Science and state

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
San Diego, California
Abstract

This interview with N. Douglas Pewitt is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. Pewitt recollects his education in particle physics and early work at the Center for Naval Analyses before taking on government roles with the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Energy Office of Energy Research, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He reflects on the events leading to the termination of the Isabelle collider at Brookhaven National Lab, including OSTP Director Jay Keyworth’s work to line up opposition to the project within the White House. He also discusses his disagreements with Keyworth over the viability of the SSC project, his own doubts about the physics community’s and DOE’s ability to manage large-scale projects, and his involvement with the Reagan administration’s effort to reorganize DOE out of existence. Pewitt then recalls his later work with Universities Research Association to write the proposal to manage the SSC project, including an unsuccessful effort to bring Bell Labs in on the proposal and Martin Marietta’s decision not to bid. Pewitt also discusses his experiences working at the SSC Laboratory, including his efforts to implement a cost and schedule control system, difficulties with magnet design, the lab’s efforts to appoint a project manager, and his own brief service as acting project manager. He offers his views of Roy Schwitters’s leadership and Bob Hunter’s activities as director of the DOE Office of Energy Research, and he suggests the SSC project was headed for collapse as early as mid-1989.

Interviewed by
William Thomas
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Cornell University physicist Maury Tigner discusses his involvement with the Superconducting Super Collider, as well as other collider construction projects in the U.S. and abroad. He reflects on the character of discussions relating to the project that became the SSC at the 1982 Snowmass workshop and a workshop he chaired at Cornell in early 1983, including his early presumption that costs would prove prohibitive. He discusses the conflict over recommending the termination of Brookhaven National Lab’s Isabelle collider that took place on the 1983 subpanel of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel chaired by Stanley Wojcicki, and he offers his perspective on the positions on Isabelle of President Reagan’s science advisor, DOE career officials, and European subpanel participants John Adams and Carlo Rubbia. Tigner recalls his recruitment of Wojcicki to the SSC Reference Designs Study and his experiences leading the SSC Central Design Group, including R&D funding limitation and oversight by Universities Research Association and the Department of Energy. He offers his perception that he was never seriously considered for the role of SSC Laboratory Director. Tigner also discusses the cost-conscious tradition of accelerator construction at Cornell University, memories of working with Helen Edwards, and the National Science Foundation’s support for Cornell’s accelerator laboratory. The interview concludes with an overview of Tigner’s more recent activities in China and his work on the Handbook of Accelerator Physics and Engineering.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Abstract

This interview with physicist Robert Diebold is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, Diebold recalls his introduction to the SSC project at the 1982 Snowmass workshop and his subsequent move to the Department of Energy, as well as his perspective on the site-selection process for the SSC. He states that Texas was the standout site and that there was not a clear-cut second-place site, and he further notes that, while Texas had political advantages, the technical advantages of the site drove the high evaluation of it. Diebold also discusses differences in DOE oversight structures around the SSC under Energy Secretary John Herrington and Energy Secretary James Watkins, and the long effort to implement a cost-and-schedule-control system on the project. He reflects on how leadership of the SSC was structured and the people selected for key roles. The interview concludes with a discussion of factors driving cost increases on the project and their impact on relations between DOE and project leaders. Diebold posits that SSC Laboratory Director Roy Schwitters’s management style led to a deterioration in those relations.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview with Superconducting Super Collider General Manager Edward Siskin is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the SSC. Siskin discusses his experience working under Adm. Hyman Rickover in Naval Reactors, as well as his subsequent work at the company Stone and Webster, including management of multi-billion-dollar construction projects. He recalls his recruitment to the SSC project by Energy Secretary Adm. James Watkins, sources of opposition to his appointment, and a dinner conversation resulting in the project having distinct general manager and project manager positions. He reflects on tensions in his generally positive relationship with SSC Laboratory Director Roy Schwitters and difficulties in working with accelerator construction head Helen Edwards that ultimately led to her departure. He discusses the slow implementation of a cost-and-schedule-control system and argues that the Government Accountability Office identified non-existent cost overruns, serving as a tool of the SSC’s opponents in Congress. He states that the 1991 baseline cost estimate for the SSC was conservative and that the project was on track at the time of its cancellation, with all new cost increases stemming from the Clinton administration’s proposal to stretch its schedule. Siskin recalls a meeting with Rep. Tom Bevill, a key House appropriator, at which Bevill received a note from the White House indicating President Clinton’s willingness to sacrifice the project. Siskin also reflects more broadly on the political dynamics in Congress surrounding the SSC and on the difficulties in balancing scientific and engineering cultures on a large-scale project. 

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, Rep. George Brown, a California Democrat who chaired the House Science Committee from 1991 through 1994, discusses his own support for the project and its declining political fortunes. He cites a lack of international participation as a reason why the SSC failed to retain support, noting the space station had politically important participation from Russia, and also that Congress never backed the SSC with authorizing legislation. He explains that he refrained from trying to blunt aggressive oversight pursued by Science Committee Republican Sherwood Boehlert, and he observes that he himself was not influenced by accusations of project mismanagement and also suggests such accusations were not broadly influential. Brown asserts he was one of a small number of members of Congress who supported the project for scientific reasons rather than its potential benefit to constituents, and he argues that most members would not find the scientific case for it compelling. He states that the departure of prominent Texans from Congress and President George H. W. Bush’s loss in the 1992 election removed essential sources of support for the SSC.

