The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology met in
Washington this week. Recently augmented, PCAST now has 35 members,
and is co-chaired by OSTP Director John Marburger and E. Floyd Kvamme,
a technology venture capitalist.
Two presentations during this meeting were of particular note as they
provide insight into the Administration's thinking on research funding.
During the morning session, Marburger gave a presentation on the American
Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). In the afternoon, the council heard
from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman about his department's role in the
ACI and the Advanced Energy Initiative.
Marburger began his presentation by telling PCAST members that they
were "an important force in shaping S&T policy in America."
An example of the council's influence was its issuance of several reports
before the National Academies well-publicized report, "Rising
Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter
Economic Future" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/155.html.)
Marburger said the ACI was not a direct response to the Academies' report,
but was informed by it.
The ACI is, Marburger stated, a new rationale for physical sciences'
funding in post-Cold War America. He then made an important point: that
the Initiative is keyed to research that will promote competitiveness.
While NASA and NIH research are very important, and can expect future
budget increases, the ACI is a "priority ordered program"
that reflects the fiscal reality that there is "not a lot of money
to spend on everything." Marburger later expanded this point as
it applied to DOE Office of Science programs. He commented that high
energy physics and nuclear physics research are important and cited
societal contributions they have made such as in the development of
the Internet and advanced computing. But DOE's Basic Energy Sciences
program is key, Marburger said, as its research is closely aligned with
Bodman's remarks reinforced these comments. The secretary explained,
"The ACI is the significant investment needed to produce transformational
technologies to help us achieve the President's goals. It will strengthen
the foundation of our economy because it strengthens the foundations
of science and science education. It cannot be said often enough: basic
scientific research leads to innovations that improve people's lives."
After discussing DOE's proposed work in ethanol production and the Global
Nuclear Energy Partnership, Bodman reiterated his perspective on his
department's research programs. Note his first sentence:
"The American people, the taxpayers, expect more from basic
science research than new knowledge alone. We expect and I believe that
the investments being made today will one day result in countless additional
benefits -- benefits to our health, our national defense, our productivity
and economic expansion, and our energy security. Our scientific investments
have already produced significant results in the technological arena,
in medicine and health care, in enhanced economic competitiveness and
in the creation of new intellectual capital; all of which have helped
improve the American people's quality of life."