Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Brookings Institution Seminar
Science and Technology Policy
June 12, 2000
See also presentation
Thank you so much for the introduction. I'm delighted
to be here for this seminar on current and emerging
issues in science and technology policy. The Brookings
Institution has been working for over 80 years to
bring a quiet competence and professionalism to government.
Over the years I have participated in a number of
Brookings seminars and have they have always been
The National Science Foundation is celebrating its
50th anniversary this year. It was created
in 1950 during the Truman administration to be an
independent U.S. government agency responsible for
advancing the progress of science and engineering
in the United States.
Regarding our topic - science policy, someone once
said: "Science policy formulation is the means
by which problem identification, scientific
and technical knowledge, and societal values
join together to either enlighten or confound us."
In a 21st century world that is hallmarked
by complexity and rapid change, the formulation of
policy is no mean task. In the last ten years, the
winds of change have literally swept across our institutions.
They have reshaped the once familiar landscape of
the economy and have forced us to clear new paths
in business, in research, in science and engineering,
and in education.
Colleges and universities are facing information-age
transformations as well, with virtual centers and
institutes, shared infrastructure, collaboratories
and long-distance learning. The future portends even
Today, new knowledge and technological innovation
are the driving forces of the economy.
As this slide indicates, people no less venerable than
Alan Greenspan have said so. Actually, he helped wake
up Washington (and the nation) to the importance of
S&T sustaining economic growth. Certainly, this argument
helped to justify NSF's record setting budget increase
in FY 2001 of seventeen percent.
The innovation process is now occurring at a breathtaking
pace. Industrial cycles appear to be getting shorter
and shorter. And as information increasingly becomes
the currency of everyday life, we watch this whole
A recent Economist article on Innovation speculates
that our current industrial cycle - the one powered
by digital networks, software and new media - has
already run two-thirds of its course, with only another
five or six years left to go!
This is the kind of change that alters our familiar
landscapes and questions our values. Eventually, it
reshapes our expectations in harmony with the future
it has created.
But innovation is naturally disruptive - it
is the task of breaking the economic rules and being
rewarded, over and over again. This dynamic cycle
was elaborated by the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpter.
In 1942, Schumpter developed the "rule-breaking" theory
of economics. He described the hallmark of technological
innovation as "the perennial gale of creative destruction."
According to Schumpeter, a normal healthy economy was
not one in equilibrium, but one that was constantly
being disrupted and transformed by technological innovation.
History is replete with examples. Transistor technology
disrupted the vacuum-tube industry, the CD killed
the needle in the groove, and the Internet is currently
reinventing the retail sales industry.
An amusing example of this process concerns how the
invention of the light bulb led to Ivory soap. In
1879, Procter and Gamble's best seller was candles.
But the company was in trouble. Thomas Edison had
invented the light bulb. The market for candles plummeted
since they were now sold only for special occasions.
The outlook appeared to be bleak for Procter and Gamble.
But then a forgetful employee at a small factory in
Cincinnati forgot to turn off his candle machine when
he went to lunch. The result? A frothing mass of lather
filled with air bubbles. He almost threw the stuff
away but instead decided to make it into soap. The
soap floated. Thus, Ivory soap was born and became
the mainstay of the Procter and Gamble Company.
Why was soap that floats such a hot item at that time?
In Cincinnati, during that period, some people bathed
in the Ohio River. Floating soap would never sink
and consequently never got lost. So, Ivory soap became
a best seller in Ohio and eventually across the country
So when we are trying to imagine the future, we need
to look around as well as look directly ahead. In
an interview three years ago with Forbes magazine,
Peter Drucker was asked about his reputation as a
futurist and forecaster.
He quickly corrected his questioner: "I never predict.
I just look out the window and see what's visible
-- but not yet seen."
The chances of having good future vision are much better
if you understand the larger context in which you
work - the sector, the society, and even the time
in history, the moment in civilization. Learning to
read the larger context gives us a path for imagining
We all need to nurture the creative zones at the borders
of our disciplines and fields- to be able to make
connections among specialized areas of knowledge,
to understand how seemingly disparate discoveries
relate, and to integrate them into a broader context
that will lead to deeper insights and more creative
With this as context, today I will discuss several
policy dimensions that are critical to moving science
and engineering ahead in the 21st century.
And I will use NSF's just completed five-year strategic
plan as a framework for this discussion.
This is NSF's vision - it is clear and simple: "Enabling
the nation's future through discovery, learning, and
By design, this vision captures the dynamism that has
shaped NSF. It's no accident that terms like discovery,
learning, and innovation are all resting side-by-side
in the same set of words. These concepts must be integrated
in thought and action.
