Earlier this week, the President's Committee of Advisors on Science
and Technology (PCAST) held their second meeting. As expected,
there was considerable discussion about the changes which have
occurred in Washington since their first meeting last fall, and
what these changes portend for federal science and technology
policy and funding.
PCAST has 19 members drawn from academia and industry, and is
co-chaired by OSTP Director John Gibbons and John Young, former
president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co. The entire committee
meets at approximately 100 day intervals, with more frequent
meetings of various working groups. PCAST provides science and
technology advice to the president.
Gibbons opened the meeting by discussing administration efforts to
reduce the deficit, saying that the schedule for balancing the
federal budget "will frame a lot of debate" in Congress. "How to
create and sustain" investment in science and technology while
cutting the deficit will be a challenge, Gibbons warned.
Initial discussion focused on young investigators in health
research, university funding, basic v. applied research, and the
advanced technology program (ATP). Regarding ATP and DOD's TRP
program, Gibbons admitted that supporters "haven't been describing
these things very well." "People who know these issues are losing
the language battle," one participant noted. To counter criticism
of these programs it was agreed that PCAST should take a more
M.R.C. Greenwood of OSTP (who is leaving this position) gave a
candid presentation on fundamental science policy and funding. She
described the current mood in Congress as "anything you can cut I
can cut better." Greenwood discussed the possibility of changing
agency mission roles, and how this could create holes in federal
support of research. She cautioned that various budget reductions
could result in "dying the death of a million cuts."
Other topics at the first day's meeting were the role of science
and technology in national security, and various initiatives in
sustainable development, health, education, and high performance
computing and communications.
During the afternoon session, NASA Director Daniel Goldin discussed
the just-released findings of a task force on the agency's
restructuring (to be covered in a future FYI.) Charles Curtis,
Undersecretary of the Department of Energy, briefed PCAST members
on the national laboratory task force report, saying that "we
remain open" about corporatizing the labs (although he did not seem
overly enthusiastic about this proposal.) Craig Dorman of the
Department of Defense discussed a review of DOD research units.
All of these efforts will be combined into a report to be given to
President Clinton within the next few months.
The second day of the PCAST meeting open to the public was devoted
to a discussion with House Science Committee Chairman Robert Walker
(R-PA) and ranking minority member George Brown (D-CA). Their
remarks, and reactions to them, with be the subject of FYI #48.
Also covered in a future FYI will be formation of a new PCAST
working group on fusion energy.
At the conclusion of the PCAST meeting a statement was released.
It stated, "Funding for science and technology programs is our
nation's most fundamental investment in our future and our
children's future.... In the debate over national spending
priorities, we must take time to assess carefully the impact of
proposed cuts on our Nation's ability to maintain world-class
science and technology..... We must lead the pack or lose the race
-- and the jobs that go with it.... In the face of mounting
pressure to reduce science and technology spending, PCAST supports
our National commitment to maintain a robust R&D portfolio. The
President must promote this investment as essential for our
nation's long term prosperity and security."