The Edge of Change
To describe this particular point in time, we need to view it from two distinct vantage points: the science and technology view and the public policy view. What is happening from both perspectives and how do we move forward from where we are?
Changing Our Thinking
Thomas Kuhn observed in his essay The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that during changes in scientific thinking, time-honored, accepted ways of conceiving of the world seem to suddenly give way to others. When this happens, the world no longer looks the same. Aristotle's analysis of motion, Ptolemy's computations of planetary position, or Newton's view of the universe served for many generations to define the accepted understanding of the world. But with further experimentation and exploration these time-honored beliefs gave way to new laws, new theories, and new ways with which we think about our world.
In this century, we have seen many different advances in science, and these in turn have, in many instances, changed how we conceived of our world. Our concepts of who we are and where we are, as well as the tools available to improve or destroy ourselves have changed dramatically. We split the atom and realized the prospect of an unlimited source of energy, but also the horror of unimaginable annihilation. We uncovered the fundamental structure of DNA and, with it, revealed the blueprint for growth, change, and development of living things. We peered deep into the heavens and observed that our home planet Earth spins in the midst of a rapidly expanding universe. And we harnessed space and electromagnetism to communicate audiovisual, textual, and numerical information around the globe.
In our time, it is not only what we are learning, but how quickly knowledge is expanding. And the rate of discovery continues to grow at an extraordinary pace. During the past year, the headlines of scientific and technological change have been staggering:
If, for each of these discoveries, we were able to freeze time and take a snapshot of the state of affairs, we might assemble a gallery of photographs that I would title "the edge of change." Key scientific discoveries throughout history have pivoted on a particular flash of understanding. One example is that insightful moment when Archimedes was in his bathtub and realized that he was displacing a volume of water equivalent to his body's volume. The precise moment when the reality of the world dawned on Archimedes is what I call the "edge of change."
Changes in the Budget Process
I believe we are on that same edge of change in our federal political and budget process. Historically, decision makers have focused discretionary budgetary discussions on four or five key areas, including education, defense, crime, and health care. Today, I believe we are seeing the emergence of a new player at the tableScience and Technology. For those of us close to science and technology and its policy issues, the fact that S&T belongs at the table is not a new or shocking discovery. We have understood the details of the S&T policy role from our own disciplines and fields. It has been intuitive. Yet our intuition has not been widely shared with policymakers and voters. However, the growing understanding that science and technology underpin our well-being and security, the widening role of science and technology in public policy, and the expanding audience now turning to science and technology to address the challenges of the day represent a whole new wave of discovery. We must seize this moment.
Science and technology can no longer be viewed solely as a special interest represented by disciplines, researchers, and institutions that sometimes compete with each other. The impact of the sum of the advances made possible by science and technology on our world is overwhelming:
In the first days of their Administration, President Clinton and Vice President Gore recognized the overwhelming and fundamental importance of science and technology to our Nation's prosperity and security; and they recognized that we stood on the edge of change. The Administration fought to protect the Nation's investment in science and technology through the difficult days of tough budget-balancing decisions. In addition to the balanced-budget constraints, we also faced a period, not very long ago, during which discussions on the federal S&T budget were marked by rancorous partisan debate. Now, support for investing in science and technology comes from both sides of the aisle, from all points on the political compass, and from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The President's leadership and commitment has paid off. He has submitted to Congress a balanced budget3 years ahead of schedule. It is the first time in 30 years a budget has been submitted to Congress that is in balance. It also contains the largest civilian R&D dollar request ever. The Administration's R&D investments cover the range of activities and disciplines that make up our S&T enterprise. Certainly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) receives a healthy share of the increases, but almost every technical agency sees growth over the next 5 years. The President's budget recognizes that it is essential to invest across the full spectrum of the scientific and engineering fields. Biomedical progress depends not only on advances in chemistry and biology, but also on progress in physics, engineering, computing, and mathematics. That is why the President's investment strategy spans the broadest array of scientific disciplines and extends throughout the R&D spectrumfrom basic to applied research, and from civilian to defense activities.
