Gibbons Repudiates Republican Policies; Department of Science

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Publication date: 
20 April 1995
Number: 
55

The partisan controversy over setting science and technology policy
in tight fiscal times welled up at the April 12-14 Colloquium on
Science and Technology, sponsored by the American Association for
the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Presidential Science Advisor
John Gibbons, the keynote speaker, abandoned his usual equable
demeanor to vigorously defend the Administration's science policies
and blast Republican plans to cut science and technology programs.
Excerpts from his speech are highlighted below.  "//" indicates
that paragraphs have been combined for brevity.

"As I stand here today,...I can't help but think a year ahead to
what next year's keynote speaker will be saying about the 1995
year-in-science.  Will that speaker be able to say that 1995 was
the year America ceded leadership in science and technology to
foreign competitors, or that America retained and bolstered its
lead?...//  These are not idle questions.  What has played out over
the past 100 days in Congress for those who follow science policy
is a clear dichotomy between some in Congress who desire to cut
government at any cost, versus the Administration's commitment to
cutting the deficit while boosting overall productivity and
investing in the future."

"...despite [proposed] deep cuts in virtually every other domestic
discretionary account, research funding actually has risen modestly
-- a signal of the Administration's commitment to science and
technology as the engine of growth in jobs, the economy, and our
quality of life.  And basic research received the greatest
percentage increase....//  In this middle of the fiscal pain, the
Administration has held fast to the principle of wise investment in
science and technology - not because it's a good thing
politically,...but because it's important and the President and
Vice President believe in it.

"This kind of priority-setting - difficult as it is - represents
the actions of deliberate and dedicated government, husbanding and
making careful, multiple use of the resources for the future of our
children and our grandchildren....//  Crafting such a vision
requires great care.  It cannot be done by a Congress motivated
solely by the desire to move dollar signs from one side of the
ledger to another.  It cannot be done in 100 days, or in 200 days,
for that matter.  It cannot be done by simple fiat or decree.  It
cannot be done by a Congress so weary it can't see straight; so
driven that it doesn't even have time to read the material on which
it is about to vote.

"It must not be done with a meat ax when the precision of a scalpel
is necessary.//  Yet the spectre of finishing the first session of
the 104th Congress with S&T resources slashed by a meat ax is a
real one.  In their rush to cut government,...some Members have
launched a wholesale attack on anything that isn't nailed to the
table -- including R&D, and especially the `D' in R&D.//  The cuts
we've seen already are nothing compared to what they are thinking
about doing:  The Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep.
[John] Kasich [R-Ohio], recently released an `illustrative list' of
cuts for next year's budget, in which the toll for science and
technology was a whopping $2.5 billion.  Over the next five years,
it's targeting $13 billion."

"Now, I don't want to raise the false expectation that we in the
Administration will be able to completely insulate science and
technology from the real fiscal pressures that will drive the next
decade of budget policy....  There will be cuts; R&D will have to
take some of them.  But the cuts should be judicious and managed,
not across-the-board salvos that wreak havoc throughout the
research enterprise.//  My hope is that wise heads in Congress will
intervene....  But my fear is that history will record that
extremists in Congress prevailed."

"One of their preeminent proposals is the creation of a Department
of Science....//  Let me be very clear about one thing -- this
Administration unequivocally opposes the creation of a Department
of Science of the kind now being discussed in Congress....//
...the genius of U.S. science policy to date has been its
recognition that pluralism of support and diversity of performers
allows the crucial freedom of enquiry that unleashes the creative
spirit of our world-class researchers and their students.  The
proposal to create a Department of Science flies in the face of
this pluralism by instituting a command-and-control model of rigid
bureaucracy. 

"We are all in favor of making science more responsive to the needs
of the Nation.  But we believe the worst possible thing you can do
to policy and associated missions is to divorce them from a science
base....  Federal agencies depend on the feedback from research
that is inextricably linked to their mission.  There is no
productive way to unhitch science and policy.  Nor should we.  The
result will be poor science conducted in a vacuum and even poorer
policy."

"There is a good way to go about reform, and there is a bad way.
I venture to say that each of you has been trained in the good way
-- experiment, observe, and test your observations before
implementing innovation across the system.//  Is this the process
that we've seen at work in the Congress over the past 100 days?  It
is not.  Rather, we have seen dog-tired Members marching lockstep
ahead with their eyes fixed only on the end of the 100 Days.  Many
of the changes wrought by the House were passed without the benefit
of a single hearing, or at best with a minimal legislative
record....//  There is no hard evidence and there are no compelling
data to support abandoning our historic commitment to science and
technology.  Rather, at times this Congress seems to run screaming
from anything that looks like research or credible data...even
opting to eliminate their only bipartisan and bicameral resource
for S&T analysis, the Office of Technology Assessment."

"Science and technology programs in the 104th Congress are the
legislative equivalents of endangered species.  In Congress' rush
to slash government and lower taxes, we are in danger of losing the
very excellence in technology that has made our country the envy of
the world."

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