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Remarks by former U.S. Representative John E. Porter to the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy
9 May 2008
I am neither a scientist nor an academic, but a science advocate. I am therefore not going to talk with you about the substance of science policies, but rather how to get the ones you want adopted.
This is what I do at Hogan & Hartson—I advise universities, research institutions, hospitals, professional societies, health and education associations and others how to get their goals adopted into law or funded or both.
So, I want to talk both government and politics with you.
In so doing, you are entitled to know where I'm coming from. So, at the outset, I want you to know I'm a moderate Republican. Yes, that endangered species.
When Republicans won control of the House of Representatives as a result of the 1994 election, I suddenly, and I have to say, unexpectedly, became chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee which funds all federal life sciences.
At that point, I had been on the subcommittee for 14 years and was the senior or ranking member on the minority side. The subcommittee's jurisdiction includes the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) on the research side, and Medicare, Medicaid, mental health, substance abuse, community health centers, and much more on the health delivery side.
I had the privilege of working with the directors of NIH, CDC, and AHRQ, the directors of the individual institutes and centers at NIH and other prominent scientists for 20 years as a member of the subcommittee, the last six of those years as chairman. As you can imagine, I gained a great respect and admiration for and appreciation of science and scientists, which began when I was a student at MIT.
And when I speak of science broadly, I am always speaking of the life and physical sciences, of biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science—all of science.
Since I retired from Congress, I am grateful that these science relationships have continued.
Through Research!America (it's a verb and an imperative), the related Campaign for Medical Research and the Campaign for Public Health, and working with AAAS and other organizations, I work every day as an active advocate for NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy Office of Science, AHRQ, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and all science research and its funding.
But for the last seven years, it has been very tough sledding.
At a time when scientific opportunity has never been greater, we have had, or will have, if the president's budget for this fiscal year were to be adopted, six straight years of miniscule increases—translation: real decreases—for federal science research.
In the last five fiscal years:
AHRQ has a decrease in real terms;
NSF has increased at about the rate of inflation—meaning it has been completely stalled;
DoE Science has increased only slightly faster;
CDC has had not only a real decrease in its core programs, it has had a nominal decrease as well, meaning it is going in reverse by any measurement;
NIH has had 13% real decrease in funding;
Only NIST has any kind of modest increase above inflation.
Taken together, these six agencies have seen increases at about half the rate of inflation, meaning, overall, they have had a real and substantial decrease in funding over the last five years.
Beyond this budgetary record, we have had an administration that at times has suppressed, rewritten, ignored, or abused scientific research.
We have had a president opposed to funding embryonic stem cell research and in favor of teaching Intelligent Design in the nation's public schools.
Bottom line: we have had an Administration where science has had little or no place at its table.
All of this has been devastating for the scientific community, our research institutions, and our younger scientists and their families.
It has stalled our scientific leadership at a time when global challenges to America's science and technology preeminence are growing every day.
It has helped to undermine our economic progress, which can, in my judgment, sustain and increase our living standards only through scientific research, technology, and innovation.
And not least, it has slowed progress toward discovery and thus toward better, longer, healthier, more secure, more productive lives for our citizens.
Now, when do we get mad? When do we say, like in that old movie, Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore?"
I have said repeatedly elections in America have a way of sorting things out. Already, the most fascinating primary season of my life has sorted out some things that we can celebrate.
We know that the next president of our country:
Will support embryonic stem cell research;
Won't favor teaching Intelligent Design in our schools;
Will respect scientific integrity and evidence-based research.
But it hasn't told us yet whether he or she will truly put science at the table, at his or her right hand, and whether research will be very high on their priority lists and reflected strongly in their budgets and speeches and policies.
Now, more is at stake than the presidency on November 4th. The entire 435 seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate is also up.
So, what can we do in the next six months to substantially increase the probability that we will have the right person in the White House and the right people in the Congress to put research at a very high priority in the next administration and the next Congress?
I'm talking about a lot more than voting on November 4th and paying your dues to the AAAS.
It was my honor to chair 2004 NAS committee on S&T presidential and federal advisory committee appointments. Professor Moniz [Ernst Moniz, another speaker on the AAAS Forum panel] was a member of that committee.
Our report, "Science & Technology in the National Interest"[link: http://books.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11152] should be read by you, at least the executive summary with our seven recommendations. Or, even better, wait for the report of the 2008 committee which I am also chairing. It will be out well before the general election
Although in early 2005 we went to see the people at the President's Office of Science & Technology Policy, and presented our report and urged its recommendations to be implemented, this administration did nothing.
So, what should you do now?
Not just relying on your people in Washington. Not just what should they do on your behalf. Because they can do only so much.
I'm talking about every single stakeholder in America who cares about American leadership and investments in science and research. Individually, I'm talking about you.
Get the lead scientists for the next Administration identified, committed and ready to go, as much as possible.
Find your candidate for Science Advisor to the President—your Neal Lane or Allen Bromley—as quickly as possible and get the scientific community prepared to quickly weigh in for him or her. This is the person who, when nominated and confirmed, becomes the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, hopefully a cabinet-level position in the next administration, as it was not in this one.
