Democratic News

Two days ago, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, one of the Senate’s most steadfast supporters of science and technology, voiced concerns about cuts in the Energy Department’s funding for physical science research. He also expressed worry about what he sees as a disturbing trend across the executive branch of underfunding basic research. Yesterday, Bingaman went to the Senate floor to again emphasize that basic research is an investment in the future, and to urge an upgrading of our nation’s science and technology policy. Here’s what he said: Needed: A Revitalized Science and Technology Policy Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico) Mr. President, for the last 2½ years, the primary efforts of the President and much of official Washington have focused on how to meet the threat of terrorism. Clearly, we need to meet that threat. But there are other threats and challenges that demand our attention as well. And the first and most important of those is the need to create high-wage jobs. High-wage job creation requires, as a precondition, that we adopt sound monetary and fiscal policies. The monetary policy we leave to the Federal Reserve, but responsibility for maintaining sound fiscal policy rests with this President and this Congress. Both the President and the Congress have failed miserably in carrying out this responsibility. Much has been said about that failure, and I will not repeat those arguments today. But even if the President and the Congress come to their senses and pursue a responsible fiscal policy, the problem of how to create high-wage jobs is still unaddressed. What actions can we take to achieve that goal? Each of us can list at least some of the building blocks for a high-wage society – a fair and equitable tax structure, an educated and skilled workforce, an efficient and robust transportation infrastructure, a modern communications infrastructure, and so on. But I would argue that any discussion of high-wage job creation should start with what military strategists refer to as “the point of the spear.” And I firmly believe that in the economic competition for high-wage job creation, the “point of the spear” is science and technology. Just as in the case of our national security, our economic future depends on us remaining the world leader in science and technology. If that leadership is lost, our capacity for high-wage job creation will soon atrophy. Joseph Schumpeter taught us about the “creative destruction” inherent in our capitalist system. The competition brought about by new technologies and new markets destroys companies and entire industries. The jobs that existed in those industries are lost, only to be replaced by new jobs in other industries and in companies that are nimble enough to take advantage of dynamic change. As Andrew Grove of Intel says, “Only the paranoid survive.” If we want the United States to lead in the 21st century, we need to recognize that the world of the future is being shaped by new technologies and their rapid diffusion. Entire industries may disappear in the process, or be utterly transformed. For example, the entire industry of recorded music is being reshaped by the ease of downloading music from the Internet. Sales of recorded CDs have been dropping each year for the past few years. Today, blank CDs for making recordings at home substantially outsell recorded CDs. When you walk into a Staples or Office Depot store and see a big display of blank CD’s for sale, you can be certain that most of those CDs are not destined to be used to store spreadsheets of data. Even the small number of high-profile lawsuits against individuals who burn discs of music without regard to the copyrights has not appreciably altered this phenomenon. The music industry is still in search of a mechanism to adapt to a fundamentally new business environment brought about by the diffusion of two technologies – the Internet and cheap CD burning drives. The biotechnology industry is an example of an industry that has sprung up in a very short time. The basic patent for genetic engineering – the Cohen-Boyer patent on making recombinant DNA -- was issued 30 years ago. No one at that time would have predicted that we would one day have a biological industry rivaling the chemical processing industry that was already a century old at that point. The United States has reaped enormous economic benefits from being the first country to lead in the development of the Internet and the harnessing of biotechnology. But these revolutions are far from being the last technological revolutions that we have seen or will see in the future. So, the key questions at this point in time are: Which countries will win the competition to develop new industries and new jobs based on future technological changes? Which countries will benefit overall from those changes and which will lose out? And, after the current wave of technological change has passed, which countries will be best positioned for the next inevitable wave of change? We ignore these questions at our peril – and after reviewing the President’s proposed 2005 budget for science and technology, I am persuaded that this Administration is ignoring them now. It is clear that we are, in fact, in the middle of a set of interrelated technological revolutions that are both reshaping existing industries and leading, in a number of cases, to entirely new industries. A short list of these ongoing revolutions would include the following: Microelectronics, particularly the continued miniaturization and diffusion of data processing power; High-end supercomputing; Telecommunications technologies; Man-made materials (including materials in which the structure has been designed and built at the atomic or molecular level -- the essence of nanotechnology); Robotics; Biotechnology; and Technologies for increased energy supply, such as renewable energy technologies that are as inexpensive as traditional fossil sources of energy and the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier, and technologies for energy efficiency. We know that these technologies are crucial to our future, but the question is, will America play a leading role in their continued development? The answer is not that self-evident. In the 60 