NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Luncheon Remarks to the American Chemical Society
Board of Directors Government Relations Retreat
June 6, 1997
- Good afternoon everyone.
- Everybody looks so comfortable, I feel like taking my coat off, calling the office and telling them to hold all of my calls--I'll be staying here the rest of the afternoon in scenic and beautiful Elkridge.
- I appreciate the invitation to talk with all of you today. I hope to make my contribution to your gathering as brief as I can, but as important as I must! In my home state of Oklahoma, people say if you haven't struck oil in three minutes, stop boring! My hope is to strike oil as quickly as I can, and then start some discussion with you.
- While preparing my talk today, I was reminded of the time a colleague of mine submitted a budget for the physics and chemistry departments to the university provost. As this colleague gave it to the provost, the provost sighed and said, "Why is it that you physical scientists always require so much expensive equipment? Now, the math department requires nothing of me but money for paper, pencils and erasers." The university provost thought a while longer and added, "And the philosophy department is better still. It doesn't even ask for erasers."
- For an instant, perhaps, my colleague might have wished he was a philosopher in that situation--afforded a kind of luxury and existing in that oftentimes intangible and unmeasurable environment. But alas, this was not the case then--nor is it now! In fact, tangibility and accountability are the order of the day in academe as well as government, where GPRA is upon us.
- Having said that, however, I'd like to provide you with a quick summary of where I believe NSF stands within the context of the recently agreed upon Balanced Budget Agreement. Not exactly philosophy, but a little bit along the lines of prognostication anyway.
- With regard to the outlook for NSF's budget, we're looking at some uncertainty and perhaps some opportunity.
- You all are undoubtedly aware of the recently agreed upon blueprints for a plan to balance the budget by the year 2002. This is a major accomplishment. This agreement will help put the nation on solid fiscal footing as we head into the new century.
- For all of us who care about research and education, however, this long-sought agreement does not mean our work is done. Quite the contrary, our voices will need to be heard more than ever.
- This is because the focus, as most of you probably know, is on discretionary programs to achieve a big chunk of the savings necessary to balance the budget. To some extent, this further shrinks the pool of money available for federal R&D, and it certainly increases the competition for ever-scarcer resources, especially among nondefense programs.
- As it stands now, the Budget Agreement calls for a 7% reduction (not counting for inflation) by the year 2002 in the Function 250 account, otherwise referred to as the General Science, Space and Technology account, which includes NSF, NASA and DOE's general science programs.
- FY 1998 projections for the Budget Agreement for Function 250, indicate an allocation of $16.2 billion which represents $240 million less than the President's request. Of course, the budget agreement does not tell us how the appropriations will come out--but it is important guidance--and the numbers do not bode well for science!
- I often tell people however, that the devil is not simply in the details, it's in the totals. The projections for the budget category known as domestic discretionary spending deserve special attention. This category includes most of what we think of as "government": parks, prisons, highways, food safety, and many other functions, including NSF, NASA, Department of Interior, EPA, NOAA, and other non-defense R&D funding.
- Thirty years ago, these activities--all domestic discretionary expenditures--accounted for nearly a quarter of all Federal spending. Now they are barely 1/6th of the total. Even more disconcerting is that this 1/6th slice of the pie will shrink to roughly 1/7th of the pie over the next five years.
- The implications of this trend for science and engineering provide little comfort. They portend a decline in purchasing power for non-defense R&D on the order of 15 % (assuming inflation remains roughly what it is today).
- Of course, when it comes to actual appropriations, NSF is in with VA, HUD, NASA, EPA and other independent agencies.
- Where I hope NSF might possibly find some compensation throughout all of the budget machinations will be if the budget agreement provides sufficient relief for some of the Section 8 housing programs, or if the Veteran's Administration is allowed to retain for itself certain health fees. Of equal importance is the passage of the FY 1998 House authorization bill for NSF which could bode well for the Foundation overall in the appropriations process. And hopefully the Senate will take similar action and pass an authorization bill for NSF as well.
- This situation sort of reminds me of the old story of a researcher who was short on time and money (pretty uncommon, right?) who was having a conversation with God. The researcher decided to ask God, "God, what is a million years like to you?" God thought for a moment and then replied, "well, my son, a million years is like a second to me." The researcher nodded his head in acceptance, and then asked God another question. He asked, "God, what is a million dollars like to you?" God leaned back in his heavenly chair and replied, "Well, a million dollars is like a penny to me." At this point, the researcher thought to himself and then asked God, "well then, can I have a million dollars?" And God answered, "of course--but you'll have to wait just a second."
- Actually, the idea of a researcher talking with God does not help our elitist image much.
- Now, we all understand that a budget agreement for the most part lays out the parameters for discussion and does not necessarily translate immediately into reality.
- However, having said that, I do view the Budget Agreement's current parameters for science and technology as one of a series of particularly significant "warning shots across the bow!"
- So my remarks are not meant to take the Budget Agreement lightly or the seriousness of Congress' efforts to responsibly balance the budget. Not at all.
- In fact, quite the opposite. This is a "warning shot" which I hope is heard around the country and throughout the entire science and engineering community.
- This is a cautionary signal, if you will, which provides us some time (but not much) and opportunity to continue to communicate to Congress how vital this country's investment in science and engineering is to the nation's welfare.
- I am encouraged by the efforts of Senators Phil Gramm, Bill Frist, Pete Domenici, and Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner and George Brown who argue for greater federal funding for research and development and demonstrate the bipartisan support in Congress for science.
