Contributing to the Legacy of Science and Technology Policy at State

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An image of Mung Chiang, Ph.D., the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State.

Contributing to the Legacy of Science and Technology Policy at State

As the sixth Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS), I am humbled to have the opportunity to contribute to the legacy of strong science and technology policy engagement here at the U.S. Department of State. Working in public service is a true privilege, especially when it means collaborating with individuals who have dedicated their lives to serving the American people. While this is my first experience within the federal government, I am eager to apply passions and skills developed during my academic career—especially those related to engineering, innovation, and entrepreneurship. As I continue to meet with representatives of the many bureaus whose work touches on science and technology, I find myself energized by the ways these topics are used to shape our foreign policy.

As the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary enters its 20th year, our mission is three-pronged, and the growing portfolio speaks to the Department’s recognition of science, technology, and innovation as a critical triad in our foreign policy development. First, we seek to anticipate the impact of emerging science and technology advancements on security and prosperity. Our team of subject-matter experts tracks science, technology, and innovation developments to determine those that are likely to become key factors in foreign policy conversations. We then develop portfolios on these topics that are new to the Department and begin connecting the dots between bureaus and offices that will engage on these topics in the future. In this capacity, we demonstrate strategic foresight to ensure that the State Department can proactively address policy questions related to science and technology, thereby enabling the transformative potential of these developments to be realized. A particular focus now is the global supply chain of key technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence, microelectronics, autonomous systems, gene editing, and advanced manufacturing.

The ability of the Department to respond effectively to issues in science, technology, and innovation policy is aided by internal scientific expertise. Accordingly, my team aims to build science and technology expertise throughout the Department. A particular highlight is the facilitation and management of science fellow programs, such as the Science and Technology Policy Fellowships sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers USA, or American Institute of Physics. By working with these organizations, our office enables the State Department to host Ph.D.-level scientists at different career stages for one- or two-year appointments in various offices, where they lend their expertise to the policy-making process. Similarly, each year several mid- to late-career scientists join the Department as Jefferson Science Fellows, a program started by one of my predecessors. Upon my arrival, I was thrilled to learn that our Department welcomed 38 new science fellows in 2019, representing our largest incoming class to-date and increasing the total number of fellows in the State Department to around 50.

Our office’s commitment to science and technology also extends beyond the walls of the State Department. Our third goal is to engage wide-ranging publics and stakeholders to foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. In recent years, our office has facilitated public-private partnerships and brought communities and innovators together to develop solutions to localized problems. Ensuring global economic security for the United States is now a key focus for us, and that takes engagement with other parts of the U.S. government as well as private enterprises, startup companies, academia, professional organizations, nonprofit consortia, and NGOs, both within the United States and around the world.

My team and I strive to ensure the best interaction between science, technology, and U.S. foreign policy. There is no shortage of challenges and opportunities. The myriad of exciting areas are joined by a need for proactive policies that protect our key values, including integrity, transparency, meritocracy, reciprocity, and freedom and democracy. I’m both excited and honored to take on this dynamic challenge!

About the Author: Mung Chiang, Ph.D. is the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary (STAS) at the U.S. Department of State.