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is now estimated that one of every five Americans born today will incur an incidence of cancer. The opportunity exists for making very impressive inroads on the toll caused by disease because of three circumstances :
First, the success of modern research and development in fulfilling national security needs allows scientific manpower and resources to be dedicated to new areas. The shift from physical to biological research fits in with this turning point in U.S. research. This point will be treated in more detail in the next chapter.
Second, the great reservoir of new knowledge and techniques accumulated in the past decade largely in the area of physical research is ready to spill its riches into the bordering field of biological science.
Third, the field of biology itself is ripe for exploitation. Breakthroughs in biological knowledge have been scored at the molecular level of organization of the human cell.
The new Department of Science would serve to bring fresh approaches to research, including the possibility of the massive shift in emphasis from physical to biological science. However, this would not be done at the expense of physical research. The latter will continue to nourish contiguous areas of science and will need full fiscal sustenance.
Establishment of the new Department would require legislative action, since it would specifically abolish the present Atomic Energy Commission. It would also do away with the present National Science Foundation, transferring some of its personnel and functions to the single Department of Science. The NSF has not been a howling success by any means and it has shown an inability to deal with large-scale projects, such as Project Mohole for investigating the structure of the earth's crust through ocean-based deep drilling. Incorporating NSF's planning and support functions within the Department of Science will allow for orderly growth of pilot projects to large scale through employment of facilities like those formerly under the direction of the AEC. The Office of Naval Research which is now on the downgrade, would be merged with the new science agency as would the Office of Saline Water now under the Interior Department. The newly expanded National Bureau of Standards and the Weather Bureau would also be consolidated under the management of the single science agency. Many of these old-line bureaus have only marginal relation to their present agency management and a realignment of their administration is long overdue.
The activities of these various research centers and bureaus are jealously watched over by a score of congressional groups, most of which will be reluctant to release their reins of power. However, a concerted drive by the Administration, backed up by a solid reorganization plan for scientific research and reinforced by data to show how operating costs may be reduced, would be difficult for Congress to buck. Scientific projects and research facilities have grown like Topsy since the war and it would be most startling if the administrative arrangements now in practice were really efficient or appropriate. The National Science Foundation which was set up in 1950 was supposed to develop a national science policy but its timid leadership shield away from anything so adventurous; it did not even manage to take an inventory of U.S. research facilities, much less get around to doing something about reorganizing science in government.
If the Administration reforms its R & D structure, then as a consequence Congress would be obliged to conform. Rather than have a score of committees, subcommittees, and panels overseeing research activities, it could compress this gallimaufry into a single Senate and a single House Committee on Research. This by itself would represent a great improvement in the present arrangement which is akin to a jumble of a dozen jigsaw puzzles taken from as many separate boxes. As a result Congress never sees a single integrated picture but only bits and pieces of parts of the over-all research business of the United States. Under such a condition it is whimsical to talk of introducing balance into the research program-or even to speak of a national program as such.
The social impact of modern research is too explosive for a nation to proceed blindly and cavalierly in such activity without making an effort to sense how new developments may affect society. This is an area which the National Science Foundation might have been expected to explore but, again, timidity at the top steered clear of such studies. In 1964 the government gave some indication of its awareness of the need to appreciate technological change when it created a National Commission on Technology, Automation and Economic Progress, but this is a far cry from incorporating planning activities within the substance of a government agency. I would propose that the Department of Science establish a Division of Social Impact so that concurrent study would push forward on the societal significance of contemporary research. Such planning could act as a sort of early warning system to appraise well in advance the potential repercussions of modern scientific developments. Many discoveries and inventions profoundly affect the character of the nation's economy and its requirement for skilled labor. A single development like the transistor can mushroom within a few years from a concept into a complex of industries. The evolution of what the author calls a Ph.D.-based economy carries with it far-reaching consequences for our educational programs, for the economic vitality of individual communities and for the status of the United States in a world that is increasingly conscious of technological prestige.
