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Speakers at Seminar on R&D Policy
Foresee Continued Support in Congress
In a press conference following the elections, U.S. President George W. Bush, stressed a new era of bipartisan cooperation with the Democrats as he lobbied for legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security, to lower taxes, and balance the budget.
Last week, the Washington Science Policy Alliance (WSPA) hosted a seminar at AAAS on the state of science and technology policy as a result of the elections. The three speakers provided distinctive perspectives on the election results, touching on issues that ranged from the proposed Department of Homeland Security to incentives for stimulating student interest in the sciences and engineering. David Goldston, Staff Director for the House Science Committee; Kathleen Kingscott, Public Policy Director for Science and Technology at IBM Corporation; and Dan Vergano, Science Reporter with USA Today, brought a wealth of experience to the packed auditorium on Tuesday morning.
Support for Science Remains Strong
David Goldston of the House Science Committee arrived at the seminar from an early morning briefing on Capitol Hill, and predicted that, "The simplest and truest answer is that the general thrust of things [for science] will remain the same. The agenda will focus on judicial nominations, tax policy, appropriations riders and provisions, and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security."
"Something may happen this week with the Homeland Security legislation. Staffers stayed in over the weekend drafting language for the bill," Goldston said. His prediction came true with the passage in the House later that week of a new compromise bill (H.R. 5710) to create a Department of Homeland Security.
There is no great political divide regarding funding for science and technology, which enjoys broad bipartisan support. The change in the Senate may be significant, however, when legislators are working to move a bill out of committee and onto the floor, or trying to attach riders to proposed legislation. A rider is an amendment to legislation being considered for passage that usually deals with an unrelated matter.
"Like the rider on secrecy, shoved into a large bill, that actually caught Dick Armey's eye. That's another issue where people are all over the map. Congress wants to see where the administration sits on student visa policy," Goldston explained.
Dan Vergano, a science writer for USA Today, agreed with Goldston's forecast.
"For a science reporter the elections don't make a big difference. Scientists get very nervous about their money and tend to overreact to changes and new elections. The fights will be on the margin- like advisory committee meeting appointments and arguments over stem cells and cloning," Vergano said. "No one is going to cut the budget for physical sciences."
The three speakers were in agreement that deficit politics and war would matter most. And although the Republicans have a majority, it won't be enough. It takes 60 votes to pass contested matters through the Senate, and that is true no matter which party is in control. Thus, despite a super-size Republican majority, the direction of critical votes will be dictated by moderates from both parties.
"There's no conflict between parties concerning science and technology policy," Goldston said. "But the general state of things will remain difficult because of the overall divide in the country."
The Office of Science and Technology Policy has taken the lead in addressing the issue of monitoring visas to foreign students pursuing science and engineering degrees. Goldston doubts there will be any legislation drafted on the issue because it would be difficult to make changes to law passed by Congress. Instead he foresees a lot of discussion and more Congressional hearings.
19 November 2002
For more information about advisory committee appointments, federal R&D policy, and appropriations bills, see AAAS R&D website.