Page images
PDF
EPUB

With regard to the "spin-off” question, almost everyone who has look at the evidence agrees that the exploratory development programs of the Defense Department and NASA have enabled us to press the technical arts to their farthest limits. Some of our best, newest, and most thriving industries have their roots in this government-financed industrial activity. Our favorable export balances largely reflect export of products born of intensive technological effort in industrial sectors such as sophisticated electronics, computers, and aircraft, which owe much to the stimulation of federal support. But we remain unclear about the diverse effects of federal support of research and development in the aerospace and electronics industries on our industrial base as a whole. The dual fads of enthusiasm and complaint about “spin-off" are not likely to be dissipated without further intensive study of the complicated cause-and-effect relationships observed over a considerable period.

One could advance the hypothesis that, in a sense, technology per se is to industrial innovation what science is to the generation of new technology—that the general search for new technology is the industrial equivalent of basic research. In my view, though, there is an important difference between science and undirected technology. The best basic research is directed at carefully conceived problems framed by the investigator. I question whether government programs aimed at the general development of new technology would be effective in advancing civilian-directed industry. On the other hand, technology which is a product of industrial R&D contracts aimed at satisfying the exacting requirements of military and space systems—requirements which go well beyond civilian needs and which set concrete performance goals for the product—is more likely to be applicable. We have just witnessed a magnificent demonstration of this point in the Apollo 8 mission, in which the huge Saturn V had to perform flawlessly on its first flight, as did computers, a far-flung communications and tracking system, and a complex human organization—not to mention the astronauts themselves. This distinction between general technological development and the achievement of measurable goals was not well brought out in the OECD studies and seems to have been blurred in some foreign debates on government programs for strengthening the technological base of industry—say, the computer industry.

It should also be observed that technological development is enormously expensive as compared to most basic research, and that, although the Department of Defense, NASA, and the Atomic Energy Commission, among others, do support exploratory development efforts, development can normally be supported as a federal expenditure only where it is aimed at specific needs that the public, expressing itself through the Congress, regards as commensurate with the investment. This, of course, raises the $64 question of the appropriate role of the U.S. government in supporting or promoting research and development for the prime purpose of advancing industrial development and growth for civilian ends.

Although there is general satisfaction with the health of American industry and its rate of technological innovation, there are some areas (environmental pollution is an example) where the ordinary market rewards do not stimulate industry to develop at an adequate pace the new products and processes needed by the general public. In the field of air pollution there is a lack of strong private incentives, and the urgent need for improvements in pollution-abatement technology have called for government leadership.

The leadership for pollution abatement, as present, lies in the government through its role in standard setting and in supporting science and technology to demonstrate what can be done, and how. It will be the essential job of industry to find cheaper and improved ways of applying the new technology, In the longer run, this is bound to lead to an increase in private activity and a lessening of the financial burden on the government.

Government standard-setting has been an important indirect means of stimulating industrial incentives and competition to improve the quality of products affecting other aspects of the general health and welfare. Through food and drug legislation we have been able to maintain high standards of drug safety and efficacy. Automobile safety standards are another example. Within the interval of a few years we have seen a dramatic shift in the attitude of the automobile industry from a phobia about mentioning automobile safety in advertising to today's promotion of safety features in meeting industry competition.

A great deal more work needs to be done to sharpen the tool of standardsetting as a means of introducing product improvement and change in particular sectors of industry. Standards must be based on sound scientific evidence,

which must be continuously reexamined and improved. They must be set with regard to the industry's economic, managerial, and physical ability to respond. If there is careful regard for the sensitive interaction between incentives for innovation and requirements for protection, government standard-setting can exert a strong motive force for private investment.

At the same time, when looking to industry one should be realistic about the size of the market incentives needed to stimulate private investment. The expected market demand or dollar sales volume must be large in relation to the R & D investment that can be justified to produce the improved product.

In some areas it will be necessary for the government to directly stimulate industrial innovation in important but lagging industries. In some cases it can do this as a consumer of a large number of units (such as military housing) or through partial or full support of research, development, and demonstration projects.

