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Creating a White House Office of Innovation Policy

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Public Forum Institute

The innovation legislation pieces discussed yesterday in the House Committee on Science and Technology corresponded with three sectors of innovation policies—information technology, energy, and services—discussed at a gathering I attended the same day by The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Stuart Benjamin and Arti Rai of Duke Law School discussed the benefits of establishing a White House Office of Innovation Policy (OIP).

In essence, this was about creating a collaborative entity to promote innovation objectives that would oftentimes “likely be systematically ignored and/or misunderstood by government actors.” The OIP’s objectives are not to replace or overlap any existing agencies or committees such as the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) but to address the problem of political actors having little incentive to force themselves to think about long-term outcomes because they are unlikely to be around to reap credit (or blame).

Under this proposal, the OIP would have the authority to push agencies to act in a manner that either affirmatively promotes innovation or achieves a particular regulatory objective in a manner least damaging to innovation. Identifying substantive policies around innovation regarding government funding and procurement, availability of capital, competition, and collaborative strategies are vital, and Rai emphasized, “so too is analyzing how to design U.S. government institutions that have the best chance of successfully spurring innovation.”

Co-author Stuart Benjamin addressed the potential opposition of this proposal. Agencies are already making predictions about the future (whether consciously or not) when they make laws that affect innovation; they are simply doing so by a means that is unsystematic, haphazard, and subject to undue influence by well-funded incumbents. And he concluded, “We can do better.”

As we move forward on this, I hope there is careful distinction drawn between regulation and innovation.  Some of these agencies in the past have done a good job at reducing barriers to innovation – even if that means allowing progress to occur in a messy way.  Governments are good at organizing things.  We should be careful that in our efforts to advance innovation in the public sector we don’t end up slowing it down through more linear thinking that sometimes arises when, in reaction to a crisis, we feel a need for oversight and top down management.

For a copy of the new report, click on Structuring U.S. Innovation Policy: Creating a White House Office of Innovation Policy.

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