Public Affairs

White House Issues Executive Order

Security of Biological Select Agents and Toxins

On July 2, President Barack Obama issued an Executive Order that changes the way highly hazardous pathogens and toxins in the United States are secured against misuse.  The changes are a result of a review by the Administration of current federal policies and procedures regarding Biological Select Agents and Toxins (BSAT).  The reviewers concluded that the government needed to more fully consolidate its procedures for securing BSAT in order to improve oversight.  The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) will continue to lead that Agent Program/Select Agent Regulations (SAP/SAR)   specifically, the Order calls for: 

  • HHS and the USDA will classify BSAT according to their risk for misuse and evaluate graded protections for these “Tier 1” agents.  
  • HHS and USDA must review and revise their regulations to reflect the new tiered BSAT list.
  • A panel of Federal security and scientific experts will serve as the principal security advisory body to the SAP.  In addition, the National Science Advisory Board for Insecurity will serve as a source for external advice and input on SAP/SAR policies and practices.
  • Department and Agency heads will establish and implement a plan to coordinate oversight of BSAT security.  The plan will articulate processes by which inspections are conducted in a coordinated and reciprocal manner, security and compliance issues will be identified and resolved, and information legally will be shared among participating Departments and Agencies.

Changes to the classification of select agents and toxins and the HHS and USDA policies will proceed through the normal rulemaking process.
On the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy blog, Peter Emanuel, Assistant Director for Chemical and Biological Countermeasures, noted that “when implemented by the relevant Departments and agencies, it will help the United States achieve a crucial balance between two goals that are sometimes seen as being in conflict: Increasing the Nation’s defenses against the threat of biological weapons and reducing the hurdles that legitimate scientists face as they pursue research on potentially dangerous microbes.” Emanuel also stated that the new directive simplifies and harmonizes a number of earlier efforts to achieve the right balance between the risks and benefits of scientific research on some of the world’s most dangerous infectious agents and toxins and recognizes that access to these materials and the rules for handling them need to be carefully regulated.

NSF Launches Innovation Online Resource

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has launched its Science, Engineering, & Education Innovation (SEE Innovation) website initiative. The new service provides policy makers, science-related organizations, and the general public with information about NSF-funded research and education projects. Users can access summaries of select projects, read biographies of leading scientists, learn about large-scale research facilities, and find state-specific statistics about NSF awards received in a given fiscal year.
NSF and are currently seeking feedback on the initial content of SEE Innovation. Comments can be submitted using the website’s online feedback form found under the “Tell Us What You Think” link.   The site can be found at

Science Envoys Report to PCAST

Less than one year after being appointed as the first US science envoys, Elias Zerhouni, former director of the National Institutes of Health; Ahmed Zewail, Nobel Prize-winning chemist; and Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Science and past-president of the National Academy of Sciences, reported on their experiences to date at a July meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). The envoys were appointed to increase US collaboration with the Muslim world on shared energy, environment, and health challenges.
Alberts has focused his envoy activities on encouraging expansion of Indonesian science and technology capacity, placing an emphasis on connecting US and Indonesian scientists and institutions.  Indonesia’s current investment in science research is 0.06 % of the nation’s GDP, a figure Indonesian President Yudhoyono pledged to increase.
Alberts has had some initial success, including the establishment of an annual “Frontiers of Science” meeting with 40 US and 40 Indonesian future science leaders, and a new US program to support university exchanges.  Indonesia is considering creating a new merit-based research funding agency similar to the NSF.  Furthering science education cooperation, Indonesia recently sent an envoy of scientists and educators to a US conference on science education.
Zerhouni, the current Science Envoy to Algeria, reported that the Gulf and North African nations see progress in science and technology as essential to their future, that the US is uniformly seen as the example to follow and the preferred country to partner with for science and technology, and that visa and security issues since September 11, 2001 have prompted Gulf and North African countries to diversify their science and technology relationships and collaborations towards Europe and Asia.
Four areas—water, food and, energy security; health and environment; and how best to establish evidence and merit-based systems—have emerged as common priorities across countries.  To address these issues, Zerhouni outlines common needs in these countries.  Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs at every level are also needed a problem compounded by unqualified teachers and large youth populations that beleaguer already thin education systems.  Zerhouni also identified a need to establish stronger scientific cultures of inquiry as opposed to rote learning.
Zewail, Science Envoy to Egypt and PCAST member, said that he was surprised by a lack of science expertise at US embassies, a hindrance to science diplomacy.  Zewail also urged Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director John Holdren to bring the issue of scholarships and visa issues for foreign students to the attention of the President. 
OSTP has created a Global Science Diplomacy webpage, which will be updated periodically and serve as a portal for information about the science envoys.  The website can be found at

September 2010 Table of Contents