No mention can be made of the impact of science on society without discussing the negative values which modern technology may entail if there is no advance accommodation to it. For example, agricultural productivity is boosted by the use of hundreds of different insecticides. But this potent brand of chemical warfare directed at pests may backfire upon its user in ways that are not immediately obvious. Here careful attention must be given to the contamination of the biosphere that thin rim of earth, air, and water upon which all life is founded. The possibilities of ecological upset are infinite, and a careless tinkering with one niche of nature may ricochet in oblique modes and show up in unexpected places and with nasty consequences. Here the government should show an advance concern that is self-policing so that it becomes unnecessary for a Rachel Carson to sound alarm. A responsible government tuned to the nature of modern technology should not have to be jolted by external criticism into an awareness of environmental hazards. As we have demonstrated in the case of radioactive fallout, the United States pursued a stubborn policy of avoiding facts, much to its detriment in the court of world opinion.
Science and foreign policy are often intimately interlinked. Scientists recognized this truism in the fifties and attempted to persuade the U.S. Department of State to take science seriously. Preliminary efforts to reform the State Department's old ways toward science were unsucessful. To cite a single example where an ounce of foresight might have paid off in tons of reward, we may mention the matter of seismology and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. As detailed in previous pages, the Test Ban Treaty was in the air early in 1954 when radioactive fallout from U.S. nuclear tests produced widespread fear. Yet when the experts met at Geneva to discuss a system for monitoring explosions, they lacked basic data on seismic detection of underground explosions and earthquakes. Neither the Defense Department nor the AEC did the relatively simple homework which might have saved the day at Geneva in 1958. Needless to say the National Science Foundation did not have the courage of foresight to fund a $50,000 or $100,000 research project which could have turned up all-important data. No genius was required to foresee that these data would be needed. Benjamin Franklin's maxims about the “want of a nail” and “a little neglect may breed mischief" take on a much more important connotation in an age of computers, ICBMs, and H-bombs.
“Every time you scientists make a major invention,” President Kennedy said in a speech to a distinguished conference of scientists, "we politicians have to make a new invention to cope with it.” Too often the political “inventions” are delayed until the produce of science turns ugly and even foul. Then the decisions which have to be made often involve political trauma and fiscal pain. It should not be beyond the wit of man to extract sweet honey from the hive of science with-out attracting a swarm of retaliation.
THE POLITICS OF RESEARCH
RICHARD J. BARBER
Public Affairs Press, in Washington, D.C.
VIII. NEEDED REFORMS
“Yo national policy or purpose of the United States is unaffected by the present state or prospective scope of our scientific knowledge."
-Lyndon B. Johnson, February 15, 1965
If it ever was, the character of the federal government's scientific programs no longer is a subject of concern only for the nation's scientists and engineers. Over the last ten years the government has expanded its involvement in research and development to such an extent that its expenditures, amounting to more than $15 billion in fiscal 1966, now represent the principal source of support for scientific inquiry in the United States. If for no other reason but this alone quite apart from the problems that have arisen-such support should be subject to critical attention by the entire body politic. But more is needed than criticism. Meaningful reform is essential and a brief recapitulation of several of the more troublesome characteristics noted in the preceding pages will help point the way.
First, the government's research undertakings reflect debatable selections stemming from a questionable and erratic sense of priorities. Most of the money goes for very limited purposes connected with applied research and development in fields closely tied to defense and space. Other functions, particularly those related to man's social problems, have generally been neglected or given meager support.
Second, the impact on civilian research has rarely been taken into account, though the long-term consequences here can be extremely grave. Many companies oriented to commercial markets have been forced to abandon or curtail their research because federal programs have soaked up scarce manpower.
Third, the largest federal programs have been administered in such a way as needlessly to accentuate trends to industrial concentration and to reinforce monopolistic positions with patent rights on inventions arising out of tax-supported research.