To move toward the realization of this vision, we have
identified NSF's three strategic goals. They are summed
up by three key words: People, Ideas, and Tools.
We continually help break new ground through the research
and education we support, but we can't let the new
knowledge generated lie fallow.
NSF is as much about preparing a world-class workforce
as it is about discovery. That's a primary benefit
from our support of academic research... and that's
been the intent for NSF since its start.
And the tools -- the research platforms, telescopes,
databases, and user facilities -- open up the new
vistas and frontiers for learning and discovery and
This leads me to the first issue I will discuss today:
How to enable a world-class science and engineering
physical infrastructure. I have selected it to
introduce the elements of the changing character of
the infrastructure, which enables science and engineering
research and education throughout the nation.
Increasingly, contemporary discussion of infrastructure
in the academic S&E research and education community
seems to include a combination of what we might refers
call "traditional physical infrastructure" and "other
elements" prompted by advances in computer-communication
The former includes facilities (and their modernization),
and major instrumentation and research platforms,
such as telescopes, research aircraft and ships, and
atomic particle detectors and accelerators.
There is a growing argument that our traditional view
of facilities and equipment does not fully reflect
the changing nature of infrastructure brought about
by rapid advances in computer - communication technologies.
As this chart indicates, this kind of thinking that
includes items such as databases, digital libraries,
and network capabilities.
We know that progress in 21st century science
and engineering will depend upon access to world-class
tools and infrastructure.
And there is anecdotal and piecemeal evidence that
there is a significant gap between what is needed
and what is currently provided.
Some important questions need answers, sooner rather
- How large is the National capital asset stock
for S&E infrastructure?
- What is needed to address current needs and future
- What portion of this would not be provided optimally
if left to individual agencies, institutions or
In assessing the state of infrastructure, many discipline-specific
analyses are performed (e.g. the one astronomy does
every 10 years). Overall national assessments and
plans are quite rare. I doubt there are any assessments
that have focused on the new and changing concept
And as far as I know, there are no effective mechanisms
in place for looking across the Federal R&D agencies
to coordinate and prioritize Federal infrastructure
I will leave this topic by posing some questions.
The next three issues I will discuss are framed by
major "strategic thrusts," which are in the NSF Strategic
Plan. We call them "thrusts" because we think of them
as lively and dynamic directions, not hidebound prescriptions.
Their value lies in how they crystallize our thinking
as we consider new opportunities.
I like to think of them as posing questions that we
should ask each time we consider a new project or
program or organizational change. There is any number
of policy issues surrounding each of these thrust
areas. In the limited time I have today, I will focus
on a single policy issue for each and describe how
NSF is responding to it.
Let me begin with the first strategic thrust, which
is Develop Intellectual Capital. NSF
invests in projects that enhance individual and collective
capacity to perform, i.e. to discover, learn, create,
identify issues and problems and formulate approaches
We seek investments that tap into the potential evident
in previously underutilized groups of the Nation's
human resource pool. This makes sense from both an
equity and investment position.
As this chart indicates, the statistics are pretty
dismal. For example, African Americans make up about
13 percent of the U.S. population but are only 7.4%
of S&E Bachelor degree holders and 3.4 percent of
Ph.Ds. If one separated out engineering and the physical
science, the percentages would even be worse.
NSF is committed to leading the way to an enterprise
that fully captures the strength of America's diversity.
It is in the process of identifying the perceived
barriers to their full participation - and then implementing
new strategies for overcoming them.
A key element of NSF's strategy includes the use of
information technology and connectivity to engage
under-served individuals, groups, and communities
in science and engineering.
But this issue has a troubling political dynamic. While
Congress urges Federal agencies to increase the participation
of underrepresented groups, legal developments in
the past five years have increased the constraints
on the eligibility criteria (such as race and gender)
for award applicants.
NSF's response must be a creative and proactive one.
While we will still maintain legally permissible programs
for underrepresented groups, NSF will promote diversity
by embedding it throughout its investment portfolio.
Hence, we have directed that all NSF's research and
education programs must be directly involved in broadening
I don't want to leave you with the impression that
we have dealt with this issue - because we have not.
The statistics are still dismal - and solving this
problem will require a joining of the best minds in
government, industry and academe.
Our second strategic thrust - Integrate research
and education - goes to the heart of how we prepare
students and shape the American workforce for the
The corresponding question we need to ask is, "Will
our action infuse learning with the excitement of
discovery, and assure that the findings and methods
of research are quickly and effectively communicated
in a broader context and to a larger audience?"
