APS News

State Department's Neureiter Meets with APS Executive Board

Norman Neureiter
Norman Neureiter
The US State Department is poised to improve its languishing science and technology component, but it needs input and advice from the scientific community to realize its goals, according to Norman Neureiter, the newly appointed science and technology advisor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Neureiter was an honored guest at a dinner for the APS Executive Board in November in Washington, DC.

"The issue is market development, to put it in corporate terms," he told the assembled Board members. "I've got to build a market inside the department for science and technology-related counsel and advice, so we can have this superconducting link between the scientific community and the heart of the State Department."

Neureiter's appointment is the result of a report by the National Research Council (NRC) released in October 1999, entitled "The Pervasive Role of Science, Technology and Health in Foreign Policy: Imperatives for the Department of State." The report was sharply critical of the absence of science and technology advice in the State Department, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright quickly acknowledged the need for greater S&T expertise in her department. "Today there can be no question about the integral role science and technology must play in our diplomacy," she said in a May 15 memorandum outlining the Department's strategy for remedying the situation. "Whether the issue is countering weapons of mass destruction, dealing with infectious diseases, or expanding the global economy while protecting the global environment, if we are to get our international strategies right, we must get our science right."

The State Department is implementing most of the NRC's recommendations, chief among them being Neureiter's appointment as science and technology advisor to the secretary of state. Neureiter is charged with leading a Department-wide effort to ensure that science, technology and health issues are properly integrated into US foreign policy. Albright also re-established a Science Directorate within the Bureau of Oceans, International Environment and Scientific Affairs (OES), and is requiring all regional and policy bureaus to designate a deputy assistant secretary responsible for science and technology based issues. "In a world being transformed by technology, good science is vital to good diplomacy," she said.

Neureiter was sworn in as science and technology advisor on September 19, and since then has spent a considerable amount of time acquainting himself with a government environment that is vastly changed from that of his early years of diplomatic service. "The bureaucracy is frightful, the computer system is antiquated and the security regulations are a little suffocating," he admitted during the Executive Board dinner. "It's a difficult system in which to accomplish things."

Unlike multinational corporations, which are merging at unprecendented rates, Neureiter reports that the political world seems to be divesting into an increasing number of small independent countries, driven by ethnicity and nationalism. Simultaneously, there are major emerging global issues, such as the environment, economic challenges, and the role of the Internet, much of which are based on technology. "This is the foreign policy agenda of the 21st century, and we need people who can deal with this agenda," he said. He is already working with a science education specialist to include more science-related questions on the foreign service entrance exam, but attracting scientists to the field remains difficult given the relatively low pay compared with other more technical positions.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the State Department has suffered over the last decade from severe budget cuts; its operating budget has decreased 17% over the last five years alone, and one consequence has been the loss of a large number of qualified science and technology officers. At its peak, the department boasted 25 personnel in the science and science cooperation section; today that number has dwindled to 10, mostly held by foreign service officers with little technical background.

"This means that the department's leadership is weak in terms of managing bilateral relationships in science with other countries, because their substantive input is very small," said Neureiter. However, he was heartened to discover pockets of technical excellence in the OES and other sections of the State Department, most notably a regional bureau in the Near East that has a science advisor, a geologist assisting the Arab and Israeli governments with managing the region's diminishing water resources.

In light of his background, Neureiter seems eminently suited for the position of State Department S&T advisor. "I tell people I've been training for this job for 40 years," he quips. Born in Macomb, Illinois, Neureiter received his PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University in 1957 and joined Humble Oil and Refining (now part of Exxon) as a research chemist, specializing in the fields of butadiene chemistry, organic sulfur compounds and the development of antioxidant systems for polypropylene.

In the early 1960s Neureiter spent two years in the NSF's International Affairs Office, becoming program director of the US/Japan Cooperative Science Program. In 1965 he joined the US Foreign Service, serving in Bonn, Germany and Warsaw, Poland, and from 1969 to 1973 he worked as an international affairs assistant in the White House Office of Science and Technology, involved in preparing agreements on S&T cooperation with the Soviet Union and China. His diplomatic service was greatly aided by Neureiter's proficiency with languages: he is fluent in German, Russian, Polish, French, Spanish and Japanese.

In 1973 Neureiter returned to private industry, holding a variety of positions with Texas Instruments, including vice president of TI-Asia. He took early retirement in 1996, and has since served in numerous government capacities, including the Committee on International Space Programs (NAS/NRC) and the US/Japan Joint High Level Advisory Committee, a body of leading university and industry representatives that advises the US and Japanese governments on science and technology issues.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette