Concept Paper for an Office of Population In The White House

Concept Paper for an Office of Population In The White House
By William N. Ryerson, President
Population Media Center and Population Institute
Now that there may soon be an opportunity to re-think the approach of the United States
to the population issue, I would like to propose that consideration be given to the establishment
of an Office of Population in the White House, both to elevate the discussion of the population
issue and to coordinate with the relevant offices in the State Department and at USAID.
The reason to establish the office in the White House is that there are serious questions
regarding the current global strategy for solving the population problem being raised by a
significant number of reputable population professionals. These concerns go beyond the obvious
issues of funding levels; support for UNFPA; and reversal of the gag rule that prohibits funding
for the International Planned Parenthood Federation and other non-governmental organizations
that have programs that include abortion services, abortion counseling, or abortion training for
physicians. Assuming for the moment that the United States and other donor countries can
provide sufficient funding to meet existing family planning needs, there is growing concern that
taking such a step will fall far short of stopping exponential growth of human numbers
throughout the world and the poverty and human desperation it generates.
In order to address these concerns, the primary focus on the Population Office in the White
House would be the development of a global strategy for achieving population stabilization
and/or reduction worldwide. This would include the following three elements:
1. compiling and assisting with development of policies of governments around the world
with regard to population and family planning;
2. ensuring adequate quality and availability of information and means necessary for people
to determine the number and spacing of their children; and
3. promoting social, cultural, and attitudinal changes necessary to bring about reduced
family size desires and use of effective family planning methods.
It is this third area that has been neglected by many of the leading donor entities in the world.
While much good has been accomplished by helping people to achieve their current desired
family size, unless we bring about changes in the status of women and attitudes of men and
women with regard to desired family size, merely helping the world’s population become perfect
contraceptors will result in slower but unending exponential growth.
This is true, of course, because in many parts of the world people want far more children than
are required for replacement or because they are fatalistic and don’t believe it is appropriate or
useful to take steps to determine family size.
In order to develop a strategy for population stabilization and/or reduction, there are some
important research needs in the three areas mentioned above. This includes obtaining a far more
comprehensive understanding of family size preferences among those who are using
contraceptives, as well as among those who are not, throughout all of the major countries of the
The proposed Office of Population in the White House would orchestrate this strategyfocused research and would develop estimates of the financial resources necessary to achieve
success in the various areas of intervention mentioned above.
In addition, the Office of Population in the White House would work to encourage research
on key linkages between population growth and environmental degradation, population growth
and women’s status, population growth and poverty, etc. Some of the findings of this research
would feed into strategy discussions, while some would be useful in quantifying the problems
caused by population growth and in promoting voluntary methods to bring about population
A related activity for the Office of Population is to determine what level of population is
appropriate globally and in the United States in order to achieve sustainability. This will involve
looking at scientific evidence regarding various combinations of population sizes and lifestyle
choices to arrive at recommended levels of both. This should be done in consultation with other
governments worldwide and in collaboration with the United Nations.
The proposed office would work with various donor governments and institutions to help
develop a coordinated strategy of funding the various activities required to implement the
The Director of the Office of Population should be someone familiar with the population
field, the various points of view within the field, and the key players; should have the ability to
make critical assessments of scientific findings and presentations relevant to strategy formation
in the population field; should have managerial capability; should be action oriented and not just
research oriented; and should have diplomatic skills in dealing with governments and funding
entities throughout the world.