U.S. Government Announces New Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics Office
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced the new Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team to support Congress’s “growing need for information on science and technology issues.” This team condenses technological assessment and evaluation into a streamlined, highly visible office to foster connection between GAO and lawmakers on cutting-edge, complex fields.
GAO is a legislative, nonpartisan “congressional watchdog” that audits, analyzes, and investigates federal spending. A video from the agency states, “We provide evidence-based decisions on issues such as … federal investments in research, development, and advanced manufacturing to improve US economic competitiveness.” Related focus areas include “artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, quantum computing, big data, blockchain” and other science and technology initiatives that are “fueling the potential solutions to today’s and tomorrow’s problems.”
The new office will be led by Chief Scientist and Managing Director Timothy Persons and Managing Director John Neumann, who noted: “Across GAO, we have routinely reviewed federal programs and initiatives concerning science and technology. Now, we are creating a new team within GAO to enhance our technology and science function.”
The expanding and restructured STAA team will primarily focus on:
- Technology assessments and technical services for the Congress
- Auditing federal science and technology programs
- Compiling and utilizing best practices in the engineering sciences, including cost, schedule, and technology readiness assessment
- Establishing an audit innovation lab to explore, pilot, and deploy new advanced analytic capabilities, information assurance auditing, and emerging technologies that are expected to greatly impact auditing practices.
Neumann noted STAA sees “advanced manufacturing and advanced materials as key issues we have worked on in the past and will continue to work on in the future.” To illustrate this commitment, he referenced a 2017 report entitled “Advanced Manufacturing: Commerce Could Strengthen Collaboration with Other Age ncies on Innovation Institutes.” The report analyzed 11 manufacturing innovation institutes established before and after the Revitalize American Manufacturing Act of 2014 that comprise the Manufacturing USA network. Researchers studied the public-private partnerships and concluded by recommending that “Commerce work with all relevant federal agencies to fully identify roles and responsibilities for how agencies that do not sponsor institutes could contribute to the Manufacturing USA program.”
Persons referred to a report the GAO published in 2014 on nanomanufacturing’s importance for U.S. competitiveness, specifically the added value of “investments in nanotechnology R&D.” The report emphasized the public-private gap in funding and investments. In the public sector, represented by government and universities, the bulk of funding is focused on the early stage of “proof of concept.” However, the private sector has more funding and at later stages, such as “capability in production environment[s.]” The “Missing Middle,” to quote Persons, that exists between the two illustrates the disconnect between public and private sectors.
While advanced “materials” is not currently a primary focus area, the structure, goals, and leadership of this Office should bode well for the future of them.