WASHINGTON—Thomas Rona, confirmed in late November as associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is described in a press release as an electrical engineer with a Sc.D. from MIT. But it is ideas, not objects, that excite him.

During a long career at Boeing Aerospace Rona was an anomaly, a self-proclaimed “exotic brain” whose job was to hunt for long range opportunities outside the defense contractor’s normal product line. That search stimulated his thinking on broader policy issues, leading to a book, Our Changing Geopolitical Premises, which offered a sweeping analysis of the ills of western society and a four-point prescription for renewed military and political strength. In 1984 he joined the Defense Department to work on intelligence and space policy issues, and in December 1986 he was loaned to OSTP.

The tone of the office, of course, is set by his boss, presidential science...

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