Inventing US Science Policy
After President Truman rejected Vannevar Bush's proposal for a practical transition from wartime research to peacetime science, the President turned to a trusted aide to design science policy as we now know it.
By William A. Blanpied *
Throughout 1995, speeches, articles and symposiums celebrated the 50th anniversary of Science -- The Endless Frontier 1, known more familiarly as the Bush Report, in honor of Vannevar Bush, its principal author. While all the commentators recognized the report as the centerpiece of post-World War II's science policy, some went on to express regret about its legacy for our present time: Bush's strategy was mapped in the heat of war and served as a battle-cry during the cold war, but it is likely to be inadequate as a vigorous defense of scientific research in the 21st century.
In fact, Bush's 35-page manifesto was something of a failure in its own time. On 6 August 1947, a little more than two years after the report was delivered to the White House, President Harry Truman vetoed the National Science Foundation Act of 1947, which Bush had considered an even greater invention than those credited to him -- notably, adapting microwave radar for antisubmarine warfare, developing a "differential analyzer" as an early mechanical computer and mobilizing America's scientific genius through the National Resources Defense Committee that he headed in World War II. Truman's action seemed to shatter Bush's concept of a National Research Foundation (NRF), the name Bush first gave to an independent agency that would initiate science policy in a new institutional arrangement, oversee all government scientific research, and dispense grants to universities in support of basic science. But 21 days later, on 27 August 1947, the President's Scientific Research Board (PSRB), chaired by John R. Steelman, the first White House aide to ever hold the title of Assistant to the President, issued Science and Public Policy: A Program for the Nation 2. Bush, who had been appointed to Steelman's board but decided, out of pique, to shun its deliberations, considered Steelman's multi-volume report a reprise of his own and warned friends that it "expresses the views of a small group within the government" and of "very few scientists...during its preparation."
INTRODUCING PROVOCATIVE IDEAS
Nonetheless, 50 years since its birth, Science and Public Policy remains an impressive document. Little known now or, for that matter, even then, it gives a careful, detailed analysis of the Federal and non-Federal research systems. Its provocative recommendations were calculated to stimulate wide discussion of the nature and scope of science-government relations during a critical period in the immediate postwar era. Yet the report was largely ignored by the science establishment and by government officials for years after its release. It created little stir in Washington, perhaps because the country was preoccupied at the time with fierce debates on how to respond to Soviet moves in Europe and how to prevent military control of nuclear weapons. One debate resulted in enacting the humanitarian Marshall Plan, the other in creating the civilian Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). As for the Steelman Report, it surely deserves a better fate than to have remained virtually discarded for half a century.
Both the impetus for establishing the President's Scientific Research Board in October 1946 and the failure of the board's report to have any appreciable impact when it was completed ten months later were closely related to the troubles encountered earlier by Bush's Science -- The Endless Frontier. The Bush Report had contained the astonishing recommendation to set up a new agency that would publicly fund all basic research, including medical and military research performed inside and outside of government laboratories. The misfortunes of the Bush Report, the neglect of the Steelman Report and the role each played in originating the National Science Foundation (NSF) came to illustrate the divergent perspectives on science-government relations that prevailed in the years immediately after World War II. The reports serve as cautionary tales about how seemingly felicitous opportunities once bypassed may not be soon restored.
DISTORTING PAST AND PRESENT REALITIES
In truth, the recent salutes to Vannevar Bush and his report have tended to distort both past and present realities. Science -- The Endless Frontier, though prepared at the request of Franklin D. Roosevelt, was initiated by a letter from Bush, at the time the President's quintessential wise man. A pioneering engineer at MIT for 20 years, Bush had then become head of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD).
At the time of the report, Bush was one of the most widely known "scientific icons" in the US, surpassed only by Einstein. Though Bush was a mathematician and engineer with a strong entrepreneurial bent, which led to his cofounding of Raytheon Corp while he was a young professor at MIT, Time 3 hailed him as the "general of physics" in its cover story on him in 1944.
