Geeks, science fairs and agency collections among highlights of latest open government plan

Thursday - 6/5/2014, 2:44pm EDT

Geeks, science fairs and access to the government's scientific collections are all part of the flagship initiatives the Obama administration introduced in its 2014 Open Government Plan, which came out June 1.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released Version 3.0 of the White House's strategy to make government more accessible and open. It builds on earlier versions released in 2010 and 2012, adding new initiatives to the core principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.

In the area of transparency, OSTP directed agencies to develop policies to improve access to the scientific collections that they support or own.

"Scientific collections provide an essential base for developing scientific evidence and are an important resource for scientific research, education, and resource management," wrote OSTP Director John P. Holdren, in a March 20 memo to agency heads. "Scientific collections represent records of our past and investments in our future. They are also tools that can be harnessed to address challenges facing humankind. Federally supported scientific collections are public assets, and their stewardship by Federal agencies carries with it trustee responsibilities. Policies and procedures for maintaining, preserving, and developing Federal scientific collections while also increasing access to those collections for appropriate use are, therefore, central to their value."

Scientific collections include any materials agencies collect, from seeds to space rocks to core samples from glaciers on the ocean floor.

"They play an important role in promoting public health and safety, homeland security, trade, economic development, medical research, resource management, education, and environmental monitoring," the plan stated. "They are studied across diverse fields of research and are used and reused to validate and extend past research results as new analytical techniques develop. For the American public, students, and teachers, they are also treasure troves of information ripe for exploration and learning."

In the area of collaboration, OSTP has adopted an All Hands On Deck approach by bringing together engineers, scientists, math champions and innovators in support of STEM education. This builds on the Educate to Innovate initiative the administration introduced in November 2009.

"OSTP is helping lead this commitment as the United States brings together government, industry, non-profits, philanthropy, and others to expand STEM education and continue improving its quality," the plan says.

To help accomplish this, OSTP is promoting public events that link students, scientists and educators.

On May 27, for example, the White House hosted its fourth science fair, which brought together dozens of students from around the country to show off their science projects.

"One of the things that I've been focused on as President is how we create an all- hands-on-deck approach to science, technology, engineering, and math," said President Barack Obama, during the science fair. "We need to make this a priority to train an army of new teachers in these subject areas, and to make sure that all of us as a country are lifting up these subjects for the respect that they deserve."

On June 18, the White House is hosting a similar event for the "maker" community.

"The Maker Faire is a key component of the overall effort to give students and adults the tools, mentors, and space to create just about anything," the plan says. "Citizens around the country were invited to indicate their interest in being involved with the Maker Faire by sharing their stories and creations at www.whitehouse.gov/makerfaire and maker@ostp.gov."

For its final new initiative, We the Geeks, OTSP is using Google+ Hangouts to introduce leaders in science, technology and innovation to the greater public. The experts — or "geeks" — appear in a hangout to discuss their field of expertise and answer questions via Twitter. Recent, "geeks" have included former astronaut and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Kathryn Sullivan and Lt. Don Walsh, a deep sea explorer and oceanographer.

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