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The National Science Board - A History in Highlights, 1950-2000
Table of Contents | Preface | Acknowledgements | Former Members | Exec Secretaries/Officers | Timeline

Expansion into Engineering and Applied Research

From late 1964 through early 1968, the Foundation's authorizing committees in the House and Senate considered the Foundation's future role. The leader of the inquiry was Congressman Emilio Daddario (D-CT), chairman of the Subcommittee on Science, Research and Development of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. Daddario held extended hearings in 1965 with an eye to extending the Foundation's mandate to include engineering, social sciences, and applied research. Because the Director and the Board embraced Daddario's aims-albeit cautiously-they were listened to in crafting amendments to the original 1950 Act. The amendments became law in July 1968 as P.L. 90-407. The situation unfolded much as in the mid-1950s: Congress perceived the Foundation as successfully managing its growth and rewarded it with broader responsibilities.

A Champion for Social Science: In 1958, Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, an early, influential member of the Board, was named head of a committee tasked with defining the Foundation's commitment to social science. Most decisionmakiners then at the Foundation were from the physical sciences. During one meeting from which Hesburgh was absent, his committee-'in a stormy session,' according to accounts-watered down the draft report and tried to bring it to a vote, a move resisted by Board Chair Detlev W. Bronk. Upon Hesburgh's return, he insisted that the Board vote on the original language. Writes historian J. Merton England, 'perhaps this time the members were in a good mood, or perhaps they hesitated to challenge his obvious conviction.' In any event, they approved the initial report. Daddario was a friend of the Foundation. He believed in the federal patronage of basic research and the coupling of research with education. The zeitgeist was shared by his Senate counterpart, Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), who held similar hearings as chairman of the Special Subcommittee on Science of the Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare. In 1965, NASA's astronauts were national heroes, computers were rare items of public wonder, and physicists enjoyed particular prestige. Conventional wisdom held that if other fields adopted the methods of physical science, they could solve the Nation's problems.

The National Science Board benefited at this moment by having a plainspoken engineer as chairman, Eric A. Walker, president of Pennsylvania State University. Walker advocated an explicit role for engineering at NSF even as it maintained its mission in science.

Five Board members testified and two more gave written answers during Daddario's 1965 hearings. Bryn Mawr College President Katharine E. McBride praised NSF's awards to small colleges. Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, agreed the Foundation could diversify funding beyond the coasts: Midwest institutions produced thirty-two percent of the Nation's students in science and engineering, but received less than that percentage of federal research funds. Hesburgh eloquently argued for upgrading the social sciences at NSF, a position he had steadfastly held over eleven years on the Board. Harvey Brooks, Dean of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University, urged that NSF expand from thirteen percent of all federal academic research to closer to thirty percent.

The Board and Director worked closely with Daddario and Kennedy through 1966 and 1967 on the wording of amendments to the Act. Their insistence that the change not dilute NSF's core mission won the day. The final House report said applied research "should not... obscure and overcome the important work in basic research" at the agency. The amendments gave NSF explicit authority to support the social sciences and engineering, as well as a clearer role in international scientific cooperation, computer technology, and data collection on the federal scientific effort.

Finally, the amendments clarified the roles of Board and Director-giving the Director more flexible authority in relation to the Board to help him run a bigger operation. The Board was empowered to issue an annual report, a new forum through which to speak on the health of science and engineering.

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