- By Kenneth T. Walsh
Autumn brought more than brisk temperatures and falling
leaves to Washington. With midterm elections approaching, it also
changed the nature of the political debate as national security suddenly
re-emerged as the No. 1 issue.
After several months when the stock market slide, the
return of the federal deficit, and corporate corruption gathered momentum
as issues, the war on terrorism and President Bush's campaign
against Saddam Hussein were again on the front burner. Bush took the
lead by rattling his saber against Iraq and warning that an invasion
could be imminent. Former Vice President Al Gore responded by harshly
criticizing Bush's doctrine of pre-emptive war. Not to be outdone,
Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle attacked Bush for allegedly politicizing
the issue of domestic security—a charge Republican leaders proceeded
to level against the Democrats.
But, with memories of the first anniversary of 9/11
still fresh, national security has become more than a campaign theme.
It is also being increasingly recognized as one of the most serious
and enduring policy questions facing America. And, ever so gradually,
the leaders of Congress and the administration appear to be recognizing
that science and technology can play a vital role in reducing the
threat from what Bush calls "the evildoers."
For example, the seemingly inevitable creation of a
new Department of Homeland Security will have important ramifications
across the board. For one thing, over the years there probably will
be a significant amount of new funds available for research into scientific
and technological ways to combat terrorism.
Under Bush's proposal, the Department of Homeland
Security would establish a series of laboratories modeled on the National
Nuclear Security Administration labs that provided expertise on nuclear
weapons design during the cold war The new labs would aim to develop
new technologies for homeland security and maintain what U.S. officials
call "a critical mass of scientific and engineering talent"
to enhance homeland security systems.
Already, leaders in Ohio, Texas, New York, and other
states are looking for ways to persuade national legislators to funnel
federal money their way as they seek a share of the $3 billion likely
to be earmarked for the initial phase of security-related research
Researchers and educators will need to be more nimble
than ever in figuring out how to participate in the government's
evolving programs. "You'll see a larger investment from
the federal government in security issues," says a spokesman
for Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who is a leading promoter
of science and technology on Capitol Hill. "But you'll
also have a new department with new procedures, and the academicians
will have to learn those new procedures. There might be some growing
In applying for grants, congressional sources warn,
the modus operandi at the new department might be much different from
those at the Departments of Energy or Defense. This could lead to
frustration and anger on all sides.
Yet Congressman Holt, a physicist by training, argues
that the national-security focus might encourage legislators to consider
research "not as an ivory-tower, outside-the-mainstream endeavor
but as something that's a necessary and patriotic endeavor,"
says Holt's spokesman.
"There's a huge role here for science that
you might not normally think of in a military campaign," says
Rep. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and member of the House Select
Committee on Homeland Security. "We need to be sure this department
has the latest technology and scientific knowledge to bring to bear
on the problem of terrorism. It's not something that can be
addressed just by adding another 100,000 troops."And this means
a need for more and better research in the nation's colleges
Overall, the new political environment may be producing
a new consensus. "Science and technology is the key to homeland
security, no matter what the final configuration for the new department
is," says Todd Stewart, the Ohio State University official who
supervises international and homeland security programs. "We
need to make the same sort of commitment to science and technology
that we did when we got the wake-up call with Sputnik." Sputnik
of course was the Soviet satellite sent into orbit on Oct. 4, 1957,
triggering the space race between the U.S.S.R. and the United States.
America won that race. And it may take a similar effort
to achieve the same outcome in the war on terrorism.
Kenneth T. Walsh is the chief White House correspondent
for U.S. News & World Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.