National Academies Committee Urges Changes in Process for Appointing S&T Positions A National Academies committee has identified obstacles to the appointment of federal senior level science and technology administrators, and has made recommendations for reducing these problems. One of their most important recommendations was that the next president appoint his Assistant to the President for Science and Technology as quickly as possible.
The findings and recommendations by a panel of the Academies Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy are contained in a concise eight-page report, supported by a twenty- page appendix. Mary Good chaired the panel which consisted of eleven well-known individuals who have helped to set science and technology policy in administrations going back to the Nixon years. Good and John McTague, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Reagan administration, gave a public briefing on the report.
"The report we are releasing today, 'Science and Technology in the National Interest: The Presidential Appointment Process,' concludes that there are too many obstacles to government service today, and that these obstacles have reduced the pool of talented people who are willing to serve in science and technology presidential appointments," said Good at this briefing. McTague added, "A new administration needs to move quickly to identify and nominate highly qualified scientists and engineers to fill key positions - beginning with the assistant to the president for science and technology." "Swift selection is also important for other S&T appointees, who need to be in office promptly - certainly by late spring or early summer - if they are to interact with Congress on the budget currently under discussion and to begin preparation of the next budget," he said.
The report has three major findings and accompanying recommendations. The first finding is "timely selection of scientists and engineers is important." The panel recommends that the candidates "initiate the appointment process for key S&T leadership early." Of particular concern is the selection of a candidate to be the president's science advisor, who should then work with the winning transition team to identify individuals for the fifty most urgent S&T appointments. The second finding is that "the pool of talented S&T candidates for presidential appointments is less broad and deep than it should be." The panel found a range of financial and other impediments that contribute to this problem. "Many prospective candidates refuse even to be considered for government posts," the report states. It recommends the establishment of a "bipartisan framework" consisting of representatives from the administration, Congress, and Office of Government Ethics, to "clarify and standardize preemployment and postemployment restrictions, reduce unreasonable financial and professional losses for those who serve, and suggest other ways to enlarge the pool of qualified candidates." Both administrative and legislative changes will be necessary. Finally, the panel concludes that "the appointment process is slow, duplicative, and unpredictable." Only 45% of presidential appointments were complete within four months from 1984-1999; the panel recommends that this rate increase to 80-90% for the incoming administration.
"Slowly the pool [of S&T candidates] is collapsing," Good warned. The report suggests how this situation can be reversed, and may be viewed at www.nationalacademies.org/presidentialappointments
Richard M. Jones