This must be done in the context of education and research
being viewed of equal value and as complementary parts
of an integrated whole.
As this slide indicates, NSF has sought to foster this
culture change in a number of ways.
One NSF program entitled "Faculty Early Career Development
(CAREER)" encourages the early development of academic
faculty as both educators and researchers.
CAREER combines, in a single program, the support of
quality research and education. In preparing a CAREER
proposal, the applicant must propose activities to
further both research and educational goals in the
context of a holistic professorial career vision.
Another program, Integrative Graduate Education and
Research Traineeships (IGERT), seeks to broadly prepare
a new cadre of Ph.Ds through integrated training in
a multidisciplinary research theme.
The integration of research and education theme
also figures prominently in NSF's strategic plan,
guidelines for preparing proposals, and proposal review
Is all of this working? I think so. We are now seeing
a heightened awareness of this issue in academe and
in the federal R&D agencies. But it will take time
to change the culture of our universities.
The third strategic thrust is: "Promote Partnerships."
Here, one key issue is: How can we use partnerships
to more effectively connect discovery to the innovation
Partnerships have always enabled the innovation process.
Today's virtual explosion in diverse information systems
probably represents a new "Age of Exploration." In
the 15th and 16th centuries, when powerful nations
funded voyages to circumnavigate the globe, they were
looking for new trade routes and the wealth that trade
The historian, Paul Kennedy, describes this era in
The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. He says, "Spanish
galleons, plying along the Western coast, linked up
with vessels from the Philippines, bearing Chinese
silks in exchange for Peruvian silver....What had
started as a number of separate expansions was steadily
turning into an interlocking whole..."
In this modern era, new computer-communications transformed
the nature of partnerships, enabling them to permute,
reshape, and regenerate to stay fresh and responsive
to the demands of new knowledge and innovation. Virtual
companies now exist, where the engineering, production,
finance, marketing and other functions are linked
together by global networks. Universities have begun
moving to this mode.
Governments have a positive role in all of this. They
can develop policies that create fertile environments
and encourage positive behaviors. The National Science
Foundation in particular, has developed a strong record
in promoting partnerships--making marriages among
some unlikely partners--to move us toward our science
and technology objectives for the coming decades.
During the past 30 years, NSF has stimulated and participated
in partnerships with academe, industry, other federal
agencies, state and local governments and other sectors.
This slide shows a representative sample of programs
that fit within this framework. It's hard to read,
because the list is a long one. It's an alphabet soup
Some are familiar, like the Small Business Innovation
Research (SBIR) Program, which NSF started in the
late 1970s. Some are relatively new - like our networking
infrastructure activities, our long-term ecological
research sites, and our program in Innovation and
All have state-fed connections and are, more or less,
drivers of innovation. Increasingly, partnerships
will be innovation driven as well as innovation oriented.
That is why NSF has just launched a new program: "Partnerships
for Innovation." As the chart indicates, the program
aims to foster creative partnerships designed to stimulate
local and regional economic development through innovation.
With today's information technology, we have a unique
opportunity to stimulate a national system of Innovation
Partnerships. These would be enabled by strategic
alliances among and between universities and colleges,
state and regional organizations, state governments
and the private sector.
The Congress has given us strong encouragement to pursue
this, and we are now in the process of soliciting
proposals from the community for the "best models"
to pursue. We are not being too prescriptive regarding
a model for these partnerships - because we want to
get the best ideas from the community, and test them
to see what works best.
In conclusion, I would like to inform you of a policy
study that may be of significant interest to you.
It is being undertaken by the National Science Board's
Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering
For those who may not know, the Congressional Act that
established NSF in 1950 also established a presidentially
appointed 24 member National Science Board.
The Act gives this Board the responsibility for establishing
the policies of the Foundation and serving as its
governing board. It also directs the Board to advise
the President and Congress to assure the productivity
and excellence of the Nation's science and engineering
The Board's Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Science and
Engineering Policy Issues was reconstituted in March
1999 to examine the need for structural or process
changes to improve priority setting for science. This
chart outlines its specific charge.
Thus far, the Committee has completed collecting background
literature on the current state of priority setting
in the Federal government and internationally. It
is in the process of preparing a framework for discussion
with other stakeholders, as described in its charge.
For those of you who are interested in following the
work of this Committee, or perhaps attending a future
stakeholders meeting, there is a website you can go
to for current information. (indicated on the chart.)
You can also contact Jean Pomeroy at NSF. She is the
Executive Secretary of the Committee.
With that, I will take questions as time permits. Thank