AAAS CEO Calls on Secretary of State to Name New S&T Adviser

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Vaughan Turekian, delivering a seminar on science diplomacy at the World Academy of Sciences in 2014, is leaving his post as the State Department’s science and technology adviser to join the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. | Edward W. Lempinen

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson must act swiftly to appoint a respected scientist or engineer as his science and technology adviser upon the departure Vaughan Turekian, who has effectively presented the views of the global scientific community and helped incorporate scientific findings into foreign policy considerations, said Rush Holt, the CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in a statement issued Thursday.

“We urge Secretary Tillerson to ensure this progress continues by promptly naming a new science and technology adviser as well as to maintain the existing fellowship programs that bring young and established scientists and engineers to contribute to the important work at the State Department,” Holt said.   

Turekian is joining the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine as its director of Science and Technology for Sustainability after serving as science and technology adviser to the secretary of State since the fall of 2015. Previously, he served as AAAS’ chief international officer and launched AAAS’ Center for Science Diplomacy.

Tillerson has been working on a plan to restructure the State Department and the review has raised concerns about the future of the science adviser's position, which was created in 2000 to ensure the secretary of State integrates science, technology and health policies into foreign policy considerations and uses expert scientific advice to inform approaches to the global challenges under consideration.

The office was created after the National Academy of Sciences issued a 1999 report, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation and the Golden Family Foundation, calling on the secretary of State to elevate the role of science, technology and health policies in foreign policymaking. "AAAS has long been involved in bringing science to diplomacy and vica versa, including participation in the study that resulted in the recommendation and subsequent creation of the position of science and technology adviser," Holt said in an interview.

Holt also noted that Tillerson, who trained as an engineer, is well aware of the role that science and technology play in creating solutions to complex problems and the need for expert advice to respond to global issues. Increasingly, science and technology intersect with U.S. foreign policy interests, be they issues of global health and development, innovation, cybersecurity, energy and the environment or arms control and international security.

The science and technology adviser has served in administrations of both parties since its creation by Secretary of State Madeline Albright and provided the State Department needed scientific expertise on topics such as the global implications of advancing technologies from artificial intelligence to gene editing "as well as traditional areas of international agreements on oceans, satellites and reseach facilities," Holt said.

"The S&T adviser has been uniquely positioned to engage the various divisions of the department and the scientific community outside of the government to develop and implement negotiating positions and statements," Holt said in the statement. "This non-political, fixed-term position is one important way the State Department benefits from the objective scientific enterprise and previous advisers have served multiple secretaries from one administration to the next."

Holt also praised Turekian's State Department tenure, saying "he leaves a legacy of important work which bridges the gap between the global scientific community and the department, enhances coordination across the department and increasingly puts scientists to work directly within the department."