William Daley, President Barack Obama's new chief of staff, is expected to bring a corporate mentality to the White House, improving discipline and, in a favorite Washington phrase, "making the trains run on time." And although setting science policy won't be part of his job, don't be surprised if he weighs in on one important aspect of federal research policy, that is, how to foster innovation to improve U.S. competitiveness.
Those views were shaped during his 3 years as secretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton. And last month, during a discussion at a Washington, D.C., think tank, Daley wasn't shy about describing what's wrong with current policies and what needs to be done.
"Unless you've been in the government, you can't understand how screwed up it is [on this topic]," Daley told his 1 December audience at a panel on U.S. innovation policy put on by the Center for American Progress. Looking at the sprawling department he headed from 1997 to 2000, he asserted that "there is a great need to move the boxes around; ... there has to be some reorganization around these issues."
To prove his point, he pointed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Everybody's always wondered why NOAA's there," he said, noting that NOAA, which makes up half the department's budget, doesn't really fit into Commerce's mission to promote U.S. business at home and abroad. "Everybody's heard the story that it's because [President] Nixon got ticked off at [Interior Secretary Walter] Hickel because his kid came out against the Vietnam War," he said. "And so, when NOAA was created [in 1970], he didn't want to put it in Interior."
Reorganization is just one of many "tough issues" that the government faces in its attempt to strengthen the nation's capacity to innovate, Daley said.