Bush's report was never intended as a detailed blueprint for science policy. Rather, its primary objective was to advance the bold and novel proposition that the US government has both the right and responsibility to support self-directed basic research by academic scientists. This should be done, Bush insisted, through the NRF, an independent agency that he proposed Truman open for business within a few months. Bush believed the foundation could function on $33.5 million in its first year. The new agency, in addition to funding research grants, would provide "coordination of research programs on matters of utmost importance to the national welfare." As Bush saw it, such a function implied that the NRF could be a unique source of advice on science policy to the White House and Congress.
Two weeks after the release of the Bush Report, Senator Warren Magnuson, an influential Democrat of the state of Washington, introduced a bill to create a National Research Foundation. The legislation called for the agency's administrative structure to follow the lines set forth in the report, in which the board would determine the allocation of funds and appoint and discharge the foundation's director. The President was almost entirely out of the picture.
What made the NRF so different from the outset was its emphasis on government policy in support of scientific activity, not science for government policy. Harvey Brooks, a Harvard University physicist, later observed that the agency was not organized because Washington was concerned with the impacts of science it would unleash on society but, more narrowly, about the effects science would have on government -- that is, "science for policy."
In retrospect, the Bush Report made the unfortunately naive assumption that a government agency with little or no mission beyond funding unspecified research could operate in virtual isolation from normal political processes. It was an assumption that neither the Bureau of the Budget (BoB) nor some of the country's most influential scientific leaders agreed with.
DEFLATING UNPOLITICAL ASSUMPTIONS
The director of the BoB, Harold Smith, a holdover from the Roosevelt Administration, opposed Bush's insistence that the new science agency would allow scientists to make their own decisions on how to spend government funds. In October 1945, the month Bush had decided the NRF should start, Smith told a Senate committee that the President and the BoB certainly need scientific advice, which such an agency might provide. But he would not recommend adopting the Bush plan, because, said Smith, "an agency which is to control the spending of public funds in a great national program must be part of the machinery of government." 4 The President, Smith testified, would be wrong to delegate his Constitutional authority to oversee the disbursement of public funds to a part-time board of private citizens and to a director appointed by that board. As Smith put it, only the President and officials directly responsible to him could be accountable for spending such money. The scheme proposed by Bush smacked of arrogance and elitism, Smith argued.
Some important scientists agreed with Smith, for other reasons. Robert Millikan, the politically conservative president of Caltech, declared that Federal funding of research during peacetime was nothing but "collectivism." Frank Jewett, the head of Bell Labs, as well as part-time president of the National Academy of Sciences and until then a Bush booster, denounced the idea of NRF grants as a sure way of limiting scientific independence and of mixing military and civilian research. Academic scientists joined in Jewett's dissent from the Bush Report.
UNDERCUTTING SUPPORT FOR AN AGENCY
While the wrangling went on, support for the NRF was further undercut by the creation of two new agencies, the Office of Naval Research and the Atomic Energy Commission, which began to provide research grants to university scientists in 1946. Even so, in June 1946, the Senate passed a bill to create NRF with a structure acceptable to the Truman Administration. This bill was introduced by Harley Kilgore, a powerful West Virginia Democrat, as an alternative to the failed Magnuson measure. Under Kilgore's bill, the agency would have a director appointed by the President and answerable to him; the part-time science board would be entirely advisory and not administrative in its policy making capacity. The bill died a month later when the House committee that would normally consider it declined to do so, acting on the advice of scientists like Jewett and Millikan. Policy for science, the scientists insisted, should be only minimally subject to presidential authority, if at all.
