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FYI Number 29: March 13, 2002

First Meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

The new members of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) have set an ambitious agenda. At last week's first public meeting of the Bush Administration's PCAST, members agreed to develop, by their next public meeting in June, initial papers on some of the most pressing S&T problems facing the United States.

OSTP Director John Marburger offered opening remarks at this five and one-half hour meeting on March 5. He explained that President Bush had charged the council with developing recommendations on four topics: using S&T to combat terrorism, energy efficiency policies and technologies, federal investment in R&D, and rapid deployment of broadband communication. Each of these affects the nation's economy and security, Marburger explained. Subcommittees had met that morning, he said, to develop working agendas. The purpose of these panels, Marburger and PCAST co-chair E. Floyd Kvamme commented, was to provide private sector input to the administration. PCAST members have already met with President Bush. A roster of PCAST members can be viewed at http://www.ostp.gov/PCAST/pcast.html

The meeting was devoted to presentations by two senior administration officials and discussions about the subcommittees' agendas. Commerce Secretary Don Evans addressed the council, his remarks touching on terrorism, NIST, NOAA, the role of innovation in the economy, and global climate change. About climate change, Evans said "we really don't know the facts, really don't have the data," and predicted that "the world will see we will lead on this issue." "It's a big deal," Evans told the council, explaining that Marburger will spearhead the administration's climate change efforts.

R. Glenn Hubbard, Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, also addressed PCAST. He told the council President Bush has a "real concern" that S&T does not run parallel to economic development, but be an integral part of it. Hubbard stated that applied research is key to economic development, and described the importance of ensuring that good technology development policies are designed.

Gerald Wayne Clough of the Georgia Institute of Technology chairs the subcommittee on federal S&T investment. The subcommittee will commission studies by AAAS and the RAND Corporation to review the federal research portfolio over the last 25 years. Also to be examined are technology transfer policies, and the role of states and private industry. Clough cited the decline in federal support for physics research. "The question of balance is a very big issue," he said. Describing conditions at his institution, he commented it was "not good, not healthy for the nation" when federal support for electrical engineering research, which has declined, is not available. The real challenge, Marburger added, was knowing how to prioritize federal S&T investment, and not allowing it to become only the result of individual appropriation committees' actions.

Ralph E. Gomory of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation chairs the terrorism subcommittee. This subcommittee will survey work that has been done, examine the role of government to combat terrorism, identify obsolete regulations, and look at lessons learned by other nations that experience terrorism.

The subcommittee examining energy efficiency will be chaired by Steven Gerald Papermaster of the Powershift Group. The subcommittee will examine how energy conservation affects environmental issues such as global warming, and the effective deployment of energy efficient technologies.

Marye Anne Fox of North Carolina State University will head the subcommittee on broadband technology. The subcommittee will investigate the benefits and impacts of a wider utilization of these technologies, and will examine consumer demand issues such as pricing.

The parallels between this PCAST meeting and the first PCAST meeting of the Clinton Administration are striking. Discussions at both meetings involved determining the right level of federal investment in S&T, technology and economic growth, the threat to the nation's security by weapons of mass destruction, and environmental quality.

The next meeting of President Bush's PCAST will be in June.

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

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