House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) recently held a briefing at which he offered his candid views on pending science and technology policy issues. Excerpts follow:
PRIORITIES OF SCIENCE COMMITTEE: "First and foremost, everyone's attention is focused on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board and what it is doing. I want to commend Admiral [Harold] Gehman and his team of very able independent professionals, and I underscore able and independent. We are working with them right now." "They expect . . . to have a report to us just prior to the August recess." Also, "We're going to have hearings on university nuclear engineering programs." Finally, pledging to monitor conferee action on the energy legislation, Boehlert said, "I am very proud of the provisions that we provided from the Science Committee - they were quite universally embraced."
BOEHLERT'S ASSESSMENT OF THE SHUTTLE INVESTIGATION BOARD: "It's not just finding out what went wrong . . . but it's looking deeper into the culture of NASA." "I have a high degree of confidence in the thoroughness of the product that we will get from the Gehman Commission. . . . calling them as they see them."
FUTURE OF THE SHUTTLE: "Do I think . . . [there] is a critical mass that jeopardizes the future of any funding for the space shuttle program? I think the answer is clearly no." "In general, I am confident that the shuttle will fly again. I can't tell you when. I think the schedule outlined by NASA falls more into the category of 'wishful thinking. . . we're talking about [FY] 04 sometime." "I do not share the optimism voiced in some quarters that this will be the vehicle to serve our needs for the next generation. I define generation as twenty years. I think, quite frankly, that NASA's got to get its act together with the space orbital plane, and tell us exactly what it's proposing, and justifying that proposal." "I think there is widespread support for a replacement vehicle. The orbital space plane might be it . . . The jury in this instance in this committee is still out."
INDEPENDENCE OF SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARDS: "I've been in this business for almost forty years." "The fact of the matter is, I don't think the problem is any more or any less than it has been in previous administrations regardless of party affiliation."
ATP AND MEP FUNDING: "I am less than enthused about how some of the programs that I have favored consistently have been treated. [The] Advanced Technology Program, for example, is zeroed out in the budget [request]. I think that should not be. I think it's very iffy if ATP can survive. The Manufacturing Extension Program. I have long been enamored of that. That too is zeroed out, although I am more confident of its future than I am in respect of ATP."
CAN PHYSICAL SCIENCE R&D BE INCREASED BY TAPPING INTO NIH INCREASES: "No, I think the NIH investment is almost sacred for a very understandable reason. Most of people look at the investment we are making in NIH and don't give it a second thought - 'Aye' they vote. Because they look at people with a whole host of problems that research is addressing at NIH and say, 'there but for the grace of God go I.'"
PROSPECTS FOR NANOTECHNOLOGY LEGISLATION: "I think they are very good. You saw what happened with our bill and that moved through in short order. We are working very closely with Senator [Ron]Wyden [D- OR] over in the Senate, and we anticipate that his measure will be on the fast track." "The relationship between the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction has never been stronger." "You can [now] find a lot more people on the Hill in positions of responsibility who can tell you a little something about what nanotechnology is."
ON THE ROLE OF APPROPRIATORS: "I used to long for the call that I had been named to the Appropriations Committee. I am not sure I would take that same call today . . . . Because they've got a God- awful job. Very difficult. We've got our work cut out for us - we've got to convince them. We're going to be working on that."