Fourth, with increasing flows of scientific information stemming from the multiplicity of government projects, negligible attention has been given to putting this knowledge to use by making it publicly accessible.
Fifth, research planning and coordination are principally distinguished by their absence. Within the executive branch 10 departments and 27 independent agencies contain units which plan, administer, or support scientific activities. (1) At the same time, for example, 11 deaprtments and agencies are doing research in health and medicine, 5 in space research, 7 in oceanography, 7 or 8 in water research, and 14 in meteorology. So poor is communication within the government that it is sometimes said that if a research project costs less than $100,000, it is cheaper to do it again than to find out if it has been done before. (2) More important, such deficiencies in communications reflect the intensely pragmatic orientation of government research with short-term or narrowly focused goals. Unless this myopia is corrected federal support can work incalculable harm, perhaps offsetting the apparent gains.
Program Selection: Organizational Inadequacies. Of the many problems involved, probably the most important concerns the matter of program selection. During the last dozen years the level of expenditure has advanced from $3 billion to more than $15 billion a year but the composition of the research effort has been accorded no serious attention.
Since research consumes human and other scarce resources it presents an unavoidable (though often unrecognized) question of choice among alternatives. One program competes against another and projects represent alternatives to other demands on the Treasury. These are elementary propositions, or so it would seem, yet they represent concepts that have played no visible role in the national budget and appropriation process in recent years. Instead, research undertakings in the defense and space area, in particular, have been hastily assembled, quickly endorsed by the executive, and speedily approved by the Congress. No effort has been made to establish a scheme of priorities that would permit deliberate comparison of projects and needs with one another and with non-research programs. The result is that federal research in general has gotten badly out of kilter and does not reflect choices consistent with our accepted social values.
The distortions that are readily discernible reflect serious underlying deficiencies in organization. At the present time neither the executive nor the legislative branch of the federal government is organized in such a way that funds for resources can be allocated in a rational fashion. There is now no suitable institutional machinery which permits the clarification of goals, a reasonably full understanding of the various programs, comparison of their relative merits, and judgment as to their overall social and economic consequences.
Since the end of World War II certain organizational improvements have been made to better equip the executive branch to deal with questions of science, but there is still no means to articulate clearly the allocative decisions that must be faced in assembling a research budget. In 1950 a major step was taken with the establishment of the National Science Foundation to sponsor basic scientific research. (3) But the Foundation is essentially an operative agency; it does not appraise the programs of the other parts of the government nor does it develop programs of its own designed to fill applied research needs not currently being met in the public and private sectors.
The President's Science Advisory Committee and the Federal Council for Science and Technology have some utility as staff agencies, evaluating proposals and coordinating some low-priority federal programs. However, the fact that the members of both of these agencies are formally concerned with their responsibilities only on a part-time basis, a feature noted in Chapter II, means that they cannot significantly influence the formulation of scientific policy or assist in the establishment of priorities. They are simply too far removed from the picture. The fact that the Federal Council's principal members recommended its abolition is no doubt a suggestive comment on what is its actual worth.
A much more valuable step was taken with the creation in 1962 of the Office of Science and Technology in the White House (4) (such a move was urged as early as 1947 by the Steelman Committee). (5) This places a full-time scientific adviser at the President's elbow, in much the same manner as the Council of Economic Advisers. But the Office is only a staff arm; while it can advise the President and the other components of the Executive Staff, and in this way perform an invaluable service, it does not serve as an allocator of funds. Moreover, it does not function as an effective means for expressing the nation's goals for the use of its scientific resources.
Ultimately allocative decisions pertaining to R&D must and should be resolved in the executive branch in accordance with an administration's policy, guided by its sense of priorities and hierarchy of values.
