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FYI Number 123: October 1, 2001

Science Committee Chairman Boehlert on Impact of Terrorism on R&D

Today, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R- NY) addressed the Presidents of the State University of New York (SUNY). In Boehlert's speech on the impact of terrorism on R&D, he concluded, "So, the events of September 11th have forced us to alter our agenda in ways large and small. But fundamentally, our nation's R&D and education needs remain pretty much what they were before the attacks, and, for now, at least, the resources available to meet those needs remain about the same, as well." Selections from Chairman Boehlert's speech follow:

". . . universities and colleges are inherently implicated in our response to September 11th. For while we say that the world changed on September 11th; it's really our knowledge of the world, our sense of the world, not the world itself, that changed on that fateful day."

". . . academia, as a leading generator, analyzer, repository and purveyor of human knowledge and insight, will necessarily have an impact on whether and how our world actually changes. I hope and expect that academia, in general, and the SUNY system, in particular, are up to that task, which may require some new undertakings, but mostly will simply require more intensive and better focused attention on existing efforts and greater engagement with the rest of American society.

"I don't believe, for instance, that last month's attacks signal a need for any fundamental change in the structure or nature of our academic institutions. I'm thinking here, particularly, of the openness of our colleges and universities - openness to both ideas and people."

"Obviously, the United States has to screen all visa applicants more thoroughly and needs to keep better track of those who enter our country, and, in particular, to crack down on those with expired visas. But we must not imperil the openness of our universities, which are magnets for students around the world, many of whom choose to settle in the United States. Foreign students who remain here are absolutely critical elements of our science and technology workforce, and those who return home often increase the goodwill toward the U.S. in their home countries.

"Some people may view limiting visas as 'erring on the side of caution,' but it's just as easy to argue that 'caution' argues for openness, given how much we rely on students who come here from overseas."

"So, fundamental changes in the nature of academia are probably unwarranted, but what about changes in the research and development agenda? Do we need to redirect government or academic R&D in the wake of the attacks?

"Along with the scientific community, the House Science Committee, which I chair, has just begun to analyze that question. I know that the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other entities in Washington and around the country are also looking at how the scientific community should respond to the attacks, and we should be careful about rushing to conclusions.

"But my basic view is that, while there are a few areas that need additional focus, the general thrust of R&D need not change. Let me focus, first, though, on the areas in which research has probably been inadequate. "First among these appears to be computer security. . . .our general vulnerability to terrorism should make us look again at our ability to protect the computer systems on which we all increasingly rely."

"The federal government must also put additional resources into improving the technical capabilities of our law enforcement agencies. We need research that will enable us to gather better intelligence to foil terrorist plots and other crimes before they are implemented."

"There are probably some narrower areas of research that need more attention, as well. For example, the Science Committee is working on a bill to authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund research to assess and improve the security of drinking water systems."

"Unlike the other areas I've discussed, none of this is likely to be particularly fundamental or basic research, but it's still vitally important, and universities will no doubt have a role to play in it.

"Other research projects may emerge as we scrutinize what happened in New York and Washington. We plan to hold a hearing later in October to examine what research is needed to better protect our physical infrastructure - buildings, power plants, the electric grid, etc. My staff and I are working with Governor Ridge and his Homeland Security Team on this. "In addition, the focus of some of our nation's research may shift. Existing research on identification techniques - especially biometrics: the use of iris patterns or heartbeat patterns or other aspects of the human body to ensure that people are not using false identities - must get a higher priority.

"Research in the social sciences and the humanities, including research on the causes of terrorism and the reaction to it, will certainly be more relevant than ever. Research that would help us prevent or respond to chemical, biological or nuclear attacks by terrorists will have renewed significance."

"The good news is that federal R&D spending was doing pretty well in the Congressional appropriations process before September 11th, and that is unlikely to change as the process winds up - hopefully by the end of this month. After all, fiscal 2002 begins today, and we have yet to complete action on a single spending bill . . . understandable in view of the events. September is usually the month for dotting I's and crossing T's in the appropriations process.

"I am pleased that President Bush named Jack Marburger his new Science Advisor. With his experiences with Brookhaven National Laboratories and SUNY Stony Brook, he is going to make an invaluable addition to the team and help us make the case for federal R & D science programs into the future.

"Now that the White House and Congressional leaders have tentatively agreed to raise overall federal spending for 2002, I expect NSF to end up with a sizable spending increase for the new fiscal year. More resources will be devoted for R & D, as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, has agreed."

"None of the R&D we conduct on security or anything else will matter, in the long-run, unless it helps train students in new fields. None of our R&D goals will be met, in the long-run, unless we do a better job of preparing teachers and producing more capable students in science and math.

"So allow me to close by just focusing for a moment or two on education the academic issue closest to my heart. Recent events have done nothing to deter the President and the Congress from carrying out their commitment to improve American education, particularly pre-college education in all fields. President Bush has made education one of his signature issues. Ongoing negotiations are continuing to settle on increased funding levels for education programs and to enact a major rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Congress should be able to pass that legislation by the end of October, and that should gradually result in better prepared students arriving on your campuses.

"Progress is also being made on H.R. 1858, a bill targeted specifically at improving pre-college science and math education. That bill would create new NSF programs to encourage institutions of higher education and businesses to devote more of their energy and resources to improving pre- college science and math education. The bill would also create new federal scholarships to encourage top science, math and engineering majors to become science and math teachers."

"So, the events of September 11th have forced us to alter our agenda in ways large and small. But fundamentally, our nation's R&D and education needs remain pretty much what they were before the attacks, and, for now, at least, the resources available to meet those needs remain about the same, as well.

"What we need to do now is to draw on, and to shore up, the strengths of our major institutions, such as SUNY - not just to prevent future attacks, but to ensure that our nation remains a beacon of freedom and openness and opportunity and innovation and prosperity. Those traits may make our nation a more appealing target for terrorists, but they're also what make it worth defending."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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