"Thank you for inviting me to testify on the need to
ensure that the best and brightest scientists and engineers are willing,
and able, to participate in the national policymaking process.
"Science and technology surround us--computers and communications
devices, advances in food production and medicine, as well as breakthroughs
in energy and defense--all rely on innovations in science and technology.
These advances drive our economy, secure the nation, and improve our
daily lives. They also frequently pose significant ethical and societal
questions that may require regulation or policy solutions. Scientific
information is a key consideration in making policy decisions. However,
many additional factors--including societal values, economic costs
and political judgments--must also be included in the final decision.
"Since science is an important component of policymaking,
it is imperative that government officials and lawmakers have access
to the best technical advice and expertise. Scientists, mathematicians,
engineers and health professionals make significant policy contributions
as members of Presidential and federal advisory committees. We must
ensure that these positions are filled by highly-qualified, dedicated
persons of high integrity. Unfortunately, turnover in science policy
positions is high and the pool of scientists willing to enter government
service is dwindling. The reluctance of scientists to participate
in the policy-making process negatively affects the government's ability
to make good science policy decisions. We need scientists to enter
government servicenot only as appointees, but also as elected
officials, particularly in Congress. To encourage this change, we
must address systemic and bureaucratic barriers that hinder scientists'
participation in the political process.
"Thus, I am very pleased that your Committee will scrutinize
the current appointment process to determine the areas in which it
serves us well and to pinpoint those needing improvement. In addition,
I encourage the Committee to examine the relationship between the
government and scientific communities as a possible barrier to scientist
participation. I believe that there is a lack of trust and understanding
between these communities. This lack of trust, coupled with bureaucratic
barriers, deters scientists from entering government service. We must
make every effort to identify and eliminate these problems.
"In choosing scientists, engineers and health professionals
to serve on presidential and federal advisory committees, a single,
guiding principle should be applied: select the most-qualified person
for the job. To be qualified, the candidate must be a top-notch scientist
and a respected expert in his or her field. However, scientific knowledge
alone cannot be the only criterion. Above all, the appointee should
be a person of high integrity who is willing to display that integrity
in making difficult decisions. The candidate must also possess a number
of skills that are necessary for success in the political arena. These
include an understanding of, and a willingness to work within, the
political process, good communication and networking skills, and the
ability to negotiate and compromise--on issues, not principles. In
the case of Presidential appointments, it is important that the scientist
be in tune with the philosophy of the appointing President.
"Decision-making in the Political Realm
"I noted earlier that there is an air of distrust between
the scientific and government communities. Perhaps "distrust"
is too strong a characterization for the lack of understanding and
the misgivings that pervades the current scientific and government
nexus. Whatever word you choose, the atmosphere is chilly, and the
impact on the decision-making process is negative.
"I believe these problems stem from a failure in education
and understanding. The political and scientific fields are very divergent,
and, unfortunately, very few people understand the intimate workings
of both. While we have done a poor job of educating one another about
the thought processes and value systems that govern our respective
fields, we appear to have learned even less about their intersections
and boundaries. This gives rise to misperceptions and missed opportunities
to work together to create good science policy. We must each learn
the fundamentals of the other fieldgovernment officials must
understand science, its methods and limits; scientists must study
the policy process and willingly participate.
"I am not suggesting here that scientists be politicians.
I am simply noting that scientists must understand the political field,
admit that the scientific and political arenas are inherently different,
and be prepared to work within the boundaries and rules of the political
environment. This means that the scientists must be in touch (even
in tune) with the political realities around them. They must also
accept that scientific evidence and ideas are but one input in the
calculus that gives rise to good science policy decisionsit
is both arrogant and naïve of the scientific community to pretend
otherwise. Only by understanding the political process can scientists
fully integrate science into decision-making. I am not suggesting
that scientists must sell out.' Quite the contrary, scientists
who understand the process will be more effective in making sure scientific
evidence and expertise is properly evaluated and considered.
"The onus is on all of us in government and science
to increase our level of understanding. We must foster the mutual
respect necessary to ensure that we successfully work together to
improve science policy decisions.
"Recruiting scientists for governmental work is a significant
challenge for a variety of reasons. The dearth of qualified candidates
is due in part to the inherent difficulties associated with the job.
Being a member of a federal advisory panel is a thankless job. It
involves long hours and hard work, takes time away from research and
family, and offers considerable frustrations. Hard work and challenges
do not normally discourage scientists from pursuing an important mission;
however, there are several additional bureaucratic disincentives to
entering government service.
"These obstacles include:
Perceived lack of government effectiveness
Low professional prestige associated with public service
Costs associated with divestitures to adhere to conflict of interest
"Negative impacts on current or future career advancement:
Disruption of research
Government service is not valued by universities or industry for tenure
Post-government employment rules restrict subsequent advancement and
"Complex and opaque vetting and confirmation process:
Can last for extensive time period
Requires excruciating financial disclosure
Lack of privacy
Significant disruption of research and private life even before government
"These disadvantages (coupled with the inherent difficulties
of the job) discourage many scientists from entering public service.
"To ensure that more highly-qualified scientists and
engineers be considered for, and accept, government appointments,
we must address these systemic disincentives. We have been struggling
with many of these problems for years. Although pay scales have improved
somewhat, there is still a great deal of difficulty in navigating
the conflict of interest and post-employment regulations. This is
due in part to the piece-meal nature of the current laws governing
these issues. It would be ideal to codify the requirements in a single
law. In considering this option, we must recognize the very real difficulties
associated with repealing, updating and consolidating so many pieces
of the U.S. Code.
"Addressing the perception that government is ineffective
and combating the low prestige attached to government service will
be very difficult. Tackling these will require a great deal of time,
attention, education and mutual respect between the scientific and
"We need to launch an effective public relations campaign
to address scientists' concerns and emphasize the benefits of entering
government service. There are benefits, after all, or I would not
be here. Scientists working in the policy arena, gain new perspectives
and have the pleasure of serving the nation. In addition, we have
the opportunity to tackle new challenges and affect change on a national
level. For example, I have worked for many years, with considerable
success, to increase the funding for basic research at the National
Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science.
This has been a difficult row to hoe, but one that is crucial to the
future economic and national security of the nation.
"To address the complex vetting process, I suggest that
the government create a well-defined and coherent process for scientific
appointments. This process must be transparent and easily followed
by applicants. There should be a single, clear implementation process,
from initial application through vetting, security clearance and confirmation.
The government should supply feedback and status reports to help applicants
gauge their progress. While appointments are often considered political
plums, this is not true for many scientists. In order to encourage
scientists to join government ranks, we need to make sure they are
fully informed throughout the process.
"Beyond the bureaucratic fixes, we must improve communication
and interaction between the government and scientific communities.
There must be a conscious and good-faith effort on the part of both
communities to better understand each other, and improve the way we
work together to ensure that good science policies are enacted. We
need to lay a foundation of mutual respect and common involvementonly
in this way will we attract the best and brightest scientists to public
"Thank you again for the opportunity to address this
very important issue. I look forward to receiving the Committee's
final report and working with you to strengthen the presidential appointment
process. I would gladly answer any questions you may have."