Despite the bill's defeat in the House, some mid-level managers in the Truman Administration were impressed with Bush's concept. These officials included Elmer Staats, William Carey and Charles Kidd of the BoB and J. Donald Kingsley at the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion (OWMR). Concerned that Bush's proposal might end up in the trash bin, they decided to explore various options for policy-related functions they hoped the agency, which they renamed the National Science Foundation, could actually make happen. 5 Together with Steelman, they persuaded Truman to issue an executive order in October 1946 to create the PSRB. It was charged "to review current and proposed research and development activities both within and outside of the federal government." On the basis of the review, the board's chairman was to submit a report 6 "setting forth (1) his findings with respect to the Federal research programs and his recommendations for providing coordination and improved efficiency therein; and (2) his findings with respect to non-Federal research and development activities and training facilities . . . to ensure that the scientific personnel, training and research facilities of the nation are used most effectively in the national interest."
Members of the new board included the heads of all Cabinet departments with significant R&D programs, as well as the chiefs of several agencies without Cabinet status, such as the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (the precursor of NASA), the AEC, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Veterans Administration and, importantly, Vannevar Bush's Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD).
To be the board's chairman, the President named Steelman, a brawny and buoyant former economics and sociology professor at the little-known Alabama College in Montevallo. Truman had great faith in Steelman. The President had called on him to be his troubleshooting labor negotiator in settling the coal miner and railroad brotherhood dispute early in 1946. At the time, Steelman was director of the OWMR, but with the war over and the agency about to be dismantled, Truman gave him the title of Assistant to the President -- in effect the first White House chief of staff in the history of the republic. In his memoirs, Truman credits Steelman for helping him coordinate Federal agency programs and policies. To assist him on the board, Steelman appointed Kingsley from his own staff at the OWMR and Kidd from the BoB. The board was given ten months to come up with what Truman and Steelman believed would be a comprehensive description and analysis of the US research enterprise. As it turned out, few if any government science policy statements have equaled the final report in scope, depth or vision.
The summary volume of Science and Public Policy, bearing the title of "A Program for the Nation," consisted of 68 pages of analysis, conclusions and recommendations. It spanned the entire range of Federal and non-Federal science and technology activities, including international aspects of US science policy. More extensive analysis appeared in the report's four follow-up volumes, which included substantial quantities of qualitative data, much of it based on surveys conducted by outside contractors. Some of the surveys, particularly one entitled "Opinions of Scientists about Their Work" and another called "Opinions on Science Teaching" covered unexplored territory.
A comparison of the Steelman Report and the Bush Report reveals a good deal about the political and scientific contexts and concerns of the postwar 1940s. The different objectives of the reports were largely determined by the timing of each. The principal objective of the Bush Report, prepared during the final months of World War II, was to sketch out a design for postwar policy-for-science at a time when few besides Bush, Jewett, Harvard University President James Bryant Conant, MIT President Karl T. Compton and several men in the BoB had focused their thoughts on organizing science in the government.
MANAGING GOVERNMENT RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Two years later, when the Steelman Report appeared, the increasing significance of science and technology had become apparent in government circles and the industrial and academic communities. The principal objective of the PSRB, which produced the Steelman document, was to provide a rational system that would enable the government to manage its own research and development programs and establish effective coordination among the diverse research activities of government, industry, universities and other institutions.
The scope of the two reports was also determined by the needs of the time. The Bush Report was confined to questions on postwar science that President Roosevelt had put forth in a letter to Bush dated 17 November 1944. The fact that Bush himself had a hand in drafting the letter made it clear that Bush knew his destination before he set out. The final report was based on other reports prepared by four non-government committees that Bush convened to respond to the questions. The committee reports made use of data that were already available and appropriate, such as estimates of prewar research expenditures and personnel. In the end, however, Bush made little use of such data, relying instead on powerful rhetoric to make his case that scientific and technological progress were essential to advance the nation's economy, security and welfare. Accordingly, Bush concluded, it followed naturally that government needed to finance research at levels never known before and the best way of doing this was through an independent agency, which became NSF.
One of his MIT students, Frederick Terman, adopted Bush's ideas about academic-industrial collaboration to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers at Stanford University to beget Silicon Valley in California.