The question of whether there is need for an overall governmental policy for strengthening civilian technology generally has been held in abeyance. In the absence of a direct interest in a specific industry or social problem, the government has not adopted, as a general approach, direct measures for encouraging industrial invention and innovation per se. Patent and tax incentives have long provided indirect encouragement for private investment. With the exception of selected industries somehow identified with the public interest (for example, agriculture, atomic energy, the supersonic transport, water desalting, pollution abatement, and a few others), the government has not subsidized civilian-oriented industrial research. Further measures to stimulate technological innovation may be needed, but there appears to be no need for an across-theboard, direct approach by the federal government. Nonetheless, we should watch closely the experience of Canada, the United Kingdom, and France in their new programs for subsidizing the development of new civilian technology, to see whether experiments along this line are indicated for the United States.

GOVERNMENT SCIENCE ORGANIZATION

Thus far I have dealt with some of the issues that academic science, industrial research, and social needs pose for U.S. science policy. The fourth question asked by the OECD examiners is even more elusive : how adequate is the organization of the federal government for dealing with these questions—particularly, how adequate is the organization at the Presidential level ?

I believe we have the right basic ingredients. The Office of Science and Technology has grown steadily ; it now has a staff of over 50, more than 20 of them professionals. This high-quality staff works closely with the agencies, with the Bureau of the Budget, with the National Security Council staff, with the Council of Economic Advisers, with the White House staff, and with the committees of the Congress. Its central concern is the evaluation of existing and potential programs, the coordination of agency programs, and participation in the larger discussions of priorities and emphases. On selected major issues it benefits from the external advice of the President's Science Advisory Committee and over 200 consultants. Internally it draws on the expertise and experience in the agencies through the Federal Council for Science and technology and its panels.

But I believe OST and the Science Advisory apparatus need strengthening. Before I get more specific, I would like to caution that the easy answer to all problems in government, scientific and nonscientific, seems to be to move them closer to the President. I do not think that answer is tenable for many things he is already overburdened.

My first guiding principle as regards government science organization (and most other organization) is this : decision-making should be pushed to the lowest responsible level appropriate to that decision. I question the wisdom, for example, of asking a high-level group to make decisions which could be made by a laboratory director. On the other hand, there is an important class of problems that involve general questions. In my view, the more general the question is, the more it should approach the center of the decision-making apparatus. For example, one function that can best be performed at the center is overall planning. Today we are facing a set of problems involving science and technology, and their interaction with many institutions and sectors of our society whose dimensions extend well beyond the capabilities or jurisdiction of any single department or agency of the federal government. I believe that the development of a greatly improved capability to analyze these complex problems and to forsee

their eventual impact on society will be an important step in the evolution of the science organization at the presidential level. Such analysis must be carried out without the initial constraints of agency jurisdiction, and in intimate relationship with the decision and policy-making processes in the Executive Office of the President.

It is clear that we need more systems analysis on a government-wide scale. I do not mean the formal and sometimes sterile approach of professional systems analysts. Rather, I refer to analysis that is both tied to the decision-making function and involves the creative thinking of a large number of people looking at the inventive process, without undue concentration on the techniques and methodology of systems analysis.

There are many basic questions facing the government that we have been unable to analyze in a systematic way—questions like these : How many graduate schools, of what kind, does the country need to meet its present and future needs? What is the effect of the various development programs on the future requirements for research support? What trade-offs were we really making when we initiated a space program, and what trade-offs will we be making if we cut it back now? We need studies like these as part of a continuing assessment program. The Office of Science and Technology could eventually evolve into an office of planning, evaluation, and analysis, looking broadly at national problems with some scientific or technological component but extending well beyond the purely technical areas. The OST has been moving in this direction in its work in environmental pollution, urban needs, and the world food problem.

In fact, OST has a newly formed Office of Energy Policy Coordination which is undertaking a broad study of the many important energy policy questions that affect more than one agency of government. The new policy questions are occasioned by the rapid advance of nuclear power on the energy scene; the need to reconcile air-pollution and water-pollution programs with our demand for low-cost energy; the growing demand for energy in relation to available supplies at economic prices, especially supplies of natural gas; the basic question of future import policy concerning oil, gas, and uranium; government policy toward developing sources of oil and gas from shale and coal to supplement natural supplies; and many others.

