Where is Our Department of Science and Technology?

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Issue 9, Volume 112

By Gerard Lin 

Almost every developed country has a central federal agency dedicated to the advancement of science. China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, the European Union’s Horizon Europe, and Canada’s Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada are just a few examples. The United States, on the other hand, chooses to split part of its annual budget among various decentralized agencies like the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Our country’s scientific advancements have been largely successful using this dispersed approach, but pressing modern issues, including antibiotic resistance, the COVID-19 pandemic, and climate change, can only be effectively addressed by creating a centralized Department of Science and Technology.

Currently, the Office of Science and Technology Policy is the federal body overseeing American scientific research. However, this oversight is lacking as it serves only to advise the President and other members of the Executive Branch on the effects of science and technology on foreign and domestic affairs, involving a meager 45 employees. In other words, there is a lack of coordination between sectors of science to form an overarching plan to achieve strategic goals. In comparison, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology created its Made In China 2025 plan in 2015, aimed at updating its manufacturing base to shift China away from foreign dependence on materials like semiconductors needed for a modern, high-tech world. The lack of initiative by the United States limits its ability to compete and collaborate with other nations that are centralizing the scientific power necessary to achieve long-term goals.

An American centralized agency centered around scientific development would expand the current public-private partnerships in science where competition for grants drives innovation. This would ultimately increase the government’s effectiveness in responding to intellectual problems. The 9/11 attacks exposed the weakness of splitting up intelligence agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency across the government and fostered the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in response. Similarly, the failure of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to produce effective COVID-19 testing kits and the subsequent slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines exposes the weakness of splitting up scientific agencies. Unifying independent organizations like NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency with governmental organizations like the NIH would promote synergies necessary for huge undertakings, like the establishment of bases on the Moon and manned missions to Mars. Centralizing scientific agencies would also increase their collective bargaining power for money, creating a bipartisan consensus on funding for research and limiting politically motivated budget cuts by the incumbent president.

The long-term benefits of consolidated power vastly outweigh the predictable, short-term costs of confusion following the centralization of scientific agencies in the United States. Above all, it would keep our country competitive across all industries with emerging powers like China and bolster our economy by limiting the growth of outsourcing. Function follows form: nothing currently stops scientific agencies from cooperating, but reorganizing the current spread of scientific organizations in the United States into a centralized federal department would be an acknowledgment of a collective vision and mission reflecting the needs of the 21st century.