From developing a foot and mouth disease vaccine to simulating nuclear explosions, government leaders shared examples on Tuesday of how science advances government missions during a panel discussion at the annual Federal Senior Management Conference in Cambridge, Maryland.
The discussion, which included executives from the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security and NASA and was led by FedInsider Executive Editor Tom Temin, offered a glimpse into the range and power of science in the federal government. A common thread among the panelists was accomplishing big things with fewer resources.
Dr. John Mather, Senior Astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Flight Center, said the agency’s science investment is about one-tenth of the total space budge. The military develops most of the technology and talent associated with NASA projects, he added.
“We like to be revolutionary,” said Mather, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics. “We tell people it’s getting warmer and the sea is rising because we can build things that tell us that. … We fight and we fight and we fight but the numbers are actually small … and the impact on people’s lives is huge. “
Dan Gerstein, Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology at DHS, said the agency took a “large hit” on its science and technology budget, currently $668 million. However, rather than halt innovation, it’s simply changed the agency’s focus.
“With those numbers we have to target very important capabilities,” Gerstein said. “Game changing capabilities is what we’re trying to do. And we’re doing it on a budget. We’re not doing big R and D anymore. We’re doing little R and big D.”
He cited examples such as a research and development agreement with Texas A&M for the creation and eventual licensing of a foot and mouth disease vaccine and a $6 million investment into Domain Name Server Security.
“A small amount for such large capability,” he said. “And the foot and mouth disease vaccine … will fundamentally change the way we think about the agriculture industry.”
Owen Barwell (pictured above), Acting CFO at the DOE, said 11 billion of DOE’s 27 billion budget goes to securing nuclear weapons. The department must use science and technology to simulate nuclear weapons explosions and manage the degradation of the nation’s stockpile.
The department is also pursuing strategic investments for disruptive technologies such as wind turbines, ARPA-E and reducing electric vehicle battery costs.
“We’ve generally tried to shift from large applied energy programs that are expensive and we don’t get much leverage from…into more of the science, technology, research and innovation. It’s where industry is asking us to invest.”