EXAMINING THE EROSION OF ACADEMIC RESEARCH
By contrast, the PSRB was run by relatively unknown Washington bureaucrats, who were directed to examine the health of the nation's research system, to diagnose the industrial-academic-government linkages and to comment on science-for-policy as well as policy-for-science. Much of the data accumulated for the four volumes supporting the final report were specifically generated for its report. The Steelman document revealed data on the steadily declining share of the nation's research outlays going to universities since 1930 and the erosion of academic faculty engaged in research. After the war, faculties were under pressure to take on heavy teaching loads to accommodate increasing enrollments, accentuated by the GI Bill of Rights and the country's need for trained people to make up for the shortages caused by the war and to expand the professions. In the end, the Steelman Report was able to make a considerably stronger case for Federal funding of academic research than the Bush Report.
The predominant difference between the reports was their underlying political and economic ideologies. Vannevar Bush was a classical laissez-faire conservative who distrusted large bureaucracies, whether in the government or in corporate spheres. While he and his colleagues recognized that private sources were no longer adequate to support academic research, the system proposed for providing universities with research funds was designed to avoid bureaucratic control and political favoritism.
This was in sharp contrast with Kingsley's task force on the PSRB as well as the BoB staff who had come to Washington in the Roosevelt Administration and were either New Deal liberals or at least sympathetic to that cause. While recognizing the pivotal importance of nongovernment research sectors, they drew on their wartime experiences to argue in favor of a coordinated approach that would involve industry, academia and government. Thus, although "A Program for the Nation" made a stronger case for the primacy of basic research than did Science -- The Endless Frontier, it took great pains to point out that academic research was to be only one element of a wider national enterprise. That truism was anathema to scientific elders such as Bush, Conant and Compton.
"A Program for the Nation" provided considerably more substance and scope, and offered a more expansive vision, than did the Bush Report. Its most significant recommendation was to double the nation's R&D expenditures in a decade, which would have put the level of expenditures at $2 billion by 1957 through a "planned program of expansion" that required greater increases in public funding than in private spending. The report proposed that R&D expenditures should be linked directly to national income and noted that the target for 1957 would amount to about 1% of the projected Gross National Product for that year. The task force also went out on a limb by explicitly recommending functional targets for 1957 in Federal R&D funding: 20% for basic research, 14% for health and medicine, 44% for nonmilitary development and 22% for military development. In addition, it provided an assessment of the nation's requirements for scientific personnel at the bachelor's degree and doctoral levels through 1957 and projected the availability of scientific and technical personnel during the decade, based on the number of students in the education pipeline. Accordingly, the Steelman group forewarned that the deficit of scientific personnel resulting from the losses in World War II would constitute the most serious limiting factor for the nation's scientific capacity.
The Bush Report assigned responsibility for coordinating "research programs on matters of utmost importance to the national welfare" to its proposed National Research Foundation. The Steelman Report recognized that coordinating the research agenda within the Federal system was no longer a mere pursuit but had become absolutely essential. The report stressed that "a central point of liaison among the major research agencies to assure the maximum interchange of information...must be provided" and even suggested that for major issues of science policy, the President should be included in any coordinating activity.
Although the Steelman Report, like the Bush Report, identified basic research as the principal arena for concerted Federal action, it went further in proposing how much to spend. The Bush Report recommended that the appropriation for the research foundation should rise to about $122.5 million in the fifth year of its operation and should remain at a steady state thereafter. Steelman's group opted for the foundation to spend $50 million for basic research in its first year and rise to an annual rate of $250 million by 1957.
The prescience of "A Program for the Nation" is remarkable. Nowhere is this more telling than in its treatment of the international aspects of science policy, a subject almost entirely missing from Science -- The Endless Frontier. The Steelman document asserted, for instance, that "the future is certain to confront us with competition from other national economies of a sort we have not hitherto had to meet." Despite this, the report stated, it is in the national interest to lend "every possible aid to the reestablishment of productive conditions of scientific research and development in all those countries [of Europe and Asia] willing to enter whole-heartedly into cooperation with us."
