprehensive report but a list of its many activities, categorized according to the 13 issue areas. The OSTP staff attempts to give a strategic perspective to considerations of topical or mission issues, such as energy and space. OSTP believes that it is not feasible to do more comprehensive strategic planning and remain effective in EOP. It seldom studies the relationships of issues in the whole context of science and technology in society; instead, it usually focuses on a particular mission issue in isolation from its interactions with other national concerns. The small size of OSTP and its perceptions of the operating style of the President and the President's senior advisors inhibit its further involvement in comprehensive strategic planning. GAO believes that, within existing constraints, OSTP can establish a systematic and formal mechanism for identifying long-range emerging issues and for providing a detached perspective in screening outside proposals for the OSTP agenda. Both OSTP and the National Science Foundation are taking steps to improve communication in planning and preparing the Annual Report and the Five-Year Outlook.


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