Identify and prepare your list of possible nominees for other top S&T positions. The NAS report will have a list of those positions which the committee, in its judgment, deems most important. These may number 55 or 60. That doesn't mean those candidates you propose, including the president's science advisor, will be the new president's selections. But it will certainly provide the new Administration with choices.
Insist the next administration reduce the financial and personal obstacles to government service. Push for the next administration to make the process for nominations and appointments to federal advisory committees more explicit and transparent.
Get the scientific community behind these and the other recommendations of the NAS committee. You know I have a bias, but I'm asking for your help. The report of the committee will be out, we expect, before September. We need to get the candidates' science people
Sign on to sciencedebate2008.com[link: www.sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php]. This is a site urging candidates to have an entire debate dedicated to science issues. Even if that doesn't happen, a huge number of individuals and organizations supporting it, sends a message to media that science is important to electorate, and they should be asking questions on science in the fall general election debates and on the campaign trail. You can sign on—it takes 60 seconds. Your institutions and other organizations can sign on, too.
Pick your favorite candidate—for president, Senate, Congress, governor, state senators and representatives. Call his or her campaign, tell them you'd like to help advise the candidate on science matters and issues. They'll love it. Tell them you'd like to be the candidate's science advisor or serve on his or her science advisory committee. If they say they don't have one, tell them you'll create one for them.
Chair it yourself and recruit your colleagues. Get inside their campaign, then press to put science into the candidate's messages to voters. Remember, less than 3% of Members of the U.S. House and Senate have any science background. They need all the help they can get. Your help! Once your candidate has won, offer to continue in your role to advise your new officeholder on science policy and funding questions.
Ask yourselves: Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the candidates had science advisors or advisory committees? They will, if individual scientists would step up to the plate.
If possible, don't concentrate all your efforts in one political party. You never know how elections will turn out. Six months ago, Hillary and Rudy were inevitable and John McCain was dead and buried.
Besides, you want both parties invested in the importance of science to America's future and committed to support science R&D. Support for science should be bipartisan. Don't fall into the Rove trap and be written off.
Log onto the science voter guides. Research!America has its YourCandidatesYourHealth.org[link: http://www.yourcandidatesyourhealth.org/]. It includes all federal candidates of both parties, including candidates for president. They are asked to answer questions on their positions on research and funding. PARADE magazine urges people to check our site and see if your candidates for House, Senate, and president responded. Check it and see. If they haven't, call their campaign and ask them to. You have a right to know where they stand.
Same with other science voter guides. The American Cancer Society has one going up soon, as I understand it, but only for presidential candidates. Have your professional society take steps to make the candidates accountable for your specific concerns.
Run for office yourself. It is disheartening to see so many public officials with so little knowledge of science. Bill Foster, a physicist, just ran for and won the House seat of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Mayo Clinic physician Brian Davis, a Republican, is running for Congress in Minnesota. If they can do it, you can do it.
If you can't bring yourself to do that, at least aim at a position of science policy in the next administration or a position on a federal advisory committee.
Write an op-ed about sciences issues and funding for your local paper. Create a science blog. Take your paper's science reporter out to lunch. Make a speech to your town's service club. Invite your Representative and Senators to campus to see your research.
In other words, use your creative powers to think of ways to bring the importance of science home to policymakers and public alike.
Change the culture of your institution. Scientists tell me that rewards and advancement for scientists depend on grants, research, teaching, and committees, or engagement with the broader scientific community. You need to add one more—public engagement. If you prefer to call it science policy engagement, fine.
thinking about the transition.
Scientists are, by every measure, the most respected people in America. But if the public and policymakers never hear your voices, never see scientists, never are exposed to science, never understand its methods, the chances of its being high on the list of national priorities will be very low.
Rising Above the Gathering Storm called our leaders to action: to put science at a higher priority; to increase physical science funding 10% per year for seven years; to get American kids inspired and educated in science and mathematics.
It called for urgent action. Nothing has happened.
The president put some good increases for NSF and NIST in his budget. Then he vetoed the bill providing for them, because it was over his budget number by less than 2%.
Now, do you get mad?
For decades science has been able to sit back and watch the appropriations roll in. Guess what? Those days are gone—no matter who is elected. Appropriations are all about choosing national priorities. And, incidentally, they are policy.
This president has chosen war in Iraq. Everything else—not just science, but education, child care, infrastructure, job training, literacy, aid to the disabled—everything else has languished. Those constituencies are just as frustrated as you are. And they aren't going to be sitting on their fingers.
We—all of us—must make the case, day in and day out, why all science research, technology, and innovation must be among the nation's highest priorities again. Why the director of OSTP should be a cabinet-level position, why he or she should sit at the right hand of the next president.
You can sit on your fingers or you can go outside your comfort zone and get into the game and make a difference for science. Research!America and I will help you with messaging, strategies, or in any way you wish. I know that AAAS and its outstanding leader, Alan Leshner, will also.
But neither we nor AAAS, nor any other group can do it all for you.
Science needs you. Your country needs you. America needs you, in the public arena, personally, fighting for science!
Thanks for listening to me.
30 May 2008