Thus, the Steelman Report argued that science should, in effect, be a significant component of the plan to reinvigorate war-torn Europe that General George C. Marshall, then Secretary of State, had laid out less than three months earlier in a Harvard University commencement speech -- a proposal that soon came to be known as the Marshall Plan.
Even as Science and Public Policy was being drafted, another attempt was being made to create an NSF consistent with the original formulation of the agency in Science -- The Endless Frontier. A radically altered political landscape favored a positive outcome. In November 1946, less than a month after the PSRB was created, Congressional elections returned Republican majorities to the House and Senate for the first time since 1930. The leadership of the 80th Congress was far less inclined than the more liberal 79th Congress to heed a President from the Democratic party. Accordingly, on 22 July 1947, both chambers passed legislation for an NSF in which virtually all authority would be vested in a part-time, presidentially appointed National Science Board representing the scientific community. On 6 August 1947, Truman vetoed the National Science Foundation Act of 1947 for the same reason that BoB Director Smith had opposed it before a Senate committee in October 1945 -- specifically, that the President cannot delegate his Constitutional authority to oversee the disbursement of public funds to a part-time group of private citizens. The scientists who had backed the bill had misread Truman's firm resolve on the proposed administrative structure of the NSF. They had assumed that a compromise would be reached by Congress and the White House. They hadn't reckoned on Truman's intransigence.
LOSING A CHOICE OPPORTUNITY
Still, when the Steelman Report was released exactly three weeks after Truman's veto, it contained strong support for the NSF. Just before the report went to press, its BoB defenders had inserted a recommendation that "the Congress be urged to establish at its next session a National Science Foundation within the executive office of the President." However, although it was probably unrecognized at the time, the opportunity to establish the NSF that captured the essence of Science -- The Endless Frontier had been lost forever. The NSF created in 1950 was but a pale reflection of what it might have been had the nation's scientific leadership been prepared to negotiate a compromise on the agency's administrative structure. By 1950, the ONR and the AEC had been supporting academic research for at least three years, the cold war was ramping up and the House Un-American Activities Committee was in search of Reds in universities, in the news media and in Hollywood. In such an atmosphere, the need for one more agency to support university research was questioned in the Senate. But the NSF legislation managed to win approval, though only after some amendments had been added: One excluded medical research from the agency's jurisdiction and another limited its annual budget to $15 million.
By comparison, Federal nondefense R&D during 1950 amounted to about $600 million, and Federal defense R&D was funded at more than twice that amount.
By the mid-1950s, it had become conventional wisdom to extol the genius of the pluralistic US research system, which permitted academic scientists to seek grants from more than one government agency -- a majority of them mission agencies. Yet the greatly revered Bush Report had taken precisely the opposite line, emphasizing the need for a single agency to support all nongovernment research and explicitly rejecting the claim that any mission agency had the capacity to do so. Indeed, for at least a year after the NSF was established, it was widely assumed by scientists that other agencies would willingly transfer their basic research portfolios -- along with their associated budgets -- to the new agency on the block.
ASKING WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
It is tempting to speculate on what might have been. If a unitary research support agency had been created in 1947, would the result 50 years later be more or less funding available for science? Would the distribution of support among the various fields of science be different? Would the scientific community rue the day that Bush had dreamed up his idea for a foundation? Would an NSF initiated in 1947 become the nucleus of a Department of Science with basic science relegated to a minor part within it? Or might a comprehensive, unitary NSF have emerged much better equipped to maintain the privileged status of basic research in the Federal portfolio?
It would be foolish to attempt to answer questions such as these.
