On June 30, OSTP Director John Marburger held a conference call to answer questions about, and discuss progress toward implementing, President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). "There's a lot happening," he remarked, "and we're very pleased at the tremendous support that the initiative has received" from Congress and from industry organizations.
Marburger praised House appropriators Frank Wolf (R-VA) and David Hobson (R-OH) for having "led the way" in fully funding, as part of the ACI, the White House requests for DOE's Office of Science, NIST's in-house laboratories, and NSF in several FY 2007 appropriations bills recently passed by the House (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/068.html, http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/081.html, and http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/084.html ). Marburger added that he had "heard some good things" regarding Senate appropriators' intentions for those programs. Addressing other components of the ACI, Marburger thought that the tax reconciliation bill would include a one-year, but not permanent, extension of the Research and Experimentation (R&E) tax credit. While the House's stalled Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill does not incorporate all of the President's ACI initiatives for the Department of Education, Marburger reported that a National Math Panel and an Academic Competitiveness Council (to evaluate federal education programs) have been established by other means.
Asked what his metrics were for success in implementation of the ACI, Marburger said, "We're going to measure success by the number of things that we get done, not the number of things we can't get done." He suggested that the Administration would try again next year if it did not get "full implementation" this year of all the components of the ACI. On bringing top foreign scientists and other high-tech workers to the U.S., he said the President believes the H1B visa issue should be addressed through a comprehensive immigration bill. Regarding the National Academies' recommendation to establish within DOE an "ARPA-E," modeled after DARPA, Marburger argued that "the whole context for development of technology is very, very different" and that the DARPA model, in which the Defense Department is the primary customer, was not appropriate for the energy sector, in which other market forces play a major role.
Marburger explained that NASA and NIH were not included as components of the ACI because it was "urgent" to get more money to areas, such as physical sciences research within NSF, DOE, and NIST, that had been underfunded for years. While NIH and NASA were important, he said, their funding is "much closer to what they need." Asked why the ACI's math and science education component focused more on the Department of Education than on NSF's Education and Human Resources Directorate, Marburger said that the Education Department "has the broadest, biggest impact on the actual educational programs in the schools," while NSF's educational role has traditionally been more research-based. He commented, though, that he expected NSF's education programs to benefit from the ACI proposal to increase NSF's budget.
In a reference to House and Senate authorization bills that address NSF education and workforce programs (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/079.html), he added that he did not believe "additional authorizations are necessary for the National Science Foundation to spend money on those things." Marburger remarked that his main concern with the various competitiveness bills in Congress was that they "try to put too much in," and could dissipate the impact of the ACI. "That's the only concern I have," he said; "I'm just very, very gratified by the responsiveness of Congress." He added that the theme of the ACI was to focus on the highest priorities, and "we can come back in later years...and try to implement some of the other very good ideas out there." Asked whether he planned to remain in office through the end of President Bush's second term, Marburger replied, "I have no plans to be elsewhere."