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coverPIPSITARThe International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), the set of regulations that limit U.S. exports in the name of national security, need to be rescinded with new enabling legislation because they continue to be a threat to the United States (U.S.) national security and economic interests despite a well-intended Executive reform initiative that has taken place over the last seven years.

The Potomac Institute has followed and actively engaged in the decades of debate surrounding U.S. export control rules and laws. The Institute noted in 2009 that the Executive Branch began its Export Control Reform (ECR) Initiative to address the many concerns of various stakeholders, such as those highlighted in a 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report that examined the impacts of these rules and laws.12In 2015, the Institute opened a center focused on using science to improve regulations and regulatory policies –the Regulatory Science & Engineering Center (RSEC). One of its first studies was following up on the current reform initiatives taking place regarding the ITAR and determining what kinds of impacts the ITAR were still having on national security and economic interest related to science & technology (S&T).


In carrying out this study the Institute conducted an extensive literature review regarding government, industry and academic accounts of the impacts the ITAR were having on the U.S. Additionally, the study team held workshops and seminars with experts in actually implementing the ITAR reform efforts and leaders from the sciences, defense industry, information technology sector, academia, military and legal communities.

Our analysis found that the ITAR restricts companies’ abilities to develop and export certain technologies with potential military application. The regulations simultaneously inhibit international collaboration in relevant research and development, banning industry and academic scientists from sharing technical information with foreign entities and individuals. In today’s interconnected, globalized world that struggles with a diverse array of threats, ITAR impedes domestic scientific growth and weakens the national security of the U.S. and its foreign partners. In many ways our findings and conclusions reflect the same kinds of issues the NAS identified in 2009. Although, the recommendations of that study indicated the best solution was Executive rather than Legislative because it was believed Executive action could act more swiftly to address the many problems that needed rapid solutions.

After seven years, our analysis indicates that many of the same problems still exist that prompted the reform effort indicating that a new strategy needs to be considered. Efforts to reform ITAR have not been successful because the underlying assumptions of the ITAR framework are flawed. Therefore, we conclude that the best course of action is to sunset ITAR.

This report is a detailed account of our study methods and a thorough description of the findings, conclusions and recommendations from our analysis regarding the impacts of the ITAR on U.S. national security and economic interests related to S&T. The following is an abbreviated description of these findings, conclusions and recommendations.

1. National Research Council. 2009. Beyond “Fortress America”: National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. doi:10.17226/12567.

Please click here to download the entire report.

BigIdeasDigitalVersion300THINK BIG argues that innovation in science and technology are the keys to American economic strength and national security. Rather than a return to the infrastructure, economy, and healthcare systems of the past, the report calls for a vision for the future.

The report urges the new Administration to 1) develop policy based on the best available science and 2) use policy to foster the development of science and technology. The science and technology investment priorities identified in the THINK BIG report for the next Administration include:

· America’s Future Infrastructure
· Fostering American Industry Leadership
· Revolutionizing Medicine
· Climate Engineering


Download the full PDF here.



DIKWcoverCIntelligence Complexity details a theory of intelligence complexity based on discrete levels of intelligence: Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom (DIKW). The report provides detailed descriptions of each of these defined levels of intelligence and puts forward a framework that can be used to measure the intelligence complexity of any intelligent system. Intelligence Complexity’s DIKW framework provides an alternative to the Turing Test as a measure of a system’s ability to reach defined levels of intelligence.

Intelligence Complexity also introduces a new concept (I = E x C) developed by author Michael Swetnam to explain what drives intelligent systems to learn. This theory posits that intelligence is inextricably linked to emotion, which is a key force that drives the development of human intelligence forward. The authors present a thermodynamic argument of emotion that attempts to explain the human intelligence system in terms of complexity, efficiency and entropy.

Mr. Alan Shaffer’s seminar provided key insights into personal experiences throughout his career, both in the Air Force and in public service. Furthermore, Mr. Shaffer spoke and reflected on lessons and highlights acquired from more than a decade of serving in senior roles in the Pentagon. Attendees were provided a glimpse into his Pentagon career as a leader in research and engineering, including assignments as the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. In this position, Mr. Shaffer was responsible for formulating, planning and reviewing the DoD Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) programs, plans, strategy, priorities and execution of the DoD RDT&E budget totaling roughly $25 billion per year.

Mr. Shaffer discussed the acquisition and technology strategies employed at the DoD. He addressed the need for project managers to own the technological baseline, with an emphasis on technical expertise and experience. While the DoD operates on very complex statutory processes, Mr. Shaffer spoke to the Department’s ability to continue to be an innovating force. The DoD works in tandem with commercial technologies and Congress as partners in the technology innovation process. Mr. Shaffer posed his ideas for fueling agile innovation in the DoD through the development of open systems that work with industry, creating new markets for upgrades, and providing opportunities for creativity across all systems. Mr. Shaffer engaged the younger generation of attendees and reflected on the most important lessons from his career.

Download pdf here.

The CReST Bold Ideas Seminar series kicked off April 8, 2013, with David Brin - Scientist, Futurist, Author - speaking on "The Future Golden Age."

David Brin, a world–renowned science fiction author and the first speaker for Bold Ideas speaker series at the Potomac Institute, brings a different prospective when looking at the future, or as he refers to “the golden age”. Brin firmly believes that technology and science will help solve a majority of life’s hard problems, but humans are holding back because of a “crisis of confidence”.

