THE FUTURE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
As Yogi Berra is commonly reported to have said, "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future." So before I begin with the future let me take a few moments to review how events shaped Federal funding in the past. I have come to believe that an appreciation of the past helps us to seriously consider the probable future scenarios.
In 1945, Vannevar Bush said:
"The Government should accept new responsibilities for promoting the flow of new scientific knowledge and the development of scientific talent in our youth. These responsibilities are the proper concern of the Government, for they vitally affect our health, our jobs, and our national security."
These words are as relevant today as they were almost fifty years ago when articulated in the landmark report, Science: The Endless Frontier. This report stressed the need to broaden the scientific enterprise, to go beyond defense and agriculture to include such areas as medical research, natural sciences, and education. It argued that myriad social and economic benefits would accrue from doing so. It called for the Federal government to accept new responsibility for science and for the science community to serve as members of a team, or in partnership, with the Federal government to address issues which undermine the national well being or offer new economic or social benefits.
Despite the vision articulated by Bush, support of scientific research for non-military purposes grew little in the decade after World War II. Bush's case for increasing support for non-military R&D to advance such aims as economic growth and public health was not strong enough to stimulate major growth in post-war support for nondefense science. The remarkably solid performance of the domestic economy in the post-war period undercut a major rationale for Federal support of science--namely, that it was needed to facilitate economic growth. Government support of non-defense R&D, which, in 1950 stood at $282 million, expressed in current, unadjusted dollars, grew only to $297 million in 1955. Meanwhile, prodded by cold war concerns, defense-related research doubled between 1950 and 1955, from $772 million to $1.55 billion in 1987 dollars.
It was not until the Soviet launch of Sputnik in October 1957 that everything began to change. That event made real the threat of intercontinental weapons with highly accurate guidance capabilities. Public perception of Soviet scientific leadership threw into question the commitment of the United States to the scientific foundation which was required to build a strong technological future. Americans became anxious about the image of Russian school children steeped in science and prepared to lead their nation to world supremacy in both military and civilian pursuits. President Eisenhowerís Science Advisory Committee was so concerned with the result that the President and the Congress cooperated to channel major new funding to the nationís R&D programs. Vannevar Bushís vision was finally translated into dollars but it had taken more than a decade and precipitation by a military crisis.
In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was established as the vehicle to conduct and support advanced R&D in space exploration and exploitation. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was founded in the same year to support long-term, high-risk research on advanced technologies of potential military significance. ARPA's mission was to ensure that the United States would never again be the victim of "technological surprise" in the form of developments such as satellites.
At the same time, the concern for the loss of Americaís scientific and technical leadership to the Soviets led to very rapid expansion of the educational mission of the National Science Foundation. That agency provided support for a variety of activities ranging from distribution of "science kits" and new text books to grade schools to establishing massive new fellowship programs to support graduate students in math, science, and education.
By 1961, Federal support of defense R&D had risen to $6.9 billion. Non-defense R&D grew even more rapidly, increasing from $577 million in 1957 to more than $1.8 billion in 1961 and to nearly $8 billion in 1966. Eventually, non-defense R&D became the funding equal of defense R&D and the national allocation of funds between them achieved the 50-50 balance which prevailed throughout the 1970ís.
In the 1960ís the idea emerged that each Federal agency which depended on science and technology and on trained scientists and engineers for any of its activities had the responsibility to individually support R&D in its particular area of competence, and consequently to spread the effort across the entire national R&D portfolio.
Also during the 1960ís, encouraged by President Johnson, the populist theme we have seen in many Congresses over the past 200 years re-emerged that scientists should not only study things which interested them but should also turn their considerable talents to solving the nation's social and other ills beyond the military sphere. In this view the President had powerful allies in Congress, who amended the charter of the NSF to include in its mandate support of applied research as well as basic research and education. This same coalition gave major boosts in funding to the NIH in hopes of exploiting the new molecular and cellular understanding of human biology and its relationship to health and disease treatment that was then emerging in the nation's medical research establishment. The so-called "wars on disease" were a prevalent theme.
The Federal budgetary pressures of the war in Vietnam and the Great Society initiatives, as well as the economic slow down of the late 1960ís and the recession of 1974-1975 all led to a slow erosion of support for R&D for both national defense and nondefense purposes throughout the late 1960ís and well into the mid 1970ís. The ratio between defense and nondefense R&D remained nearly fifty-fifty, but the total R&D budget declined by 27 percent (in constant dollars) during this same period. The sharp reduction in funding for NASA at the conclusion of the Apollo program further contributed to the decline in civilian R&D funding. In addition, there were cutbacks in the R&D programs of some of the civilian mission agencies for which the Nixon administration had less enthusiasm than its predecessor.
Once again, crisis intervened to shift the level and balance of Federal R&D funding. The oil embargo in 1973-74 caused a substantial increase in the budget of agencies concerned with energy-related R&D. The election promise of President Carter to do something about the energy and environmental crises led in 1977 to the establishment of the Department of Energy (DOE) and to further rapid increases in its budget for nondefense energy-related R&D. Soon thereafter, however, the Iranian hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, combined with the related second oil crisis in 1979, resulted in renewed attention to defense research to counter the newly emergent Soviet belligerency and the threats of local wars to our national well being.
