Created by on 01/18/2011

On January 7th, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held its first meeting of 2011. The agenda included a presentation on the National Science Foundation (NSF) by Director Dr. Subra Suresh and a review of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) research and development activities by Under Secretary Dr. Catherine Woteki and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Director Dr. Roger Beachy. During the public comment session spokespeople from approximately ten scientific societies, coalitions, and other organizations voiced strong support for the agricultural research programs at USDA. FASEB participated by delivering oral comments calling for strong and sustained investment in both NSF and Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) research.

In his first presentation to PCAST since becoming Director of NSF approximately three months ago, Dr. Suresh gave an overview of four general areas he hopes to address in order to enhance the impact of NSF. These include basic research for market-viable innovation; the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline; the international STEM leadership of the U.S.; and interdisciplinary opportunities for discovery. The director went on to compare U.S. investment in research and development to that of other countries, and he presented data illustrating the underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM careers.
During the USDA session, Dr. Woteki, newly confirmed Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), described the framework of the REE mission area, as well as her vision for research within the agency. The Under Secretary emphasized the important role agricultural sciences will play in addressing many of the most widely recognized societal challenges, such as food security, food safety, nutrition and health, bioenergy, and climate change. She also cited the high rate of economic return and increased agricultural productivity resulting from public investment in agricultural research. Following Dr. Woteki’s report, Dr. Beachy described NIFA’s recent reorganization and research activities, providing an update to his presentation at a PCAST meeting last March. According to the director, nearly four billion dollars in grant requests were submitted to AFRI in fiscal year 2010. He also discussed the institute’s education mission, coordinated agricultural projects, and new interagency collaboration initiatives with NSF.
Other meeting agenda items included a presentation on national security and international affairs by Mr. Philip Coyle of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and a presentation on synthetic biology by Dr. James Wagner of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. Meeting materials including speaker presentation slides and an archived webcast of the entire session are available on the PCAST website.