Brin reminded the audience that today humans have powers that many believed centuries ago only gods possessed, such as light with a flick of a finger and flying in the sky. Humans have changed the structure of society from a pyramid arrangement, where a few ruled, to a more leveled field, from clans and tribes to multi-organization networks. Technology is the “game changer” for the future. Achievements, such as led lights and medical advancements, show how technology has enhanced the way of living. According to Brin, this is the “age of amateurs”. Humans educate themselves using technology, making it where they do not need professionals or experts for every problem that is faced.

Download pdf here.

Studying infectious diseases and their causes, sources and spread can help build models to predict their spread, especially when factoring in ongoing climate change challenges.

Potomac Institute Board of Regents member Dr. Rita Colwell spoke about “Climate Change and Human Health: Prospects for the Future.” Using cholera as an exemplar infectious disease, she considers the impact on human health in a world undergoing climate change. Cholera, which is caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholera, is found in many environments throughout the world, which leads to epidemics in areas with poverty, poor sanitation, and unsafe drinking water.

In an effort to understand these epidemics, Dr. Colwell’s research group has made use of satellite imagery and modeling to predict the spread of infectious disease, finding correlations between outbreaks of cholera and chlorophyll on the sea surface, air temperature, and rainfall. In analyzing the evolution of Vibrio cholera, Dr. Collwell notes that the bacteria and other Vibrio human pathogens are extremely similar to bacteria isolated from thermal vents 2500 meters below sea level.

With these novel findings, Dr. Colwell evaluated the recent cholera epidemic in Haiti in January 2010. Even before the earthquake, the record high rainfall and the hot summer were perfect preliminary conditions for the spread of cholera. The earthquake, however, led to a change in river pH, which, in combination with the other conditions, resulted in explosive growth of the bacteria. The case study of cholera in Haiti is an example of the link between climate change and infectious disease. The rise of heavily populated areas coupled with increased flooding and hotter temperatures will result in refugee migration, which can escalate the spread of disease worldwide.

The modeling can also be used to project the spread of other infectious diseases, as seen with Dr. Colwell’s research into Yersinia pestis in Tbilsi, Georgia. Moreover, satellite imagery and modeling can enhance the surveillance and response mechanisms of global health organizations. These advancements, along with further investment in safe drinking water and sanitation, could greatly reduce the spread of disease worldwide.

Download pdf here.

The “Convergence of Crime and Terrorism?” seminar was held at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies on November 21, 2013. The seminar centered on the concept that criminal activity and international security are related. Drawing from personal experiences in law enforcement, federal government, and academia, the three panelists evidenced the ways in which crime and terrorism are linked and how law enforcement can stem this issue.

In sum, it is not accurate to describe transnational organized crime and terrorism as monolithic; yet it is known that they are inextricably linked. All three panelists provided various methods for dealing with this pressing issue. Mr. Placido argued that there is not a one size fits all approach, but that targeting the infrastructure of transnational organized crime can be effective. Dr. Felbab-Brown believes that the goal is to import the image of a “good” criminal, a criminal that does not collaborate with terrorists, is not very violent, is removed from society, and is without the capacity to corrupt institutions. Concluding the seminar, Mark Stainbrook stated that the goal of law enforcement is long-term prevention rather than detection, and that there exists a need to implement community-based police strategies.

Download pdf here.

Accurate and consistent data collection on climate change is critical to helping develop effective disaster preparedness plans, and it impacts national security, food and water security, as well as immigration, according to Dr. Victoria Keener, Research Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu.

The report and transcript of the discussion about the wide-ranging impacts of climate change in the Pacific are highlighted in the report, now available

Download pdf here.

Potomac Institute CEO and Chairman Michael S. Swetnam provided the keynote speech to the neuroscience community at a one-day symposium on "Ethical Issues in Neuroscience."

Attendees included those who are working in or interested in learning about the intersection of neuroscience with policy, law, ethics, media, and society. Speakers included personnel from government, industry, think tanks, and academia. The symposium addressed the topics of neuroethics in defense, promoting and teaching neuroethics, and transitioning the focus from ethics to policy and law.

Download pdf here.

Center for Revolutionary Scientific Thought

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies hosts the Center for Revolutionary Scientific Thought (CReST), which harbors individuals from a variety of backgrounds to ensure a complete outlook on the futures of science and technology from an academic and policy perspective. CReST intends to inform the public and government officials, alike, about the most pressing issues and concerns regarding the future of science and technology.

Over nearly two decades of work on science and technology policy issues, the Potomac Institute has become a leader in providing meaningful policy options for science and technology, including national security, defense initiatives, and S&T forecasting. The CReST brings together individuals from a variety of backgrounds to foster discussion on science and technology futures from both an academic and policy perspective. CReST intends to develop new ideas about the future directions of science and technology, formulate strategies on how to achieve revolutionary gains in S&T, provide a forum to discuss the associated political, legal and social issues, and inform the public and policymakers to solve vital societal problems.

If you have questions or comments, please contact the CReST Director, Kathryn Schiller-Wurster, KSchillerWurster[at]potomacinstitute[dot]org

Click Here for CReST Fellowship Application

CReST Blog


The 2017 World Science Festival unleashed mind-blowing moments like we’ve never seen before.

More than 628,000 people attended over 70 events that spanned six days and all five boroughs in New York City.

Luminaries from the arts and sciences opened the Festival with a star-studded celebration of the cosmos.


The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
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Our Mission

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is an independent, 501(c)(3), not-for-profit public policy research institute. The Institute identifies and aggressively shepherds discussion on key science and technology issues facing our society. From these discussions and forums, we develop meaningful science and technology policy options and ensure their implementation at the intersection of business and government.


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