The Reagan Administration supported exploring a range of newly advanced national security technologies. Hence, defense related research grew rapidly in the first part of his term. This was because of such focused efforts as the Strategic Defense Initiative, but also because of a general loosening of the purse strings in the R&D programs of both the Department of Defense and the weapons-related R&D programs of the Department of Energy. From 1979 through 1987, defense R&D almost doubled in real terms.
At the same time, the Reagan administration did not support the large alternative energy R&D efforts which were spawned in the mid 1970ís to minimize our dependence on OPEC, and support for such activity fell very sharply in the early 1980ís. The re-categorization of the Space Shuttle from R&D status to operational status in the early 1980ís resulted in a specific cut in the total nondefense R&D budget. Nonetheless, during this period some agencies, notably NSF and National Institutes for Health (NIH), focusing on foundational research, fared relatively well. Applied research in NSF, which had never been very large, was trimmed, along with research in the social and behavioral sciences.
One of the most striking features of the historical review of R&D spending since the 1940ís is the clear documentation that much of our past science policy was crisis driven. Great advances were financed and achieved when the nation perceived a severe threat. Today the promised value of discovering new knowledge, and training workers is increasingly important to our national security. Paradoxically, even as science is poised to transform society, science itself is undergoing immense changes. Part of these changes are related to the end of the Cold War. As the military rationale for scientific research has weakened, scientists and policy makers have been searching for consensus on the new rationales which should guide the support of science.
Factors which also influence the direction of science are: the rise of international economic competition; the growing importance of environmental concerns; changing demographics; and political rhetoric. Meanwhile, there is another change which is having a momentous influence on science. After three centuries of virtually uninterrupted growth, the size of the scientific enterprise has begun to plateau. Science is entering what physicist and policy analyst John Ziman has termed a "dynamic steady state." As he puts it in his book Prometheus Bound, "Science is going through a radical structural transition to a much more tightly organized, rationalized and managed social institution. Knowledge creation, the acme of individual enterprise, is being collectivized."
The transition was inevitable, as Ziman and others have shown. "The real question is not whether the structural transition is desirable, or could have been avoided: it is how to reshape the research system to fit a new environment without losing the features that have made it so productive in the past."
The mosaic of science investments--an integrated system
Most of the time we as individual scientists or as members of a scientific society tend to focus on a fairly narrow set of agenda items, for example, the funding of a particular agency, a particular program or institute or research policy issue which affects a certain type of scientific research.
I want to try to convince you that we must understand more than our own special niche. If we care about the capacity of the Nation to move forward in innovative areas and to develop more sophisticated methodology, we must understand that our science investments are an integrated system. Biology will not advance if the physical science base erodes. Prevention methods will not advance if social science research is greatly reduced. Most areas of contemporary science will suffer if technology development lags behind other nations. In short, there is no joy in the knowledge that the NSF or NIH is doing better than DOE or NASA's science budget. The money lost from these agencies is not going to another area of science. It is simply further reducing our national capacity and potentially endangering access to the costly and specialized instruments which only the large federal laboratories have had the capacity to invent, maintain and sustain.
To understand our current situation, it is important to recognize several key features of the U.S. science and technology enterprise. The U.S. post-World War II approach to science has been enormously productive by any of a number of assessments. Nonetheless, there are ominous signs that as we enter the 21st century we may be losing our edge. Although today overall U.S. expenditures on research are larger than any single other country, when one measures investments as a portion of the overall national gross domestic product we are second to Japan. When we compare only the nondefense portion we are third; substantially below both Japan and Germany and perhaps below the level of France.
Given these numbers, and the reality of these needs and contributions, there is a very disturbing observation. A few facts:
Real growth in U.S. R&D in the period 1981 - 1993 was only three-fourths that of other G-7 nations. Research investment in the United States has remained virtually constant during the 1990s, just when it should have been growing. This bodes ill for the future U.S. balance of trade. Of even more concern is the picture which is rapidly emerging as we project the impact of our budget projections with those of our close trade competitors. Note that as we balance one budget as currently projected, we disinvest in R&D as Japan invests.
In spite of that, Americans believe that scientific research is a proper function of the Federal Government. Seventy-five percent or more of the American public agrees that "...scientific research that advances the frontiers of knowledge is necessary and should be supported by the government."
Independent studies show that for each dollar originally invested, federally supported fundamental scientific research repays the economy 20% to 50% annually in each succeeding year. In 1995 the Federal Government invested some $13 billion in university-based research: the payoff was immense. Industrial sectors now heavily dependent on discoveries in science and on a well-educated workforce include: electronic components; plastics and new materials; computers and software, telecommunications equipment and services, pharmaceutical and medical equipment and supplies; and aeronautics.
These 21st century enterprises create millions of jobs and contribute over $600 billion per year to the economy.
To help us all understand the complexity of the support base for national R&D expenditures let me review just a few ways of dissecting our national picture. I do this in part because one of the lessons that I learned in Washington over the past two years is how easy it is to think one understands the issues and how easy it is to make assumptions about what is critical based on oneís own disciplinary or parochial view. To be most constructive, scientists need to understand the whole mosaic of science effort.
For the Nation, industry is the largest source of funds and by far the larger performer of R&D spending about $80 billion as of 1994, according to 1994 national R&D expenditures, the last figures officially available. The Federal Government is second, at about $50 billion, and "other" is a small fraction, at only $10 billion. Federal support in constant dollars has been eroding for over a decade.
By performer, overall, federal support of the industrial sector has plummeted since 1988, primarily as a consequence of decreased defense contracting. Federal intramural support is constant, and the academic sector is the only one that showed any real growth. Much of this was because of health research, which increased from $5.15 billion in 1980 to $9 billion in 1996. Space research recovered some to 1980 levels while energy and general sciences lost ground or remained at a low level. University share of basic research has grown substantially over the past 12 years. Federal government performance of basic research has stayed level.
A few more facts:
When one looks at our system by disciplines, some very interesting patterns emerge. For example, in the life sciences there is one very dominant player--HHS. However, in the social and behavioral sciences the expenditures reflect a variety of mission-oriented agencies.
In the physical sciences and engineering the majority of the funding is provided by the mission agencies DOE, NASA, and Defense. This pattern is less pronounced for mathematics but still evident. In environmental sciences, a very multidisciplinary field, funding comes from a larger number of agencies.
A point to take from this is that during this time of federal angst and reorganization, scientists who tend to look to only one or two agencies for support need to understand that the areas of physical science, engineering and mathematics, which have generated so many new insights and techniques which have propelled the life sciences forward, are truly in a stressed situation. Social scientists have been especially placed under the gun lately. Agency missions are under scrutiny and budgets are being severely restricted and downsized. For the sake of the overall health of science in this nation a solution which supports critical core fields needs to be assured.
Science and Technology Policy
This, then, is the world in which science and technology policy is being made today. It is a world of constrained resources where profound internal and external changes are transforming both research and development. It is a world where science and technology are becoming both more important and more accountable to policy-makers and the public.
It is clear, in looking at this world, that many of the traditional ideas which have guided science and technology policy since the end of World War II no longer apply. One of the strongest of these ideas has been a continuing belief in the linear model of science and society -- that basic research leads to development, which in turn leads to tangible products. For example, attempts by the current Congress to target for dramatic reduction some technology transfer programs indicate, in my view, a lack of understanding of the sophisticated interactions and important feedback between technology development and new tools for basic research. We stand to lose a lot if we allow the crisis management of the current environment to make us embrace simplistic notions of what drives science and technology.
What can replace the linear model? We gave this question much thought during the preparation of Science in the National Interest, the Clinton Administration's statement of science policy released in 1994. The answer we came up with is that science and technology should really be seen as a distributed and interconnected system. There are many such systems, from the Internet to the free market. The system that we chose to emphasize was that of an ecosystem. Here's the way we put it in Science in the National Interest: "Today's science and technology enterprise is more like an ecosystem than a production line. Fundamental science and technological advances are interdependent, and the steps from fundamental science to the marketplace or to the clinic require healthy institutions and entrepreneurial spirit across society."
Ecosystems thrive through diversity and local adaptation to change. Concentrations of authority can lead to inflexibility and stagnation. By the same token, our pluralistic system of Federal research and development offers many advantages in terms of adaptability and resilience.
There is one last analogy between the science and technology enterprise and an ecosystem that I want to discuss, and that is the reproduction of the component parts of the system. Traditionally in science and technology we have thought of this as involving the education of the next generation of scientists and engineers. More recently we have come to realize that the issue is much broader. It also involves generating the attitudes and skills among the general public which will allow science and technology to thrive.
Public Opinion and Science
A poll by Lou Harris for Research America! asked citizens how they viewed such issues as investment in medical research and how such research should be funded. Here are some of the questions the poll asked:
Just as science can no longer be viewed in isolation, scientists can no longer see themselves as separated from society. My message today is simple. Scientists, engineers, and other technically trained people must become directly and actively involved in the critical challenges facing us today.
The National Science Board must do a better job of educating the nation about science. We need to build better coalitions between scientists and non-scientists and the Board must lead the way. We need to work within the academy to strengthen science education, at all levels of our schools. We also need to improve the accountability of the science sector to the American taxpayer. Scientists may think of themselves as apolitical but they live in a political world. This review I have provided should demonstrate this clearly. Science is determined by politics and politics is the art of the possible.
Countries and industries which invest in scientific infrastructure and assume some degree of risk will be able to develop a "new growth" economy. Those that do not will lag behind. Perhaps we can learn from an interesting quotation I read recently attributed to Wilcox: "Progress always involves risk. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first."