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Meet the New PCAST, Same as the Old PCAST?

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 23 2010

Credit: The White House

This post is going to be of interest to about eight people, max. So, out of politeness, I'll stuff the bulk of it in the extended entry. But enough folks tweeted about the topic that some detail seems in order. If you happened to be intrigued this week by the news that President Obama had issued an executive order creating an official advisory council on science and technology and thought, "Hey, that sounds familiar," keep reading...

The Executive Order from the President's office on Wednesday created described the creation of an "advisory council on science, technology, and innovation." If you pay attention to these things, (a) you should probably ramp up your time spent on hobbies, and (b) this sounded an awful lot like PCAST, short-hand for the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. And there's been a PCAST around for many years now, going as far back, according to the White House, to the Frankling Roosevelt years.

A spokesperson from the White House Office of Science and Technology explains that what the E.O. from the President did was to scrap the Bush-era PCAST, established by Executive Order 13226 in 2001, and replace it with an Obama Administration version.

The Obama White House explains PCAST as "an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the President and the Executive Office of the President." The PCAST member who has perhaps most be in the news for his service on the Council is Google CEO Eric Schmidt, though Microsoft's Craig Mundie is also on board, as are many more accomplished scientists and technologists.

The spokesperson points out some of the changes between Bush's PCAST and Obama's. This new order stipulates two co-chairs instead of one, and drops the number of members from 25 to 21. There's also what seems to be some minor reshuffling of subcommittees and assignments. But there's two additional changes between Bush's council of science and technology advisors and Obama's.

The first has to do with getting security clearance for those advisors who might not already have it.

The second might be a bid to make PCAST a more collaborative, participatory collective than it has been in the past, more in line with Obama's open government push. A section of the E.O. not in Bush's PCAST Order but in Obama's directs that PCAST shall "solicit information and ideas from the broad range of stakeholders, including but not limited to the research community, the private sector, universities, national laboratories, State and local governments, foundations, and nonprofit organizations."

An OSTP spokesperson hasn't yet gotten back to me with comment on whether this indeed represents an attempt to open up Obama's circle of science and technology advisors.

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