Seeing the Big Picture: A Macroscopic View of S&T in US Government

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Rapid developments in Science and Technology (S&T) are transforming multiple sectors of society, including medicine, transportation, and defense. These developments bring both opportunities—such as for economic growth and improved quality of life—and the potential for unintended consequences.

The ability of the United States (US) Congress to understand and evaluate such changes will be critical for it to remain safe, innovative and globally competitive. As such, GAO can best serve the Congress by clearly understanding the evolving S&T landscape and integrating this understanding into its work.

In January 2019, GAO created the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team to build on and expand its decades-long work providing Congress with S&T analysis. STAA’s vision is to provide Congress with critical foresight, oversight and insight of S&T issues to ensure continued American security, innovation and competitiveness in a rapidly changing world.

S&T Spotlights: One Spotlight focused on hypersonic weapons, which have significant implications for national security, as well as for transportation and space systems. Another Spotlight focused on opioid vaccines that could offer advantages over current treatment options.

Technology Assessments: One recent technology assessment focused on irrigated agriculture practices to conserve water on farms. The 3 main irrigation technologies—gravity, sprinkler, and micro—can all be modified to be more efficient and save water. But in practice, farms may use such water savings to increase yield, switch to thirstier crops, or irrigate more land. To address water scarcity, federal policymakers could offer incentives to use more efficient technology or practices in return for farmers’ agreeing to reduce water consumption.

Performance Audits: One recent audit focused on federal agencies’ efforts around quantum computing and synthetic biology. GAO recommended that agencies should collaborate on these activities.

Horizon Scanning: In partnership with GAO’s Center for Strategic Foresight, GAO explores critical issues confronting policymakers to stay focused on Congress’ top policy priorities. Some of these are S&T issues like Deep Fakes, Deep Space, 5G wireless technology, and Cellular Agriculture.

GAO plans to expand its S&T capacity in response to Congressional demands by moving to a content-centric strategy to delivering information, hiring more scientists, and strengthening a network of leading S&T experts.
Stay connected with the STAA by subscribing to its Science & Technology email list.


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