As I have indicated, an essential feature of such studies is that they be carried out in such a way that they are an integral part of the policy-making process; that they deal with the real world economic and political constraints, without accepting them as immutable.

Such an evaluation capability should be part of the forward planning function that needs more explicit recognition in the Executive Office of the President. By "planning” I do not mean a rigid blueprinting of the future. Rather, I mean a best current projection of the future, and of alternative futures, based on present activities and planned new ones. We simply are not smart enough to put together large-scale plans for many things at the present time. However, by developing a capability for analysis, it should be possible more and more to chart the future analytically rather than through mere intuition and debate.

There are some things that cannot be done without large-scale planning. A national telephone system required an overall plan, and systems analysis and engineering were needed to put it together. We have undoubtedly foregone some competition in the process, and perhaps some of the components are more expensive than need be, but the need to eliminate internal incompatibilities was overriding. Similarly, despite the political fragmentation of many communities, water and sewer systems must be put together according to a plan. For largeweapon or space-systems development, the complexity of the many efforts which must jell, with a lead time of 5 years or more, requires a working plan. Many more big national problems are forcing us in this direction. The structure of university science may well be approaching that divide where the need for overall systems planning will take precedence over the goal of obtaining maximum health of each of the parts taken one at a time.

Undoubtedly, we will have to face up to the need for more comprehensive planning. We can begin-in fact we already hate begun—to isolate those manageable pieces of the larger problems that lend themselves to analysis, and, as further areas yield to analysis and we better understand the boundary conditions, it should be increasingly possible to predict likely outcomes from given actions.

Of course, as scientists we recognize that the best of analysis cannot predict the outcome if we do not know the relevant inputs, or, as is so often the case in complex problems, when we are not even sure that we know what all the relevant

variables are. In such situations we rely on the carefully controlled and evaluated experiment. The experiment is the lifeblood of science, and we must learn to use it effectively in other areas. For example, in dealing with urban problems we must learn to employ experiments to help answer the larger questions that do not yield to analysis.

We shall have to foster many experiments involving large systems, but naturally we need to know how we will evaluate them when they are finished. Rational analysis coupled with experimentation should make it clearer what we need to do by experiment and what choices are available through analysis. Unfortunately, we have too often substituted bureaucratic and political processes for either rational planning or experimentation. In a democracy this may always be the case, but the analysis will at least provide a better basis for political discussion.

A second principle of government policy ought to be to maintain competition. Insofar as government actions and organization are concerned, many people now suggest a highly planned economy for science, with a rigid separation of functions and a careful elimination of duplication. Our successful experience suggests a contrary course. Most government agencies that have remained virile and avoided deterioration have done so, in part, by stepping on each other's feet. As a general rule, if there is a large opportunity or need at stake, it is profitable and appropriate to employ both competition and careful planning.

More importantly, basic science is both a cooperative and a highly competitive activity. Its progress depends on the stimulation provided by competition. For a vivid illustration I refer you to James Watson's fascinating book The Double Helix (3). In science, as in economic processes, competition stimulates the quality of performance and must be fostered, together with the cooperation which comes through an open, widespread, and effective communication system among scientists.

PROPOSALS

Finaily, I want to make some specific proposals.

First, I believe the Office of the Science Advisor needs strengthening, not only through more staff capability for analysis and planning but through the addition of full-time top-level people. In short, I propose that the Science Advisor be made the head of a three- to five-man Council of Scientific and Technical Advisors. My reason is simple—the range of matters he must at present consider is so broad and his responsibilities are so extensive that he needs help. Alternatively, one might add three assistant directors to the present director and deputy director.

I also believe that, provided the staff resources were available, it would be wise to ask such a council to submit to the President and the Congress an annual report on the state of U.S. science and technology, roughly analogous to the annual Economic Report.

Second, we should reexamine a possibility we put aside some years ago namely, that those scientific activities not tied to the central purposes of an agency be considered for inclusion in a department of science, with the National Science Foundation as a core. Science has now assumed such importance to the nation that its position would be stronger if it had a voice at the Cabinet table.

