Aboard Air Force One: Press Briefing by Neal Lane and Rita Colwell OSTP Director Neal Lane and NSF Director Rita Colwell accompanied President Clinton on Air Force One last week to Los Angeles and the California Institute of Technology. At Cal Tech, the President announced his intention to request a significant increase in FY 2001 research funding (see FYI #8.) Lane and Colwell made the following remarks while the plane was en route to Los Angeles:
LANE ON NANOTECHNOLOGY:
"And in this budget he's [President Clinton] going to propose a new initiative on nanotechnology. And nanotechnology may not be something that everybody talks about every day, but they will, because it's really the whole next generation in manufacturing and in applications [and in a]...whole variety of societal needs. So what is nanotechnology all about? It's really about miniaturization of technologies, from computing to medical diagnostics to environmental monitoring. Almost every area you can think of that could benefit from making things smaller, cheaper, with lower power requirements will benefit from nanotechnology.
"Now, of course, what the federal government is going to do is make the investment in the basic research, in the long-term research, where industry generally does not invest. That's our role. That's our partnership with the private sector. And so this is a new initiative. It's a grass-roots initiative. The scientists and engineers have been anxious to do more research in this area for a long time. Industry needs the new knowledge and the new technologies. So we're very excited about it. The President is very excited about it."
COLWELL ON THE REQUEST'S IMPLICATIONS FOR BALANCED RESEARCH FUNDING:
"So this is an historic event.... Scientists and engineers throughout the country are going to be ecstatic at learning that we are now moving toward addressing what has been becoming an imbalance between investment in biomedical research and the other research in physics, in chemistry, in mathematics and biology and the social sciences. We need the investment in these areas because from that basic research come the magnetic resonance imaging, the MRIs, come the advances in being able to devise drug treatment tailored to an individual using molecular structure analysis....
"So it's through the basic research...we do that's so important in physics, in mathematics, in chemistry and biology, that leads to the medical advances. And so we'll be able to invest this new money in these areas to bring a better balance into the basic sciences in the biomedical science investment."
COLWELL AND LANE ON THE LIKELY CONGRESSIONAL RESPONSE TO REQUEST:
COLWELL: "Let me just comment that I have found, in this year and a half that I have been staff director, that there is very strong bipartisan support and recognition of the fundamental contribution of basic research to the betterment of society and certainly to the economy. When Alan Greenspan continually says that at least 70 percent of our economic boom is due to technological advances, I think everyone across the country gets it."
LANE: "Science and technology has been an area that garnered strong bipartisan support and it should, because it's so clear from every study, every kind of data, economic analysis, that the federal investment in science and technology is about as good an investment as you can possibly make with the American taxpayer's money. And Republicans don't disagree with us on that, and Democrats don't disagree. So I think if there is any area of government where you can expect the two parties to get together, this is it. So I expect a very positive response, and what I've seen in the paper, in very early responses, in the Congress, pretty positive about the President bringing this unprecedented budget request in science and technology to the Congress. ...Rita and I have both had conversations with key members of Congress on this issue, and the response has been very positive."
LANE AND COLWELL ON THE SIZE OF FEDERAL AND PRIVATE INVESTMENT IN R&D:
LANE: "... when the President and Vice President came in at the beginning of the administration, they challenged the country to invest 3 percent of the GDP on research and development. And at that time, the number was probably 2.6 percent. So this was a huge gap. We are approaching 2.9 percent right now of GDP. If you add together all of the national investment, public and private, in research and development, we are approaching 2.9 percent. That's a big increase."
COLWELL: "We're working our way up to what the investment really should be in basic research. This is a very, very good budget and I think it's getting us on the right track toward where we need to go."
LANE ON THE IMPORTANCE OF FEDERAL INVESTMENT IN RESEARCH:
"My view is, the federal investment is so clearly in the best interest of the country, that if you can afford it - and that's a decision that the President has to make with the Congress - if you can afford it, you want to increase the federal investment in R&D, particularly the basic research. Because every economic analysis that I know says that if you track that downstream the pay-off from that investment for the country - not for one company - but for the whole country is as high as any kind of investment you can make with that money."
Richard M. Jones