Walker and Brown Speak at Presidential Science Advisors Meeting

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Publication date: 
31 March 1995
Number: 
48

On the second day of this week's meeting of the President's
Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), there was
an hour long discussion with two invited guests: House Science
Committee Chairman Robert Walker (R-PA) and ranking minority member
George Brown (D-CA).  Walker's views are important not only because
he chairs this committee, but also because he is vice chairman of
the House Budget Committee.

Walker began by saying that he is limited in his policy options
because of the budget situation, and described as "real" House
Republican efforts to balance the budget by 2002.  Science "will be
part of that new calculation," he said.  Walker called for a "sense
of prioritization.... That is the message I have been trying to
send."

The House Budget Committee may call for the elimination of the
Departments of Energy and Commerce, Walker stated.  If that occurs,
plans must be made for moving the weapons labs and the energy
research functions of DOE.  It would "not be a very good marriage"
for the National Science Foundation to take on the energy research
function, he contended.  As a possible alternative Walker proposed
the establishment of a new Department of Science (see below for a
legislative history of a previous attempt by Walker for such a
department.)  While this would entail some problems, it also has
distinct advantages, Walker said, adding that House Budget
Committee Chairman John Kasich (R-OH) was giving it some attention.

In response to questions, Walker called for making the R&D tax
credit permanent, and exploring the possibility of using it as an
incentive for businesses to assist in academic infrastructure
modernization and instrumentation.  When asked about the funding of
basic and applied research, he replied that "the issue here is
prioritization," with basic science support as the prime federal
role.

Rep. Brown said that he is in agreement with Walker on 75-80% of
science policy issues, citing the SSC and the space station as
examples.  He spoke of the tightness of the job market and future
education and employment alternatives.  It is clear, he said, that
the days of the "open spigot" of federal money have ended. 

When asked about the space station, both representatives were
supportive, although Brown cautioned that budget competition could
overtake the program.  Walker predicted that as long as the White
House continues to support the space station it will survive.  Both
felt that an authorizing bill would ensure a long term commitment
for the program.

In a briefing following the PCAST meeting, PCAST co-chairs John
Gibbons and John Young tried to temper what seems to be rapid
movement to recast the federal structure supporting science and
technology.  Young said that a new Department of Science is usually
proposed during every big government shake-up, and spoke of an
"overheated sense of urgency."  "Haste can make waste," Gibbons
added.  Young felt that there is not a "compelling case" for such
a new department, but added he would be interested in hearing one.
Gibbons noted that the administration's National Science and
Technology Council coordinated federal programs, and that the
administration was saving money through its efforts to reinvent
government.  This proposal, Gibbons concluded, "needs a little more
thought."

Chairman Walker's proposal to create a new Department of Science
dates back at least two years.  In March of 1993 he introduced
legislation to establish a Department of Science, Space, Energy,
and Technology.  It would have transferred to this new department
NASA, NIST, NSF, NOAA, EPA, the National Technical Information
Service, "all but certain facilities of the Department of Energy,
renamed the National Energy Administration," and the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration.  H.R. 1300 was
cosponsored by Rep. George Brown, and Rep. Steven Schiff (R-NM).
Schiff is now chairman of the House science subcommittee with
jurisdiction over the NSF.  The bill had 12 cosponsors, and was
referred to the House Government Operations Committee, which never
held a hearing.  This is not entirely surprising, since the
committee was under the control of a Democratic chairman at the
time.  That situation has, of course, changed.  How much support
now exists for this concept is an unknown; key Members on both
sides of the Capitol have expressed support for retaining the
Department of Energy.  Also unknown is how such a cabinet-level
department would ultimately affect science policy and funding. 

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