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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
Brookings Institution Seminar
Science and Technology Policy

June 12, 2000

See also presentation slides.

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 most rewarding.

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 more.

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 pattern accelerate.

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 also.

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 the future.

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 solutions.

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 innovation."

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 innovation.

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 technologies.

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 than later:

  • How large is the National capital asset stock for S&E infrastructure?

  • What is needed to address current needs and future opportunities?

  • What portion of this would not be provided optimally if left to individual agencies, institutions or researchers?

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 of infrastructure.

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 investments.

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 and solutions.

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 participation.

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 future.

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 criteria.

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 process?

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 would bring.

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 of acronyms.

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 Organizational Change.

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 Policy Issues.

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 enterprise.

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 you.



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