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FYI Number 68: June 1, 2001

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Speakers Offer Perspectives on S&T

"The science part of the Bush budget is the weakest" former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a symposium meeting at the National Science Foundation on May 21 and 22. Gingrich was the keynote speaker at this symposium on a new report issued by the National Science Board (see forthcoming FYI for information on the report.)

Gingrich's message was pragmatic: "scientists have to act like citizens," they "don't have the luxury of being above the fray," and "in a free society, if you don't educate, who will?"

The former Speaker's second major point was that science funding must be dramatically increased, with science programs managed more effectively. He described a national security panel on which he served (see FYI # 34) that found that the number two threat to U.S. security was inadequate investment in S&T and ineffective math and science education. Gingrich was optimistic about science's potential, predicting more will be discovered in the next twenty-five years than in the last century. We should "think big" he said, and called for a tripling of the NSF budget. His biggest mistake as Speaker, Gingrich admitted, was not including NSF in the NIH doubling strategy.

Better educating the Congress and Administration about science is vital, Gingrich said, adding that "personal contact and personal dialogue matter." Convince about 220 representatives and 60 senators, Gingrich predicted, and "you will change the world."

Offering a different perspective was a career employee from the Office of Management and Budget. "How this process is going to evolve in this administration is still an open question" she said. She added that priority setting is a messy, sometimes political exercise, with President Bush's campaign promises to elevate NIH and defense spending the controlling factor in the FY 2002 request. Limits on spending will mean tradeoffs, this official warned. Regarding the 1.3% requested increase for NSF, this official though that it was not intentionally low, but derivative from the budget process. While the administration is now more sensitive about NSF, ("the message has been heard"), she would only predict that the next request may change from the no-growth budget that is now projected. "Scientists themselves must make the case with politicians and the public," she declared.

A senior staffer from the House Science Committee said that Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) hopes to increase S&T budgets, although, he said, the process will reflect political reality. Significantly increasing future S&T spending will involve a great deal of work, he predicted. A senior staffer from the Senate Appropriations Committee had good and bad news: S&T is the least political, most bipartisan issue on the Hill, but there is insufficient support for it in Congress and the White House. Key appropriators are personally excited about science, he said, citing Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens' (R-AK) keen interest in neutrinos, climate change, and nanotechnology. Saying that it was the committee's job to rewrite the budget request, this staffer went on to characterize patients' rights groups advocating for NIH increases as "extremely effective." About the future he was less sure, saying that he did not have enough faith in either the Bush Administration or Congress to be certain that S&T spending would not be shortchanged in coming years.

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3095

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