Science & Technology Policy Research Paper Starter

Science & Technology Policy

(Research Starters)

This article will focus on the United States science and technology policy. It will provide a summary and analysis of science and technology policy as well as a brief discussion of its history and current role in US government. Examples of science and technology policy in the fields of nanotechnology and networking and information technology will be described. This article will conclude with a discussion of the issues related to the finance and governance of scientific and technological innovation.

Keywords Information Technology; Nanotechnology; Networking; Science and Technology Policy; Technological Innovation



In the United States, science and technology policy is a concern and focus of both the private and public sectors. Science and technology policy—which refers to the guidelines and parameters used to establish research and development priorities, methods, ethics, and deployment strategies in science and technology fields—influences the nation’s economy, security, and it’s citizens’ quality of life. Scientific and technological innovations flow between government agencies and laboratories, individual firms and industries, and universities.

In the private business sector, science and technology policy may refer to firm- or industry-specific decisions about the use of science and technology in the business lifecycle. Firm-based technology policy refers to a set of organizational decisions concerning technological posture, automation and process innovation, and new product development:

  • Technological posture: A firm's propensity to use technology proactively in positioning itself in the marketplace.
  • Automation and process innovation: The level of automation of plants and facilities, the adoption of the latest technology in production, and capital allocations for new equipment and machinery for use in the production process.
  • New product development: The intensity of a firm's product development activities and initiatives (Zahra & Covin, 1993).

There is an established relationship between business strategy, technology policy, and company performance. Science and technology influence economic success and market share in increasingly competitive global markets. In response to new technology-driven global markets, companies have increased their use of advanced technologies and their development of technologically sophisticated products (Zahra & Covin, 1993).

In the public governmental sector, science and technology policy involves developing, managing, and supporting the scientific and technological capabilities of countries to advance and apply knowledge to strengthen the well-being of society and the economy. National science and technology policy often involves public investment of resources into the private sector. This public investment in science and technology has a direct and indirect effect on economic development.

The relationship between the private sector, public sector, and science and technology policy may be characterized as a science-technology-economy nexus. Ultimately, science and technology policy influences innovation in the private sector “through the creation of a stable macroeconomic environment, tax regimes, monetary policy, trade policy, regulatory frameworks and standards, and intellectual property rights” (de la Mothe & Dufour, 1995).

The following sections provide an overview of the history of science and technology policy in the United States and the current organizational framework that creates, supports, and guides the American government's science and technology policy. This overview will serve as a foundation for discussion of the applications of science and technology policy in the fields of nanotechnology and networking and information technology. In addition, the pressing issues of finance and governance of science and technology innovation will be addressed.

History of Science

The relationship between science, technology, and the government became very close during the Cold War from the 1940s until the early 1990s. After World War II and during the Cold War era, publicly-funded science and technology research grew for three main reasons:

  • Science and technology research was fueled by the perceived need for strong national defense technologies.
  • Science and technology research was fueled by the belief that scientific research, which had delivered nuclear weapons, antibiotics, and jet aircraft, would produce other innovations of national interest.
  • Science and technology research was fueled by the belief that a large national science system was perceived by other countries to be representative of national prestige and cultural achievement.

Cold War era science and technology policy, motivated by concerns for national defense more than economic growth, produced many of the university research and laboratory programs, government laboratories, and other technical institutes such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The United States, along with other countries such as Canada, Australia, Great Britain, France, and Switzerland, invested in significant national scientific infrastructures during the Cold War years (de la Mothe & Dufour, 1995). Cold War era science and technology policy was loosely coordinated and designed to further the missions of individual federal agencies. This Cold War-era defense-related policy spending resulted in the development of such high-technology industries as semiconductors, computers, and commercial aircraft.

During the 1980s and 1990s, private sector science and technology development and innovation grew, and defense-related military research and development slowed. In contrast to the pattern of the previous five decades, technological developments began to flow from civilian to military applications. In 2000, the Clinton administration reduced the role of defense-related research and design funding in US technology policy. Instead, the administration focused resources and policies on commercial technology development, procurement, and adoption.

The Clinton administration made two policy choices that continue to structure the government's science and technology policy program. First, it prioritized dual-use technology development programs. Dual-use technology development programs, which are an example of the administration's effort to support civilian, private sector technology and adoption, are cost and risk sharing initiatives between a government agency and an industry partner designed to produce a product that meet both government and commercial needs. Dual-use technology development programs are cost sharing agreements that combine the resources of both partners to potentially eliminate additional rework, time, and funding. Under the Clinton administration, the Commerce Department became a key agency in the management of jointly funded technology development and adoption programs with private firms. One of the most successful dual-use technology development programs was the flat-panel display initiative. This project supported the development of US technological and manufacturing capabilities for products embodying flat-panel technologies for civilian and military markets. Second, the Clinton administration prioritized the support of advanced technologies by providing strong monetary and policy support for the development and adoption of advanced technologies (Ham, 1995).

US Government's Science

The US government's current science and technology policy program and infrastructure is comprised of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Science and Technology Council, and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

In the United States, the Office of Science and Technology Policy oversees science and technology policy. The Office of Science and Technology Policy was established in 1976 by Congress to advise the president and other policy makers on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-282) authorizes the Office of Science and Technology Policy to accomplish the following tasks:

  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy will serve as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the president with respect to major policies, plans, and programs of the federal government.
  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy will lead an interagency effort to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets.
  • The Office of Science and Technology Policy...

(The entire section is 3887 words.)