An Analysis of the Evolution of White House Bioscience and Health Policy Through PCAST Reports

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Rice University

The researcher aimed to determine the role of independent scientific advisors in informing federal policy related to health and biosciences across presidential administrations from 1992-2020. Each president appoints a group of preeminent scientists, engineers, and industry leaders to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a science advisory committee created in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. PCAST advises the president on federal policy related to science and technology through public reports and committee meetings. This study presents a thematic analysis of 15 PCAST reports centered on bioscience or health policy to understand how White House policy on a range of biomedical research areas changed with time. Specific themes identified in each report included the types of research emphasized (basic, applied/translational, and/or direct clinical care); the audiences engaged in policy recommendations (academia, industry, and/or government); the structure and rhetoric employed; language addressing political goals and existing policies and laws; prioritization of public health; and types of action items proposed by PCAST. This analysis revealed a shift over the past thirty years from a predominant focus on basic research to an emphasis on accelerated, translational research. The intended audience also gradually expanded from the government to include stakeholders in industry and academia. Even within governmental audiences, the range of agencies and departments engaged in the reports progressively widened. The increasing prioritization of public health topics and references to politics or law—particularly ethics, privacy, and regulation—was also observed. Policy action items were similar across reports, often referencing public-private investment, curricular reform, and the establishment of new committees. Report structure varied with each PCAST, but the justification for policy recommendations consistently relied on ideas of economic security and growth. The increasing diversity of audiences and research and development (R&D) priorities along with the intertwining of public health and politics indicate that federal bioscience policy has become more complex over time, but the rhetoric surrounding policy recommendations remained relatively constant. A growing overreliance on technological policy solutions and a notable dearth of focus on health disparities/equity and civic engagement across the rep orts indicate that PCAST could potentially broaden its approach to health and bioscience policy to address emerging concerns.

2023 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference Poster (Science and Society)

Somani, Soumya. "An Analysis of the Evolution of White House Bioscience and Health Policy Through PCAST Reports." (2023) Rice University:

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