The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology met in Washington this week. Recently augmented, PCAST now has 35 members, and is co-chaired by OSTP Director John Marburger and E. Floyd Kvamme, a technology venture capitalist.
Two presentations during this meeting were of particular note as they provide insight into the Administration's thinking on research funding. During the morning session, Marburger gave a presentation on the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). In the afternoon, the council heard from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman about his department's role in the ACI and the Advanced Energy Initiative.
Marburger began his presentation by telling PCAST members that they were "an important force in shaping S&T policy in America." An example of the council's influence was its issuance of several reports before the National Academies well-publicized report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/155.html.) Marburger said the ACI was not a direct response to the Academies' report, but was informed by it.
The ACI is, Marburger stated, a new rationale for physical sciences' funding in post-Cold War America. He then made an important point: that the Initiative is keyed to research that will promote competitiveness. While NASA and NIH research are very important, and can expect future budget increases, the ACI is a "priority ordered program" that reflects the fiscal reality that there is "not a lot of money to spend on everything." Marburger later expanded this point as it applied to DOE Office of Science programs. He commented that high energy physics and nuclear physics research are important and cited societal contributions they have made such as in the development of the Internet and advanced computing. But DOE's Basic Energy Sciences program is key, Marburger said, as its research is closely aligned with competitiveness.
Bodman's remarks reinforced these comments. The secretary explained, "The ACI is the significant investment needed to produce transformational technologies to help us achieve the President's goals. It will strengthen the foundation of our economy because it strengthens the foundations of science and science education. It cannot be said often enough: basic scientific research leads to innovations that improve people's lives." After discussing DOE's proposed work in ethanol production and the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, Bodman reiterated his perspective on his department's research programs. Note his first sentence:
"The American people, the taxpayers, expect more from basic science research than new knowledge alone. We expect and I believe that the investments being made today will one day result in countless additional benefits -- benefits to our health, our national defense, our productivity and economic expansion, and our energy security. Our scientific investments have already produced significant results in the technological arena, in medicine and health care, in enhanced economic competitiveness and in the creation of new intellectual capital; all of which have helped improve the American people's quality of life."