Science and Public Policy, like the NSF Act of 1947, turned out to be essentially dead on arrival. Reactions to it in the scientific community ranged from indifferent to hostile. Bush himself did not hesitate to voice his distaste for the entire PSRB exercise on the grounds that Steelman had no background in or understanding of science and engineering. Bush also harbored a visceral distrust of bureaucrats and New Dealers, who were the architects of the Steelman Report. What's more, Bush and his circle were suspicious of the plan to place the NSF within the executive branch rather than give it a wholly independent status.
There was an even more important reason why the Steelman Report was stillborn. Republican leaders of the 80th Congress were determined to dismantle or at least limit many of the programs created in Franklin Roosevelt's era. With a Republican majority in Congress in 1946, Truman and his advisers recognized the futility of convincing Congress (and the country's editorial writers) to accept the concept of a ten-year program based on a coordinated quasi-New Deal plan that would enable the Federal government to finance research in both the public and private sectors.
That the NSF concept didn't just die with Truman's veto was due in large part to the BoB's efforts. Within the BoB, Carey emerged as the principal champion for the NSF. From 1947 to 1950, he managed to maintain the interest of his colleagues while he persevered in convincing leading scientists, academics and members of Congress to push for the National Science Foundation Act of 1950, which Truman signed into law on 10 May that year.
During those years, BoB gained insights into the style and substance of the country's research enterprise. As Carey later recalled, 7 the BoB educated the scientists about the realities of the political process, while BoB staff learned invaluable lessons about the value of basic research and the linkage between scientific autonomy and creativity, as well as the connections between research and the training of new scientists.
TAKING A NEW ROLE BY DEFAULT
Starting around 1946, the BoB had taken, albeit reluctantly and almost by default, an increasingly pivotal role in coordinating the Federal R&D system. The Steelman Report had recommended that "the bureau should...continue to take the initiative in the allocation of research functions among executive agencies" and emphasized that the BoB "is not and should not be charged with the task of developing a broad scientific research program for the nation." The latter job, presumably, would fall within the scope of the new NSF.
In the event, Carey and his BoB colleagues made sure that the 1950 legislation contained the functions envisioned by the Bush Report. The legislation called for a National Science Board consisting of 24 members "eminent in the fields of basic sciences, medical science, engineering, agriculture, education and public affairs." BoB expected this body to provide the advice and guidance it needed to formulate a coherent, coordinated national science policy.
The BoB was destined for disappointment, however. North Korea's invasion of South Korea, barely six weeks after the NSF bill was enacted, relegated civilian research to a back burner while defense research heated up. The White House, preoccupied with the Korean conflict, didn't forward its nominees for the science board to the Senate until November 1950. By the time the board held its first meeting on 12 December, the BoB was already considering a proposal from William T. Golden, a Wall Street investment banker who was serving as special consultant to the White House, to create the position of presidential science adviser, who would head a science advisory committee to the President. Golden's scheme would have the committee advise the President on the government's growing but scattered defense research programs. Even so, he and the BoB recognized that such a committee could provide useful advice on nondefense research as well.
By the time it was put in place in April 1951, Golden's proposed committee had been downgraded to the status of a scientific advisory committee to the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM) within the executive office. And at the second meeting of the National Science Board on 3 January 1951, it was apparent that the board had been excluded from advising on defense research, which had become the only game in town. From then on, the science board was limited, with rare exceptions, to providing policy guidance to the NSF. Only occasionally did it attempt to fulfill the broader terms of the NSF's enabling act by offering advice on broad science policy matters and coordinating government R&D, despite the continued urging of the BoB to do so. Meanwhile, ODM's panel of science advisers slowly emerged as a force in the government's science policy structure -- most prominently, with a 1954 report on national defense, prepared by a panel chaired by MIT President James R. Killian. The report greatly impressed President Eisenhower. In November 1957, in the wake of the Soviet Union's Sputnik launches, Eisenhower elevated the ODM panel to the prestigious status of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) and designated Killian as his full-time science adviser. Thereafter, PSAC fulfilled many of the functions that Carey and others in the BoB had envisioned for the National Science Board. 8
In May 1951, NSF received BoB's approval for a budget request of $13.5 million for fiscal 1952. In October, Congress agreed to appropriate only $3.5 million on the grounds that the Korean emergency precluded more than nominal expenditures for programs such as basic research and science education. But by fiscal 1958, the agency's appropriations had risen to $49.75 million -- still less than 20% of the amount recommended in the Steelman Report for that fiscal year.