years since World War II, other countries and regions of the world have built science and technology capabilities that rival ours today, in many cases, or are destined to rival ours in the future. The governments of China, India, Japan, and the European Union have all targeted advancements in their research and innovation system as key elements of their plans for future national and regional economic prosperity. Even if we have a strong science and technology policy in this country, these other countries and regions will give us stiff competition. Unfortunately, though, just as this international challenge is becoming very clear, this Administration appears to be sticking its head in the sand. A look at the budget proposal for fiscal year 2005, submitted by President Bush, shows serious gaps in the support of the kind of basic science and engineering that will be most important to the development of technologies and industries in the future. These include: $660 million in cuts proposed for basic and applied research at the Department of Defense, the sort of research that has the greatest potential for dual use and effective spin-off to the civilian high-technology industries; $68 million in cuts proposed for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is a major supporter of basic physical sciences and engineering research; $63 million in cuts proposed for energy conservation R&D at the Department of Energy; $183 million in cuts proposed for agricultural research; $24 million in cuts proposed for transportation research; and total elimination of the Advanced Technology Program at the Department of Commerce, a loss of $171 million for new technologies that would have otherwise been enabled and brought to commercial reality. This termination of the Advanced Technology Program is a particularly egregious step in the wrong direction, in light of the circumstances that we face. And the rationale for the termination in the President’s own budget documents deserves to be enshrined as some sort of classic of wrong-headed reasoning. Let me read that explanation now, word-for-word and in its entirety, as it appears on page 233 of the Appendix Volume of the President’s budget request. “Advanced Technology Program (ATP). —The ATP endeavors to help accelerate the commercialization of high-risk, broad-benefit enabling technologies with significant commercial potential. ATP is a merit-based, rigorously competitive, cost-shared partnership program that provides assistance to U.S. businesses and joint R&D ventures to help them improve their competitive position. The President’s 2005 Budget proposes to eliminate the program and, therefore, no funds are requested for FY 2005.” So that’s it. I didn’t add a single word. I didn’t subtract a single word. Literally, the President’s rationale is, “ATP is a great program. It helps our competitiveness. It is well run and effective. Therefore, we are going to kill it.” There is another aspect to the President’s budget that makes the point that science and technology policy is of low priority. That is the under-funding of important R&D programs that Congress has authorized, by overwhelming margins, and that the President has signed into law. A case in point is cybersecurity research and development. Every American knows that computer viruses and worms can cause real damage to our economy. In November 2002, Congress passed, and President Bush signed, the “Cyber Security Research and Development Act.” That bill authorized a significant program of research and development on computer and network security in the National Science Foundation. For fiscal year 2005, those R&D authorizations amounted to just over $122 million. After signing the bill, the President had a complete budget cycle to develop a budget request incorporating the authorizations that he signed into law. But there appears to be no proposed funding in FY 2005 in the National Science Foundation to carry out this law. In essence, President Bush’s signature on a law to increase R&D investment in cybersecurity meant nothing when it came time for his Administration to put together the FY 2005 budget. In fact, the budget element in the National Science Foundation budget that would fund cybersecurity research is proposed to be cut by $40 million. A similar situation has occurred in nanotechnology. Again, last year, Congress passed and President Bush signed, a major research authorization bill for nanotechnology. The contents of the bill were well known during the bulk of the budget cycle. For fiscal year 2005, the bill provided for nanotechnology spending across 5 agencies of $809.8 million. The President chose to hold a formal signing ceremony at the White House for this bill, something that rarely happens with R&D-related legislation. The White House press release for the signing ceremony noted that the President had previously requested a 10 percent increase in nanotechnology funding in the FY 2004 budget. In the FY 2005 budget request, after the signing ceremony and after the photo opportunity were over, the President only requested a 3 percent increase for the National Nanotechnology Initiative, as calculated by the Office of Management and Budget. So, before we passed the legislation, a 10 percent increase for nanotechnology, but after we passed the legislation, only a 3 percent increase. In addition, when you compare the President’s nanotechnology request for fiscal year 2005 to the authorized levels that he signed into law in December, it turns out that President Bush requested $200 million less for nanotechnology R&D in the budget he sent us on February 2, compared to the authorization he signed into law only two months before, on December 3. Finally, there is total disconnect between science and Administration’s plans for the space program. At the same time that President Bush is cutting, terminating, or failing to fully fund R&D programs with demonstrated effectiveness in creating jobs and wealth in this country, he is proposing a manned Moon-Mars initiative at NASA that is likely to yield little benefit to the nation. Most of the alleged technology spin-offs of past space exploration activities were substantially oversold. We didn’t invent Teflon, Velcro, or even Tang in the space program. To pay for the new Moon-Mars