|HOUSE KICKS OFF NEW SCIENCE POLICY
Washington leaders in both the executive and legislative branches recognize the contribution that science and technology make toward expanding our knowledge and enhancing the state of our nation’s economy. This has led to debates about the future of the science and technology enterprise, and, more importantly, how much and where federal funding should be invested in order to secure our economic future. The prospect of a budget surplus for the first time in decades is tantalizing to those concerned with our nation’s investment in research and development (R&D).
The science community and congressional leaders in both chambers are calling for a doubling of federal R&D over the next five to ten years. In his budget request for FY 1999, President Clinton established a Research Fund for America, calling for an eight percent increase above FY 1998 levels (see page 1). The Research Fund for America includes most, but not all, domestic discretionary R&D programs. In the midst of debates and proposals for increased R&D spending, the concerned voice of Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) has stated that future science budgets “must be justified with a coherent, long term science policy that is consistent with the need for a balanced budget.”
Putting action behind his words, last fall Rep. Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Science Committee, launched a yearlong study “to develop a new, sensible, coherent long-range science and technology policy, including a review of our nation’s science and math education programs.” The Science Policy Study was commissioned by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Rep. Sensenbrenner, and will readdress the landmark Vannevar Bush report, “Science: The Endless Frontier.” The Bush report, presented to President Truman by his science advisor in 1945, discussed the important role of the federal government in research and development. The ideological perspective laid out in the report became the foundation for over fifty years of federal support for research in military weapon systems, space exploration, health and medicine, agriculture and transportation.
With the end of the Cold War, many policymakers have called for a reconsideration of the role of government, industry and academia in supporting science and technology to better reflect the environment we live in today. While numerous scholarly reports have recommended various options for a post-Vannevar Bush science policy, the House Science Committee study is the first time that Congress has attempted to address this issue since the mid-1980s.
Both Rep. Gingrich and Rep. Sensenbrenner have tapped Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), vice-chairman of the House Science Committee, to lead the study. In his opening remarks to launch the event, Rep. Ehlers stated that his goal is to prepare a “concise, coherent, and comprehensive” document by the end of the session. The report could become legislation, in the form of a joint resolution or authorizing bill, if the Senate and the White House buy in to it. In an effort to maintain bipartisan interest, congressional staffers from both parties have been assigned to assist Rep. Ehlers in this task. The goal is to complete the study by June in order to obtain the necessary legislative support.
Rep. Ehlers launched the yearlong study by conducting two roundtable
discussions. The first discussion involved almost thirty renowned
scientists and policy experts; the second involved young, early career
scientists. Rep. Ehlers generated a comprehensive list of questions designed
to enable the study team to prepare a long-term vision for science and
technology policy for the next century. These questions, which were
posed to the scientists and policy experts that participated in the kick-off
events, centered on topics such as: the role of government in supporting
research; encouraging industry investment; enhancing collaborative research
partnerships between government, industry and academia; contributing to
international cooperation in research; and national needs for science and
math education. In addition to the panel of experts, the Science
Committee is interested in reaching out to the general public to contribute
to the process. Readers are encouraged to respond to the same questions
posed to the experts on the Science Policy Study web site at http://www.house.gov/science/science_policy_study.htm.