Baker Institute Issues Policy Recommendations For The Obama Administration

January 29, 2009

Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy has issued a series of focused policy recommendations for the Obama administration. The recommendations reflect the institute’s mission to “build a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action” – as well as the expertise of the institute’s scholars and fellows. Since its inception in 1993, the Baker Institute has established itself as one of the leading nonpartisan public policy think tanks in the country. In both January 2008 and January 2009 the institute was ranked as one of the top 30 global think tanks in the United States.

Below is a list of analyses; more detailed descriptions of each follow.

Middle East diplomacy
U.S. gasoline policy
Economics
Science and technology
Health care
Stem cell research
U.S.-Russia relations
Information technology
Space policy
Needle-exchange programs

Middle East diplomacy
Edward Djerejian, founding director of the Baker Institute, began his new book, “Danger and Opportunity – An American Ambassador’s Journey Through the Middle East,” with an open letter to the new president. Djerejian, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel as well as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, called for the Obama administration to adopt a strategic and coherent approach to the broader Middle East. He advocated a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy in the region from conflict management to conflict resolution and framed the need for settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the context of the larger forces at play in the Muslim world. The administration should pursue a sustained engagement in South Asia, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the real struggle against Islamic radicals and terrorism is being waged, as well as efforts to resolve the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.

The overarching goal of U.S. foreign policy in the region, Djerejian said, should be to strengthen moderates and marginalize extremists. Read the complete letter here.

U.S. gasoline policy

Amy Myers Jaffe and Ken Medlock, fellows in energy studies at the Baker Institute, said to lessen long-term demand for gasoline in the United States, and the related hardship for the U.S. economy due to oil-price volatility, the following policies should be adopted by the Obama administration: Raise the U.S. corporate average fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards to 50 miles per gallon; negotiate an international CAFE standard among major oil-consuming countries; phase in a higher federal gasoline tax to maintain conservation gains; require industry to hold average minimum gasoline inventories; establish a special diplomatic energy envoy to China; substantially increase federal spending on new energy technologies, energy efficiency and alternative energy; and avoid overly complex fuel policies to restrict carbon in the transportation sector, such as a national low-carbon fuel standard. Read the complete document here.

Economics

John Diamond, Baker Institute fellow of tax policy, and Leslie Countryman, senior staff researcher at the Baker Institute, offered recommendations for the short- and long-term financial crisis. For the short term, they encourage refraining from increasing income taxes; avoiding policies aimed at insulating domestic producers from foreign competition; creating a financial product safety board; improving financial disclosures; creating a market for covered bonds in the U.S. as a means of financing mortgages; regulating financial innovation without being too restrictive; and devising an exit plan to return government-owned shares of private banks to the private sector. For the long term, they said the U.S. needs to reform the nation’s entitlement programs; reform the corporate tax system, including broadening the corporate tax base and lowering the corporate tax rate; and reduce the growth of government spending by minimizing the cost of medical care and reducing Social Security and Medicare benefit payments by slowly increasing the retirement age over time. Read the complete document here.


Science and technology

Baker Institute science and technology policy senior fellow Neal Lane, a former science adviser to President Clinton and former National Science Foundation director, and science and technology policy fellow Kirstin Matthews encouraged the administration to make science and technology a higher priority than it has been in recent years. The naming of John Holdren as science adviser to the president is a good start, they said. Lane and Matthews recommended ensuring federal policy is grounded in the best scientific and technical information; enhancing federal funding for science and engineering research and development in high-priority areas; and mandating a comprehensive review of all federal programs in K-12 education and implementing major reforms, particularly in the nation’s approach to science, technology, engineering and math. Read the complete document here.

Health care

Vivan Ho, chair in health economics at the Baker Institute, advised the administration that revising Medicare policies will directly influence health-care spending on the elderly. This population accounts for one-third of all U.S. health-care spending and thus indirectly influences spending decisions for the 200 million Americans covered by private health insurance. She recommended two significant steps toward reforming Medicare: requiring coverage only for cost-effective technologies and basing reimbursement of providers on pay for performance. Read the complete document here.

Stem cell research

Matthews and Lane recommended that stem cell research be allowed to expand in a responsible, thoughtful and ethical manner and that a federal stem cell policy be developed. They encouraged the administration to expand federal funding for human embryonic stem cells and charge the National Institutes of Health with oversight. Read the complete document here.

U.S.-Russia relations

Joe Barnes, research fellow at the Baker Institute, said relations between Washington and Moscow have fallen to their post-Cold War lowest point in the wake of the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008. While there are many areas of disagreement, the administration should take steps to halt the deterioration in relations and identify areas of common interest, said Barnes. The administration should put U.S.-Russian relations on a businesslike footing; reduce public criticism of the Russian government; go slowly with NATO expansion; reassess Eastern Europe missile defense; offer Russia NATO membership; begin a new round of nuclear arms reduction talks; neutralize Russian obstruction over Iran by directly engaging Tehran in talks; support European nations’ efforts to diversify their natural gas supply; and encourage Russian hydrocarbon production. Read the complete document here.

Information technology

Christopher Bronk, the fellow in technology, society and public policy at the Baker Institute, believes the Obama administration should place a renewed emphasis on information technology (IT). It has been more than a decade since the terms “information superhighways” and “bridges to the 21st century” dominated the political terrain. Bronk recommended that the U.S. be more pragmatic with its IT policy by appointing a federal chief technology officer, who would be a steward for private investment, public-private partnership building and application in government; repair the nation’s cyberinfrastructure; create private sector initiatives; create public-private partnerships, including the implementation of electronic health records; and undertake government IT initiatives, including the creation of a new U.S. Department of State entity to engage in digital public diplomacy and a clearly enunciated national policy on monitoring the Internet and digital networks to provide actionable intelligence. Read the complete document here.

Space policy

George Abbey, the Baker Institute fellow in space policy, co-authored this piece with Lane and John Muratore, adjunct assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Rice University. They urged NASA to dedicate itself in the first term of the new administration to proving its relevance in the post-Cold War world while restructuring its human spaceflight objectives. They recommended restructuring the human space initiative and keeping the space shuttle flying until 2015; delivering short-term (within four years) payoffs in energy and the environment, especially climate change; delivering longer-term payoffs (within four to eight years) for energy and the environment; ensuring an ongoing and effective robotic space science program; and implementing a reinvigorated and effective aeronautical research program, with particular attention to low-carbon fuels and efficiency, to help ensure the future well-being of the nation’s aviation industry. Read the complete document here.

Needle-exchange programs
William Martin, the senior fellow in religion and public policy at the Baker Institute, said the administration could promote responsible, prudent and compassionate public policy by providing injecting drug users with access to sterile syringes. He called for removing the ban on the use of federal funds to programs and projects that provide sterile syringes to injecting drug users; authorizing federal funding and encouraging other forms of governmental and nongovernmental funding for programs that increase the availability of sterile syringes to injecting drug users; and allowing funds from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to be used to provide sterile syringes to injecting drug users. Read the complete document here.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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