initiative, the President will take funds from other parts of NASA over the next few years. Beyond that, future Presidents will have to direct substantial funds to manned space flight in order to keep the program on schedule. We have already seen the first wrong-headed move at NASA in the area of diverting resources. It’s the proposed abandonment of the Hubble Space Telescope – one of the premier scientific assets in all of NASA. The Hubble is still in its prime, and capable of continuing to make major discoveries about our universe and its formation. The proposal to abandon the Hubble to find money to plan for a manned mission to Mars is a clear example of the low value that is seemingly placed on real science in this Administration. Because of the outcry from the scientific community and from colleagues here in the Senate, notably Sen. Mikulski of Maryland, this proposal is now getting a second review inside NASA, but it is too soon to say that it will be withdrawn. The fact that this termination was proposed in the first place, though, illustrates the lack of priority given to science in the Administration’s thinking about our nation’s future. There are other policies of this Administration towards science and technology that are potentially just as deleterious as the cutbacks in funding we are seeing in this year’s budget proposal. For example, visa and other immigration restrictions that have been put in place over the past 2 years are threatening the future vitality of the U.S. university system in the sciences and engineering. Foreign-born students coming to this country have, for decades, been an important asset to the United States. After completing their training, many have stayed here to make significant contributions to both basic science and to innovation. They are a great source of strength to our innovation system and to our country. We have only to look at the current Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who was born in Algeria and who came to the United States in his early 20s to train in diagnostic radiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Today, in the name of increasing our national security, we are making it extremely difficult for the best and brightest foreign students to come to the United States, to be educated, and to remain in this country and become citizens, like Dr. Zerhouni. Instead, the effect of our policies, and the ham-handed way we are implementing them overseas, is to drive away from the United States scientists and engineers who want to come here to build a better life for them and our society. The end result of these policies may well be that the brightest students from around the world will increasingly choose non-U.S. educational institutions for their advanced education, and that major scientific meetings will increasingly take place outside the United States. Our policies could have the effect of strengthening the innovation systems of other countries. As a result, we might well be encouraging high-wage job growth to take place overseas, instead of in the United States. We can and must do better than the President has done to date. There are several things that Congress can do. First, Congress can put more pressure on the President to beef up the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP. One of the basic reasons why there seems to be so little leadership on science and technology issues coming out of the White House may be that OSTP appears to be significantly and severely understaffed. The current Science Advisor is authorized, under law, to have 6 high-level deputies, and most past Science Advisors had extremely well-qualified individuals in all these positions. Under this Administration, only 2 of those 6 positions have been filled. No attempt was made to adjust that staffing strategy after the events of 9-11 put terrorism and homeland security on the President’s radar screen, and homeland security R&D on the front burner. Accordingly, the President’s Science Advisor has appeared to have spent the bulk of his energy on terrorism-related issues, with the result that the overall health of our scientific and technical foundations have not gotten the attention that they otherwise could have gotten from a fully functioning OSTP. Second, Congress can require that the President actually prepare and make public a Science and Technology Policy. Having such a document is not a panacea in itself, but the discipline of having to sit down and write one might force the White House to give some thought and examination to the technological opportunities and revolutions facing us that we are about to miss. Third, as it prepares to consider the Budget Resolution, Congress can insist that the whole Federal Science and Technology Budget get better and more unified consideration. It would be valuable to have joint hearings across the relevant committees in the Senate on the overall shape of our S&T spending. It might be worth considering whether the functional structure of the budget itself should be revised to put the entire federal S&T budget in one place, so that there is much more transparency as to what the real trends are in the national budget for science and technology. Finally, Congress needs to take a strong role in resisting the cuts being proposed by the President to research and development in this budget, particularly to programs such as the Advanced Technology Program. Frankly, instead of terminating the ATP, we should be looking to duplicate its strategies and successes in other federal agencies. For example, both the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency could benefit from having programs structured along the lines of the ATP, as part of the overall mix of programs in each agency to spur the development of new technology. The one thing that I hope the Congress does not do is what the Administration, unfortunately, has done. That is to lose focus on where the real source of our future national wealth and high-wage job creation opportunities lie. Our future economic security depends crucially on the innovation and genius of our scientists and engineers, particularly in universities and other major laboratories that are supported by the Federal government.

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