The Administration's proposed FY 1999 investments in research and developmenta total of $78.2 billionboosts funding over FY 1998 levels by 8 percent for basic research, 5 percent for applied research, and 6 percent for university-based research. The President calls for the largest increases in the histories of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), two of our flagship research agencies. Further, the budget continues the President's commitment to a 50/50 split between civilian and defense R&D, moving civilian R&D up to 48 percent of the total.
The centerpiece of the President's R&D proposal is the 21st Century Research Fund. This $31 billion fund is deficit-neutral. It provides for increases in most of the federal government's civilian research programsNSF, NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Departments of Energy, Commerce, and Agriculture, among others. The Fund will grow at an overall rate of 8 percent in FY 1999, and climb by 32 percent over the next 5 years.
Let me repeat: The Research Fund is deficit-neutral. Every increase in a discretionary program in the Fund is fully paid for through new revenue streams (e.g., tobacco legislation) and savings in mandatory programs. Balancing our budget remains a priority for our Nation and we must pay for the choices we make. Our increased S&T investments are fully paid for; we will fight for our full budget request.
In Congress, the discovery of science and technology as a broad national interest is beginning to gain some momentum. Some voices are calling for a doubling of the R&D investment over 10 years. Recently I was at a Senate hearing where six Senators came forward to discuss the health and future of our national R&D enterprise. It was a bipartisan group. All of them want to move the R&D budget into a central policy position, into the inner circle of political priorities. The Administration supports the sentiment of such efforts and we will work with Congress to figure out how to turn this sentiment into reality. We must also realize, though, that in the center ring, we must deal with the political and budget realities facing us.
To be more specific, the Senate Resolution calling for a doubling of the R&D budget in 10 years has none of the spending specifics attached. But the details are much more concrete in the transportation bill. This bill is a real threat to R&D funding increases. The threat is written in concrete. And asphalt. And more highway demonstration projects. The transportation bill that is now in conference spends nearly $34 billion above the transportation proposal in the President's budget. It has the potential of crowding out the R&D budget. We may find ourselves looking straight into the eyes of last summer's budget numbers that, in the wake of the Balanced Budget Agreement, threatened to come in lower than FY 1998 proposed or enacted. In fact, depending on how Congress decides to pay for the transportation bill, we could be looking at significant reductions. And, let us not kid ourselves, a very large transportation bill will pass in the very near future. But Congress should not lose sight of the importance of R&D to this country. We must be a strong voice ensuring that this point is made.
When I started this chapter, I raised an important questionwhere do we go from here? On the edge of change, how do we make sure we leap forward and not fall backward? How do we avoid getting stuck in cement? The moment of discovery is always a vulnerable one as the new way of thinking challenges the old, and room must be made at the table. If Science and Technology is to be considered a dominant category in our national budget process, wepolicymakers, scientists, engineers, and citizensmust provide the additional energy necessary for realizing this change.
Can we make this investment leap? I can answer for the Administration. The President has. And we will fight for this budget and his increased investments in R&D.
Can the political process in Congress maintain and nurture the growing bipartisan interest to put science and technology front and center? Can the number grow from 6 Senators who broadly champion science and technology to 60?
Can the public's increasing interest in science and technology be transformed into a constituency that supports a sustained and strong science and technology investment?
These are questions that challenge all of us to do more. Scientists' instincts and intuition on science and technology have been on target: Science and technology must move into the larger political world and take its rightful seat in the national debate. The President and Vice President support this move. We hear similar support in Congress. The edge of change is before us. Let us seize the moment now.
Kerri-Ann Jones is associate director for national security and international affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. This article is based on remarks delivered at the 23rd Annual AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy, held April 29May 1, 1998, in Washington, DC.