are reluctantly concluding that George W. Bush's new administration
isn't as science-friendly as it first appeared. And not even
the president's eagerly awaited choice of physicist John
Marburger III as director of the White House Office of Science
and Technology Policy has done much to assuage the critics.
there's anything wrong with Marburger, director of the Energy
Department's Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.
In fact, he enjoys widespread respect among his colleagues. And,
as a lifelong Democrat, the new director might even help the Republican
administration work more smoothly with Democrats who now control
the Senate, at least on science-related issues.
if Marburger is confirmed easily by the Senate this fall, as expected,
it will take several more months before his team is in place.
And that means many policy decisionssuch as those on budget
priorities for 2002 and 2003, on arsenic in drinking water, on
what to do next about climate change, and on embryo stem-cell
researchwill have been made without the benefit of comprehensive
advice from in-house scientific experts. It's also unclear
how much Bush will really pay attention to what Marburger tells
him, and the record on that score is not comforting.
issue is particularly troubling. White House officials argue that
the Bush budget for science is up 6 percent, but that figure does
not account for inflation and includes cuts in many valuable projects
within the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department.
Even Representative Sherwood Boehlert of New York, a Republican
who has played a key role on science issues in Congress, says
the administration budget for science is too low and he is very
disturbed. And Marye Anne Fox, who advised Bush on science
issues when he was governor of Texas and is now chancellor of
North Carolina State University, says that, without major investments
in science, we should expect innovation and with it our
competitive advantage to shift overseas.''
the scientific community is Bush's intention to push forward
with his missile defense shield even though there
is little scientific evidence that such a system will work. At
the same time, Bush has raised profound objections to the Kyoto
accord on global warming despite strong evidence that climate
change is a real and growing problem. In short, the fear is that
scientific arguments have little or no impact at the White House,
where conservative ideology seems to trump nearly everything else.
Usually Republicans have their scientists and Democrats
have their scientists, says Hugh Gusterson, a cultural anthropologist
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies American
science. Gusterson told the New York Times recently: What's
extraordinary about this moment in time, on both missile defense
and the greenhouse effect, is the substantial consensus against
the White House policy.''
On the crucial
issue of R&D, President Bush's defenders say corporations
have accelerated their spending on research and development, reducing
the need for government intervention. This year, the private sector
is spending an estimated $180 billion on R&D, double what
the federal government spends. Yet corporate America tends to
emphasize shorter-term, money-making projects rather than long-range
research that doesn't result in an immediate payoff. This
longer-term research has led to major progress in fields ranging
from physics to medicine, and that's where the government's
investment would be most welcome.
Secretary Don Evans, one of the president's closest confidants,
told me in an interview that Bush recognizes the importance of
the technology industry, which the secretary estimates has generated
one third of the economic growth over the past five years. But
Evans argues that Bush's first order of business when he
took over in January was to establish clear priorities, and his
biggest challenge was to improve the overall economy by winning
passage of a massive tax cut. With that accomplished, the administration
can now focus on other challenges, such as boosting the technology
sector, Evans says.
doesn't mean Bush will automatically support higher budgets.
The best way to help the technology sector, Evans says, is to
push for trade promotion authority so tech entrepreneurs can expand
their markets abroad and plan for the future with more predictability.
Of course, that won't satisfy many science advocates.
the picture is Democratic control of the Senate. Majority Leader
Tom Daschle is already working with moderate conservatives, including
Vermont's Jim Jeffords, whose party switch from Republican
to independent at mid-year gave the Democrats a working majority
in the Senate and the power to set the agenda. This means Congress
will probably increase R&D spending this fall and, more generally,
provoke a major battle with the White House over the federal role
in encouraging science and technology. The Democrats want more
of a federal role, the White House less. This, in turn, will set
the stage for a larger battle leading up to the mid-term elections
in November 2002 over the best way to nurture science and technology
during the Bush era.
T. Walsh is senior White House correspondent for U.S. News &