By Laura Szymanski, GSA Science Policy Fellow
At the close of 2018 the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) released two reports: Science and Technology for America’s Oceans: A Decadal Vision, and Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.
Released in November, Science and Technology for America’s Oceans: A Decadal Vision is the second decadal plan by the NSTC’s Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology and provides guidance for U.S. policy with respect to oceans through 2028. This report outlines the U.S. priorities and encourages partnerships among federal agencies, academic institutions, and industry.
With an emphasis on the importance of oceans to national security and American prosperity through jobs, the economy, and industry, the report outlines five goals for the U.S, to 1) understand the ocean in the Earth system, 2) promote economic prosperity, 3) ensure maritime security, 4) safeguard human health, and 5) develop resilient coastal communities.
Echoed throughout discussion of the goals is a need for investment in research infrastructure and technology and an educated and diverse science and technology workforce, which the report calls a “blue” workforce.
With respect to research infrastructure and technology, the report calls for modernizing ocean-based infrastructure, ships, submersibles, other research vessels; land-based infrastructure, facilities and laboratories; and technology, CubeSats, satellites, sensors, and modeling systems.
Alongside innovation and investment in infrastructure, the creation of a strong workforce is cited as necessary to advances in ocean sciences. The report states that the workforce should have a foundation from an “ocean-literate society” and the workforce will include STEM-knowledgeable individuals without four-year college degrees. To meet these needs, investments in STEM education are needed at the K-12 levels as well as in advanced degrees.
The report also makes specific mention of the need to address plastics and micro-plastics in oceans, changes in the Arctic region, harmful algal blooms, and natural disasters and extreme weather events that impact the coasts, all of which have been the focus of recent hearings or legislation.
Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education, released by the NSTC Committee on STEM Education in December, provides guidance for U.S. education policy through 2023. The report highlights how STEM education has led to innovation and advances in the sciences and continued U.S. prosperity and security are dependent upon STEM education. The report is structured around three goals for advancing STEM education: 1) build strong foundations for STEM literacy, 2) increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM, and 3) prepare the STEM workforce for the future.
To accomplish these goals, the report calls for strengthening and creating educational partnerships to create a STEM ecosystem, using a multi-discipline approach, and advancing digital literacy. Partnerships among educational institutions, employers, and communities will combine formal classroom learning and informal learning, which aims to advance applied understanding of STEM concepts. A multi-discipline approach is suggested with the aim of blending perspectives and knowledge as innovations are occurring where disciplines converge. And finally, as digital advancements have transformed society, the report acknowledges that STEM literacy is dependent upon digital literacy.
These reports outline Administration priorities and recommendations and provide guidance for federal agencies. Congress can respond or set its own priorities in these fields through legislation, which may come from a number of committees. Many in Congress have already expressed an interest in these areas, including the chairs of two relevant committees. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently warned about the impacts of climate change at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting and focused the Committee’s first public meeting held on 24 January 2019 on global Arctic issues. Meanwhile, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairwoman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has already reintroduced a bill to address sexual harassment in the science, H.R. 36.
The government shutdown, which affected many agencies with jurisdiction over oceans and education, ended after 35 days on Friday, 25 January 2019. It is likely that the impact of the shutdown will have lasting effects on ocean sciences and STEM education that will need to be further addressed.