Reestablish the Committee on International Science, Engineering and Technology (CISET) and Get Funding for its Programs

bridges Vol. 21, April 2009 / Norm Neureiter on S&T in Foreign Policy

By Norman P. Neureiter

{enclose Vol.21_Neureiter.mp3}

Norm Neureiter

About two weeks ago, I was invited to give testimony before the Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education of the US House of Representatives. The topic of the hearing was the coordination of International Science Partnerships, with draft legislation on reestablishing the Committee on International Science, Engineering and Technology, or CISET, to be considered by the committee.

In 45 years of working in international science and business, I have seen how international S&T cooperation can be a very effective instrument of nonpolitical, soft-power engagement and a key element of a constructive foreign policy. However, I've also seen how crucial it is to establish the right machinery and mechanisms in order to successfully implement such international cooperation.  

CISET already existed during the 1990s until 2001, within the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which is managed by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It used to be the main interagency coordinating body for federal R&D activities, with three main goals:

    1. It was assigned the task of identifying and coordinating international cooperation that could strengthen the domestic S&T enterprise and promote US economic competitiveness and national security.


    1. CISET also helped utilize American leadership in S&T to address global issues and to support the post-Cold War tenets of US foreign policy - promoting democracy, maintaining peace, and fostering economic growth and sustainable development.


  1. Finally, CISET helped coordinate the international aspects of Federal R&D funding across federal agencies.

I think that creating such a focal point for international S&T cooperation again, at the level of the Executive Office of the President, is very desirable. Reestablishing CISET under the National Science and Technology Council would provide an appropriate body for that purpose.  

However, this new CISET must effectively interact in its foreign policy dimensions with the National Security Council (NSC) and the State Department, and in its technical substance with all the S&T agencies of the federal government.  Its effectiveness will depend in large part on an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) that is well integrated into the NSC process and has a high level of staff competence in the international arena.  

Last, but not least, is the need for dedicated funding appropriated for international S&T cooperation in order to give CISET some real substance on which to focus, and the potential for tangible consequences from its decisions.     

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Learning from the past

When I became the S&T Advisor at State in late 2000, I heard for the first time about CISET as a committee under the NSTC.  I was intrigued with such an instrument and thought perhaps I should chair such a meeting, although it would have had to be resolved inside State whether the Science Advisor or the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) was the most appropriate for that role.  However, as it turned out, the committee had become essentially inactive by then; and when the position of OSTP director was filled in 2001, the committee was deemed unnecessary and never reestablished.

One might conclude, therefore, that CISET was of questionable value.  However, my conclusion was different.  To me it was clear that, to be successful, CISET must be well staffed and have a clearly defined role.  Certainly it should serve as a focal point for knowledge of what the agencies are doing internationally, in order to exchange information among agencies and provide coordination among these activities.  There will be important opportunities for such coordination, particularly as we move forward on big, multiagency issues such as global climate change, energy, infectious disease, security, etc.

With respect to setting priorities, however, the function and role of CISET have become a bit murkier.  There are two kinds of priorities - foreign policy priorities and priorities for advancing basic or applied research.  Science cooperation in support of foreign policy priorities is science diplomacy; and international cooperation for the benefit of advancing science is essential for dealing with global problems, often requiring diplomatic support when multiple governments are involved.     

Funding International S&T Cooperation

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of funds for international S&T cooperation, which has greatly constrained the full potential of this area.  Several NGOs have discussed the creation of a global science fund.  But as one gets into the details of how much, and to whom, and for what purpose it should be expended, and who makes the decisions, the issue becomes quite complicated.  We need some experiments, some pilot projects - a heuristic approach to the problem.

As a first step, a line item in the State Department budget designated for international S&T cooperation could be established in the range of $25-$40 million and the funds disbursed based on decisions emerging from CISET.  These funds would be distributed to a variety of institutions for the purpose of carrying out the projects.  

For instance, funds could be provided to one or a set of NGOs for specific projects.  Funds could also go to federal S&T agencies to augment their own project funds and enable an international dimension to a project which otherwise might be impossible, or to enhance an already internationalized program and improve its chances for success.
Another approach to disbursing these funds could be a transfer to the National Science Foundation (NSF), which could fund NGOs or universities both in the US and abroad to support basic research projects of high merit involving cooperation between US and foreign institutions. In such cases the State Department would provide guidance regarding country or regional priorities.  Programs could also be established to send American professors as visiting scholars to foreign universities that are being established or expanded as developing countries increasingly recognize tertiary education as a vital aspect of their development plans.  

Most importantly, as the US continues to establish science agreements with other countries, whether as political deliverables or simply because they promise scientific benefit to both sides, there must be some funding to follow up on these commitments.  It is not acceptable for the US to be unable to respond, when the other country has been both willing and able to pay for its side of a project. And putting a modest amount of money under a CISET decision process and into the State Department's budget would solve this problem, which in the past has affected a number of our bilateral S&T agreements.  It would also assure a high-level focus on science cooperation and gain attention from the NSC and the President; and it would be particularly attractive to agencies that have previously been unable to benefit from international opportunities in their fields because of legislative constraints on their missions, a lack of sufficient funds, or simply timid leadership.  These agencies could be effectively brought into the international arena and, because of CISET's oversight role and data collection responsibility, would also be well monitored and their results more measurable than has often been possible in the past. 

Of course, funding will have to involve additional congressional committees - the appropriations committees.  But funding for a pilot program of this kind will let us assess the true potential of science diplomacy in action as well as the direct scientific benefits of more international S&T cooperation.  I am confident that there will be great benefit both to our science community and to our overall global diplomacy, which will make CISET an important and respected institution and demonstrate the immense potential of international S&T cooperation as the highly effective soft-power instrument of foreign policy that it truly can be.


The author, Norman Neureiter, has been the director of the AAAS Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy since May 2004.