- We have also been hearing strong messages from the President about the importance of education, science, technology, and the environment. I would like to be optimistic that all of this will be favorably translated in the final budget that emerges from Congress down the road.
- But even with these demonstrations of hope, we cannot afford to be complacent.
- The simple fact is--non defense R&D is all contained in that shrinking domestic discretionary slice of the budget pie I talked about. It is extremely difficult for anything in that piece to avoid being squeezed--and some of these things are of immediate importance to people and politically important.
- As it stands now, the budget agreement means that resources available to the appropriations subcommittees are--and will remain--extremely tight. And this will only increase the pressure on federal programs and their constituencies to demonstrate how they contribute in meaningful ways to the health and well being of the Nation.
- This last point brings me quite gracefully to my next. If there is one message that I have endeavored to relay throughout my time at NSF, it has been to emphasize how important it is for the research community, the universities, and the scientific and engineering societies to actively get the message out about science and technology and its critical connection to this country's social and economic welfare.
- I realize I am preaching to the choir here, given the active role ACS has been playing. But I believe we all agree how vital it is to make a convincing case to policy-makers about the importance of investing adequately in the nation's scientific research and education, even while balancing the Federal budget.
- I remain concerned, however, that the nation will not be doing enough to maintain and strengthen its position as a world leader in science, engineering, and technology over the next several years.
- Certainly without the support and understanding of the taxpayers, we surely will not be able to meet that challenge. What scientists and engineers must do is convince those who support their work--the taxpayers, who are the ultimate stakeholders in this venture.
- And our task, as a community, to put it succinctly, is to articulate how scarce taxpayer dollars assigned for research in science, engineering, and technology translate into future benefits for society as a whole.
- Related to this last point, let me just make mention of the recent Narin Report whose findings assert that publicly supported science has a "direct, massive impact on industrial technology." Their data demonstrate that in two recent periods--1987 and 1988, as well as 1993 and 1994--more than 70 percent of the scientific papers cited on the front pages of U.S. Industry patents came from public science, i.e., science performed at universities, government labs, and other public agencies.
- These are important findings which establish the truly fundamental linkage between the nation's investment in its science and engineering enterprise and the U.S. economy's health and well-being.
- While you and I might understand the implications for a report such as this one, sometimes the public as a whole does not. That is why it becomes incumbent on those of us who are part of this community to carry this message to policymakers and to the public that pays the bills!
- Thanks largely to your leadership here at the ACS, the community has been able to make significant inroads in this area.
- Your work and public outreach to communicate the importance of science and technology has been of great value--whether it has been in Washington or at the always-important local level.
- Just one example: A couple of weeks ago, during a visit to Capitol Hill, I was meeting with Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen who happened to mention to me a trip he made out to his district during which he met with 100 ACS members from the North Jersey Local Section.
- During our visit, Rep. Frelinghuysen went on and on about the success of that meeting. It was clear he was pleased and felt it had helped to facilitate understanding at both federal and local levels, the impact of science and technology on the community and in his district as a whole.
- It is one thing to "get the job done in Washington," as we say, and another to "get it done" at a local level. ACS has both capacities and uses them effectively and we are grateful for that at NSF.
- When we mobilize members of the science and engineering community out in the field to participate in a dialog with policymakers, we demonstrate that we are stakeholders in the investment made by this nation.
- We also demonstrate we are willing to convince those who support our work--the taxpayers of this great country, who are also stakeholders--just how important that investment is. ACS has provided strategic leadership in this area with other organizations in the community like FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology), the American Physical Society, and with such organizations as the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, and a long list of other professional societies.
- It is really all about accountability. And when ACS works out in the field or in Washington to provide leadership in the overall science and engineering community to communicate that important message, they are performing a service as well as a responsibility.
- ACS has been active and engaged in the area of advocating as part of the larger science and engineering community as well.
- Advocating on behalf of a certain discipline is, to my mind, not of great value. In the first place, an Appropriation Subcommittee rarely makes a decision that would decide between one field and another--the trade-offs are different. Additionally, I think it does a disservice to the greater community and to what we are trying to achieve overall, if we begin to shoot at one another.
- The public needs to hear from the science and engineering community with one voice on the issue of federally funded research and education. Speaking out as a community, and educating with a uniform message and voice that federally funded research and education is vital and touches all of our lives in critical ways, will determine the extent to which the country remains globally and economically vigorous.
- In this regard, efforts like the event in March which had some 23 scientific societies--including ACS as well as other major organizations representing many physical scientists, mathematicians, and electrical engineers--coordinating a joint statement at a press conference and asking the President and Congress for a significant budget increase in federal support for research, are particularly effective.
- I was pleased with this important show of unity across scientific disciplines. It was a linking-up of people and a driving-home of the message of how investment in science and engineering is an investment in our nation's future.
- This is the kind of leadership we in the science and engineering community have consistently witnessed from ACS.
- I cannot emphasize enough what a crucial transition period this is for academic science and engineering. We need to redouble our efforts to send a clear signal about linking our work in research and education to the challenges and concerns that face our society.
- And the efforts of science and engineering professional societies will contribute much to how well science and technology weather the budget gauntlet.
- My thanks go out to ACS, its members, and those in the community who do so much to educate and facilitate communication and understanding regarding the significant role that science and engineering have played in building our great society and must play in shaping a bright future.
- This vital contribution is not always easy to convey to the public at large, but I know we are more than up to the task and cannot afford to do anything less.
- Thanks very much for your attention this afternoon. I am, of course, happy to answer any questions you may have.
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