Operationally the existing staff unit best positioned to translate the President's value-perspective and to recommend a package of programs, R&D and otherwise, that accommodates it, is the Bureau of the Budget. Since all requests for appropriations must be submitted to the Bureau by the various government department and agencies, (6) it can make comparisons and submit recommendations as to the relative degree of merit of proposed agency programs. Regrettably. however, the Bureau now looks upon itself much less as an allocator than as an instrument of administrative management. Rather than admit forthrightly that its function entails explicit allocation it seeks primarily to force an agency to justify the relationship between a given request for funds and the actual needs of the program involved. Only the crudest effort is made to rank proposals in terms of their harmony with the administration's policies and declared objectives. In short, the Bureau does not envision its role as that of a translator of national ends; instead it sees itself primarily as a manager of programs, not as a chooser among programs. The result, then, is that the budget as assembled in the Executive Office of the President is not consciously recognized as an allocative device.
Insofar as the military budget of the Department of Defense is concerned, the Defense Department Comptroller and Budget Bureau representatives work so closely together that once a defense budget is completed, the Bureau does not thereafter review it in comparison with the budget requests of other departments and agencies. (7) Under these circumstances the Brueau of the Budget, even though it can draw upon the expert advice of the Office of Science and Technology, is not performing the crucial job of appraisal and selection. In the final analysis the budget performs an allocative function only implicitly and indirectly. It is not a deliberately and carefully structured arrangement of effort.
In the Congress the situation is far worse for here there is no organizational apparatus at all that is even remotely tailored to face the allocative challenges presented by federally-supported research. Program authorizations are chopped up along departmental and agency lines among a maze of communities in both legislative chambers. The House Science and Astronautics Committee and its mate, the Senate Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, oversee the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the Armed Services Committees deal with the Department of Defense; the Atomic Energy Commission is assigned to the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy; etc. No single committee is concerned with the broad sweep of scientific effort. And even programs that relate to a common problem are examined by different committees if, as is often the case, a number of departments sponsor the programs. Thus, projects in meteorology, now being sponsored by 10 agencies, are reviewed by nine different committees in each house. Complicating the matter still further is the separation of the appropriations process from the authorization process. (8) The correlation between the two related tasks is poor, made worse by the role of the quasisovereign appropriations subcommittees.
In spite of-indeed, in part because of—the number of committees and members who are involved, Congress does not face up squarely to the fact that its appropriations are the final and critical element in the federal allocative process. The amounts authorized for the various departments and their programs represent choices among competing uses with their relative social value, as seen by the members of Congress, reflected by the comparative amounts of dollar authorization enacted into law. This is an inherent characteristic of the appropriations process, but its fundamental allocative significance is not forth-rightly recognized in the legislature. The pieces are not seen in proper perspective and the allocative function—the fact that choices are being made—is not recognized for what it is. Small wonder that the end product resembles a patchquilt rather than a coherent arrangement of effort.
Reform: Facing the Question of Allocation. Can the situation be materially improved ? Perhaps, given the will to examine the matter in a constructive mood and to institute badly needed organizational changes.
During the 88th Congress both houses took steps leading to an investigation of the government's research programs. The most advanced of these emanated from the House, which established a nine-member Select Committee to conduct inquiry into the scope, conduct, and progress of federal research programs. (9) This committee might have been able to perform an extremely valuable service but with the end of the 88th Congress it was allowed to go out of existence, long before it could reasonably have been expected to complete its important work. The fact that Congress did not extend the committee's life indicates just how difficult it is to accomplish the kind of reform that is imperative if the federal research effort is to be an effective instrument of national policy rather than a grab-bag of individual projects.
What is clearly necessary is basic Congressional reorganization taking full account of the allocative character of the appropriations process, whether it pertains to research or any other element of the federal budget. Given the competing demands of many programs and needs, in and out of the research area, choices among alternative uses are inevitable in the budget-appropriations process. The important thing is to recognize the process for what is and to establish procedures that will permit the greatest possible "payoff” in terms of the national value-structure. Edward C. Banfield put it this way: "What is needed is a comprehensive perspective of the possible uses, viewed in the di: