Presidential Science Advice 2.0
    By Michael White | June 23rd 2008 12:03 PM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    A new report at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has some recommendations about science advice for the next president. The rationale for this report is that:
    The next President will need a superb Assistant for Science and Technology—not only to evaluate complex issues and develop sound policies but also to guide and oversee the federal investment in science and technology, which totaled some $142 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2008.
    Chief among the recommendations is to restore the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to the higher status of "Assistant to the President." The OSTP director position was demoted during the Bush administration, and filling that position was a low priority, resulting in a long delay before the current OSTP Director, Jack Marburger was appointed. This report is essentially saying that the next president should signal that good science policy is a priority, by giving the President's science advisor cabinet status, and by making the appointment early in the new administration. To back up this recommendation, the report's authors have brought together an armful of statements on Presidential science advice by former key players, including Henry Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Al Gore, and many former Presidential Science Advisors, such as George Keyworth, Ronald Regan's first science advisor:
    One of the more notable successes of U.S. science policy during the post-WWII era was the research excellence that resulted from the high priority placed on federal support for basic scientific research, especially in universities. This was not the kind of R&D that industry could justify, but the long-term benefits to the United States were immense. However, the last two decades have seen a decline in that priority, replaced instead by more emphasis upon applied research and technology. The benefits of that change in priority are difficult to discern, but the negative effects upon basic research in universities are clearer. This is an important area where the Science Advisor’s role is unique.
    The report is worth reading for the interesting quotes alone. The detailed recommendations the authors make are fairly basic, and all basically come down to one thing: it is critical for the President to have a close advisor to coordinate and prioritize the budget requests from all of the federal science agencies, to communicate on science and technology issues with Congress, the public, and academic and industry representatives, and to provide the President with sound technical advice on science policy. This should really be non-controversial and not really a partisan issue. Science and technology play such a crucial role in our society, I can't understand why a US president would hobble himself by not having an effective science advisor. One of the more interesting recommendations is to make sure that one of the Science Advisor's deputies is sitting on the National Security Council. This seems like sound advice - advisors knowledgeable about science played a key role in developing the US security strategy during the Cold War. Security issues today are just as tied up with technological issues as they were then.