Interviewed by
Steven Weiss
Interview date
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, former Rep. Howard Wolpe, a Democrat from Michigan, discusses his opposition to the project through to his departure from Congress in 1992. He states that he was skeptical of the project prior to his engagement with it as chair of the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science Committee. Wolpe and the subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, used their investigative powers and platform to build a case against the SSC, and Wolpe indicates that Rep. George Brown, the chair of the full committee and an SSC supporter, did not interfere with them. Wolpe recalls his dismay over the SSC’s management and the failure to garner international contributions. He reflects that defense of the project came mainly from the Texas delegation, which he remembers as being well organized. Wolpe also praises the work of his staff members on the SSC matter as well as other oversight matters, such as management of national labs and the integrity of the National Science Foundation’s workforce statistics. He notes that after his departure from Congress, staff member Bob Roach was a key player in moving oversight to the House Energy and Commerce Committee under Rep. John Dingell. Wolpe further states that opposition within the physics community to the SSC helped him deflect accusations that he was not a strong supporter of basic research.

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview was conducted as part of the research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. In it, former Democratic Louisiana senator Bennett Johnston discusses the politics surrounding the SSC, primarily from his point of view as chair of the Energy-Water Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, though he also oversaw the project in his role as chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is accompanied in the interview by former Appropriations Committee senior staff member Proctor Jones. Johnston discusses the budgetary politics surrounding the SSC and opines that it was a convenient target for lawmakers casting themselves as budget hawks. He states that he did not regard growing cost estimates as indicative of mismanagement, partly because early estimates were unreliable, nor was he perturbed by an absence of foreign contributions. He suggests the project suffered from a lack of strong supporters in the House who could make the case for it on its scientific merits in the way he did in the Senate. Jones recalls that Johnston pressed the Clinton administration to express support for the project, and Johnston questions the story that the administration proposed a choice between the SSC and the space station. Jones and Johnston state that they did not object to the administration’s proposed stretch-out of the project schedule, despite its likely cost impacts, because it would have kept year-to-year costs down. Johnston criticizes scientists who argued the project would detract from smaller-scale science, stating they misunderstood how appropriations are allocated.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson & Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Universities Research Association, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It primarily covers physicist John (Jack) Marburger’s experiences as the president of the State University of New York at Stony Brook between 1980 and 1994, including his service between 1988 and 1994 as chairman of the Board of Trustees of Universities Research Association (URA), the consortium that operated Fermilab and oversaw construction of the SSC. Marburger discusses his perspective on the termination of the Isabelle collider project at nearby Brookhaven National Lab and his service on URA’s Council of Presidents, as well as URA’s development of proposals to manage and operate the SSC in 1987 and 1988. He recounts the unusualness of the Department of Energy’s stipulation of a teaming arrangement with an industrial partner, linking it to a changing management culture at DOE associated with environmental contamination at nuclear weapons production sites. He also offers detailed memories of the selection process for the SSC Lab Director and the SSC Central Design Group’s discontent over the process. Reflecting on construction of the SSC, he criticizes DOE oversight of the SSC project as heavy-handed and disruptive. He remembers URA’s resistance to pressure to dismiss SSC Lab Director Roy Schwitters as criticism of the project grew, but he also suggests that Schwitters should have been paired with an experienced high-level executive. In addition, Marburger recalls deliberations behind major changes to the SSC’s magnet apertures and beam injection energy, as well as behind a decision not to descope the project. As the interview concludes, he opines that hype surrounding the project detracted from its credibility with key players in Congress and the scientific community.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson
Interview date
Location
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. It also covers a range of other topics concerning George (Jay) Keyworth’s service between 1981 and 1985 as science advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Keyworth recounts his previous career at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, his selection as science advisor, his access to White House policymaking via counselor to the president Ed Meese, and his own interactions with Reagan. He notes that Reagan had a faith in technological ingenuity as part of a broadly optimistic outlook on humanity. Keyworth also discusses his strong relationship with engineer and executive David Packard as well as deliberations concerning stealth technology, missile basing, the AIDS crisis, and space policy. He expresses disdain for the space station and space shuttle programs and his regret that the Reagan administration did not do more to reform NASA. He recalls spending political capital securing White House support for basic research, including the SSC and funding increases for the National Science Foundation. He argues that Brookhaven National Lab’s Isabelle collider was poorly justified whereas the SSC was an ambitious and inspiring project. Keyworth asserts that he was able to commit the White House Office of Management and Budget to pursuing the SSC before he was assigned full-time to working on the Strategic Defense Initiative ballistic missile defense program in 1983.

Interviewed by
Steve Weiss
Interview date
Location
Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider. The quality of the audio recording was poor, resulting in a significantly flawed transcript. In the interview, David Goldston discusses his work as a Republican staff member for the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, and particularly his efforts on behalf of Rep. Sherwood Boehlert of New York to exert congressional control over the SSC project and ultimately to erode support for it. He stresses Boehlert’s general support for scientific research and the specificity of Boehlert’s objections to the SSC, and he notes it was deeply unusual for a science issue to become the subject of a major dispute in Congress. Goldston details maneuvering in committee and on the House floor to place targets for cost and international contributions in the Superconducting Super Collider Project Authorization Act of 1990. While the act did not become law, he notes how its provisions became an important reference point in portraying the SSC project as slipping out of control. He also assesses the legitimacy and political utility of various arguments surrounding the project, such as its status as a “Cold War” project, the dissent among physicists over it, and supposedly lavish spending at the SSC site. The interview concludes with a discussion of the SSC dispute moving into the appropriations process and appropriators’ inability to counter the political momentum building against the project.