However, in making that proposal I want to make it clear that I would not consider concentrating all of our science activities into a central agency. A strength of the American establishment is the realization that science is part of everything. Those research activities which are integral to a department's mission or which form the basis for its future should be left where they are. More than that, agencies should be encouraged to strengthen their research and development base. But there are other scientific activities of agencies which may he somewhat peripheral to the main job of an agency but are nonetheless important, and these would flourish if transferred to a department of science.

In determining the organizational elements of a department of science, thought will have to be given to the department's relationship to advanced education on the one hand and technological advance on the other. The more the department is oriented toward new technology, the less it is equipped to deal with academic science and advanced education, including the humanities. The more it is oriented toward basic research and academic science, the more it is fitted for a broader role in higher education. On this score, one could invent several cuts that would represent an improvement over the present situation, but I am far from sure what the best cut would be. My present feeling, though, is that the critical questions concern basic research and higher education, and that technological development is more appropriately conducted by agencies with specific tasks and missions.

In the power equation of Washington, such a department of science, if it is to be influential, should have a budget of $2 billion or more. Its principal officer would have line responsibility and public accountability and, most importantly, the interest and confidence of the President, the attention of the Bureau of the Budget, and the ear of the Congress.

With a strong cabinet officer for science in the Executive Branch, there would automatically be a strong congressional counterpart committee having a broad interest in the problems of science and technology, not a minor or incidental interest. We already have committees like the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and the House Science and Astronautics Committee that are broadly educated in particular spheres of scientific and technological activities, and I am confident we could have committees of this caliber to supervise this department too.

CONCLUSION

Both the problems and opportunities facing government science policies loom larger than ever before us. I have been privileged to have had a part in setting U.S. science policy and am proud of what has been accomplished so far.

Despite the last 25 years' evolution of the U.S. science structure in the U.S. government, we are still in the early stages of learning how to realize the potential of science and technology for the national good. But we have built a strong foundation, on which further additions and structural changes can be made with confidence.

REFERENCES

1. V. Bush, Science: The Endless Frontier (Government Printing Office, Washing

ton, D.C. 1945). 2. G. Soule, Economic Forces in American History (Sloane, New York, 1952). 3. J. D. Watson, The Double Helix (Atheneum, New York, 1968).

[Reprinted from Science, July 4, 1969)
Do WE NEED A DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY?

(By Herbert Roback)

1

A RECURRING ISSUE GETS A FRESH APPRAISAL AND A POSITIVE ANSWER

Departmental status for science in government is not a novel idea. It was broached 85 years ago by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences reporting on the organization of government science bureaus. The committee was appointed in 1884 at the behest of a member of the National Academy, Theodore Lyman, who was also by unique coincidence a member of Congress. The scientist-congressman, whose National Academy standing was gained by his researches on the Ophiurida, was instrumental in placing a rider on a sundry civil appropriation bill which set up a joint congressional committee (called a commission) to study the organization of the government science agencies (1). This was a compromise measure, Lyman told his House colleagues in urging its acceptance, his main concern being to save the Coast and Geodetic Survey from takeover by the Navy (2). Apparent duplication between the Coast Survey and the Navy's Hydrographic Office in charting coastal waters had led the Navy to espouse merger, a proposal which had considerable appeal in the 48th Congress. The legislative rider directed an investigation of the activities and interrelationships of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, the Hydrographic Office of the Navy, the Geological Survey, and the Signal (Weather) Service. The National Academy committee, enlisted by Lyman, gave technical support to the congressional commission.

Men of science were leery then, as they are now, of military dominance in scientific enterprises. Many of them argued that science agencies should be taken from, rather than placed in, the military departments. For example, they wanted the Naval Observatory to be a national observatory, and the weather

1 The author is staff administrator of the Military Operations Subcommittee, Committee on Government Operations, U.S. House of Representatives. This article is adapted from notes prepared for the Symposium on Science and Engineering Policies in Transition, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 18 and 19 December 1968.

« PreviousContinue »