CHANGING NSF'S FORTUNES
However, the NSF's fortunes were about to change. A consequence of the Sputniks was the widespread worry about possible deficiencies in US scientific capabilities and technical resources compared to the Soviet Union and, even more acutely, the lack of sufficient numbers of adequately prepared and highly motivated young people selecting scientific and technical careers. Newspapers and magazines clamored for government support of science and education. Congress got the message and appropriated $136 million for the NSF in fiscal 1959. It is unlikely that many pointed out that the allocation, though impressive, was only slightly more than half the $250 million that "A Program for the Nation" had proposed for 1957, for the simple reason that few people, even in Washington, would have recalled the Steelman Report.
In fact, Congress did not take the NSF seriously until it concluded that academic basic research might contribute to America's victory in the cold war. This was ironic, because the Bush Report and the Steelman Report were each written to advance basic science in a world at peace. William Carey was later to recall 9 the heady environment in Washington during the immediate postwar years:
You have to think of the atmosphere. This was postwar, most of the world in ashes, the US riding very, very high, dreaming great dreams -- the Full Employment Act, the United Nations, the Marshall Plan. And then, along in parallel, there was to be a new age of science and creativity...We were building a brave new world and all would go well. There was a very short window of idealism and optimism that closed very abruptly [with the advent of the cold war].
NSF almost certainly would have evolved into a distinctly different agency had it been created in 1946 or 1947 rather than in the cold-war engagement of 1950, though we can never know whether that would be better or worse for the scientific enterprise. Beyond the NSF, a wide-ranging debate in 1947-48 on science-government relations would clearly have been in the best long-term interests of both science and government, as well as, more broadly, US society. The long-forgotten Steelman Report would have been an admirable point of departure. That such a debate never occurred certainly qualifies as a significant opportunity lost -- one whose impacts are still discernible after 50 years.
Opinions expressed by the author are his own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of the National Science Foundation or the US government.
* Reprinted with permission from William A. Blanpied, "Inventing US Science Policy," Physics Today, 51(2), February 1998, pp 34-40. Copyright 1998 American Institute of Physics.
For more about Physics Today, see the website (http://www.aip.org/pt/).
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1 V. Bush, Science -- The Endless Frontier: A Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research, July 1945. Reprinted by NSF, Washington, DC, 1990
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2 J.R. Steelman, Science and Public Policy, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, August 1947. Reprinted by Arno Press, New York, NY, 1980.
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3 Time, 3 April 1944.
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4 J.M. England, A Patron for Pure Science: The National Science Foundation's Formative Years, Washington, DC: National Science Foundation, 1982, p.30. Part I, entitled "The Long Debate, 1945-50" (pp.9-112), is a detailed treatment of NSF's legislative history.
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5 C.V. Kidd, interview with the author, 13 May 1997.
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6 J.R. Steelman, "A Program for the Nation," Vol. I of Science and Public Policy (ref. 2), pp. 70-71.
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7 W.D. Carey, "Science and Public Policy," in Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol. 10, Winter 1985, pp. 7-16.
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8 On 17 March 1954, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10521 "Concerning Government Scientific Research," drafted by Carey, which included provisions designed to compel NSF to carry out advisory functions mandated by the National Science Foundation Act of 1950. NSF Director Alan T. Waterman largely ignored the provisions.
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9 W.D. Carey, interview with the author, 19 November 1986.
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