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CRA Bulletin 3.1 -- science policy in the new Congress
From: David Farber <farber () central cis upenn edu>
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 1995 17:03:36 -0500





Volume 3 Number 1                                           January 6, 1995

About CRA:    Computing Research Association is a non-profit association
              of computer science and computer engineering departments,
              industrial research institutions and affiliated technical
              societies in the U.S. and Canada.

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Copyright (C) 1995 by Computing Research Association. All rights reserved.
              CRA Bulletin may be redistributed as long as it is done
              entirely with all attributions to organizations and authors.
              Commercial distribution is strictly prohibited.


By Rick Weingarten

This piece is a set of personal and somewhat opinionated comments based on
the science policy hearings held this morning by Rep Walker in his new role
as Chair of the House Committee on Science.

An impressive list of administration officials testified: Secretary of
Commerce, Ron Brown; NASA Administrator, Daniel Goldin; EPA Director Carol
Browner, NSF Director, Neal Lane; and Presidential Science Advisor, Jack
Gibbons. Missing at the table, because they are not in the Committee's
jurisdiction, were NIH and Defense. An unfortunate gap since so they are
such a big portion of the R&D picture.

As might be expected, some talked about issues that he or she considered
most threatening to their agency. Brown defended the Advanced Technology
Program, Browner discussed EPA Risk Assessment work, Goldin spoke about how
imaginatively NASA was absorbing double-digit budget cuts, and so on. Neal
Lane took a somewhat broader perspective in discussing NSF, and Gibbons
presented the overall administration perspective. Lane's testimony will be
posted in CRA's "Computing Researcher's Guide to Congress" page (see

Some observations.

1. To an old congressional hand, it was amazing to see how little the
change in Congress is reflected in the science policy debate--how much it
sounded the same. Sure, there is a temporary "glow" of bipartisanship that
will probably fade. There are strong differences of opinion on details--for
instance, the space station, the Advanced Technology Program of NIST, EPA's
Risk Assessment program. The rhetoric will change somewhat. (Industrial
policy is "out," for instance.)

But, underlying those long standing differences is an equally long
standing, clear and bipartisan consensus in the Congress that (1) research
funding is a legitimate role for the Federal government and, (2) in light
of the severe budget pressures, research had better make some darn good
arguments why it ought to get a piece of the pie (and forget asking for any
bigger piece, by the way.)

2. Related to the last sentence above, the trends are scary. (1) A likely
balanced budget amendment, (2) increased defense funding (not necessarily
for research), (3) a tax cut almost certain. It's not a rosy outlook for
any discretionary part of the budget. The presenters were reminded of these
realities time and again in questioning by the committee members,
Republicans and Democrats alike.

3. To retain any semblance of support, research is going to have to
demonstrate benefits. This attitude is true on the part of Republicans and
Democrats alike; and, I think, always has been the general sense in
Congress. I wager that few members ever thought they were engaging in
philanthropy when they voted for NSF appropriations; but some who voted
against probably thought that was precisely what they were opposing.

Thus, any who thought that we were returning to the world of fundamental
physical science research and leaving all this strategic business behind,
may have been celebrating a little too early.

4. The lines between basic and applied, directed, strategic, "use driven"
(the latest term) research are dead, dead, and dead. Neal Lane said so.
Jack Gibbons said so. If a third member of the panel had said so, it would
have been true, anyway, according to Lewis Carroll. But, it is also true in
the sense that few in Congress ever understood or believed those lines
existed. (See 3. above.) And, no one challenged either Lane's or Gibbons'

5. Based on the tepid reaction to a series of articles that recently
appeared in the Washington Post on the sad state of U.S. science, we can
also conclude that entitlement arguments are still political non-starters.
It's a shame that a three page series of front page articles in a national
newspaper could so miss moving the debate along. (I warned readers this was
an opinion piece!)

Bottom line: It's going to be exceptionally tough, folks, both to keep the
overall level of research funding from taking a massive hit and to see that
computing research programs are maintained. That said:

Both research, in general, and computing research specifically, still have
lots of potential friends and powerful political allies on both sides of
the aisle. These allies need much help.

There are many new members who need educating about research and computing,
and who say they are willing to learn.

We will follow these developments in CRA bulletin and CRA News. We have
also created a "Computing Researcher's Guide to Congress," mentioned above,
accessible through our home page (HTTP://cra.org/). (Putting it together
has been slowed enormously by the confusion and delay in making committee
assignments and getting biographical information--but it is gradually
coming together. Comments and suggestions about what you would like to see
on it are most welcome.)

Editorial Staff:

Juan Antonio Osuna, CRA Bulletin Editor
     josuna () cra org

Rick Weingarten, CRA Executive Director
     rick () cra org

Computing Research Association
1875 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 718
Washington, DC 20009
phone: (202) 234-2111
fax:   (202) 667-1066

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