« PreviousContinue »
If the researcher wishes to have the full text of a study his best chance is to write the author, and authors are not terribly good sources because they are usually limited to reproducing no more than twenty-five or so copies of their study under the terms of their grant or contract. Only in those cases where the author contributes his own funds to have additional copies run, are many reports available. Under the plan for more centralization, I see the government moving into the dissemination field with still larger organizations while their smaller organizations are still unable to cope with the problem. If we had the technology to deal with the information explosion, you might make a case for centralization, at least in the dissemination area. But clearly the application of computers, microfiches, dry copiers and so forth has not resolved the problem, and we must rely on informal contact.
In summary I feel that while centralization of federal science activities might provide a larger source and more constant source of funds, the price would be: a) that funds would become all the more difficult to obtain, especially for the smaller organizations which lack agency contacts, b) that diversity and innovation in research would tend to be replaced by “programs” established by government research administrators, c) that more “non research” would be offered as research, and d) that distribution and dissemination of research results would become even more limited. Cordially,
RICHARD MYRICK, Ph. D.,
CENTRALIZATION PROPOSALS APPEARING IN CURRENT LITERATURE
[Brooks, Harvey. The Government of Science, Cambridge, the M.I.T. Press, 1968, 343 pages,
at pp. 1-18]
ONE THE GOVERNMENT OF SCIENCE
At the beginning of the Kennedy Administration in 1961 there was a rather searching review of the organization of the Executive Office for the coordination of national science policy. Various proposals for a Cabinet level Department of Science were seriously debated both within the Administration and within the Congress. The following chapter is a slightly edited version of a memorandum I prepared during the summer of 1961 for the President's Science Adviser, Dr. Jerome B. Weisner, setting forth as objectively as I could the arguments both for and against a Department of Science. In reviewing this paper in the light of the experience of the past six years I find surprisingly little reason to alter the views expressed at that time. Some of the examples and some of the general intellectual and political climate toward science and technology now appear dated, but the basic conclusions and arguments do not seem to me to have been altered by subsequent events and experience.
The phenomenal growth of the national scientific enterprise since 1950, especially that stimulated by federal support since 1957, has led to intensified discussion of the means by which this vast effort is planned and managed. Within the last few years, there has been a realization that while federal research and development expenditures represent a very modest fraction of national economic resources, they engage a much larger fraction of one of our scarcest national resources, namely, scientific and technical manpower. Furthermore, since the points of growth in our national economy appear to follow closely research and development expenditures, to the extent that these are channeled by decisions of the federal government, the whole thrust of our economy is determined. In sum, the social and economic leverage of the 2 percent of the gross national product which is expended on research and development by the federal government is out of proportion to the actual amount of money involved, yet the extent of this leverage is only now beginning to be appreciated.
Nevertheless, concern with our national scientific and technological strength, and with the influence of government upon it, has been manifest for some time. Many of the issues involved in the discussion of the management and planning of science in the federal government find a focus in the argument concerning whether there should be a Cabinet Department of Science. The present article is devoted to setting forth some of the pros and cons of such a department, not so much because I believe the issue itself is so central as because the arguments provide a framework within which it is easy to illuminate many of the problems and issues that are of current concern in the management of the federal science effort.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN A DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE ?
Proposals for a Department of Science range all the way from very comprehensive centralization to relatively modest consolidation of a few of the more basically oriented government scientific activities.
There are currently four federal agencies whose mission is defined largely in terms of science: the Atomic Energy Commission, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Three of these are independent agencies reporting directly to the President, and the fourth is a part of a Cabinet Department. In addition to these major agencies, there are a number of scientific institutions, such as the National Bureau of Standards, which have a very broad capability and a present mission that is difficult to define in operationally useful terms within the framework of the department in which they are placed. in the most ambitious proposals for a Department of Science, the four agencies listed above are those usually mentioned for consolidation into a single Cabinet Department under a single Secretary. The various agencies in the Department of Defense are usually omitted from those considerations, despite the fact that this department was, prior to the spectacular growth of NASA, responsible for nearly 80 percent of federal expenditures for science and technology.
Indeed, the National Science Foundation, as originally envisioned in the report "Science the Endless Frontier,” I had been expected to carry out specific research in support of health and defense missions, and it was only the long delay in the creation of NSF that resulted in the growth of independent basic research programs, first in the Navy, and later in the other military services and the Public Health Service.
In summary, a Department of Science would serve for the federal government a function analogous to that of the corporate research laboratory of a large private corporation, and the Secretary of Science would play a role analogous to that of the vice president for research of such a corporation. Creation of a Department of Science would not preclude operating departments from having their own separate laboratories rather strictly tied to the specific problems and missions of these departments, in analogy with the laboratories often associated with the manufacturing divisions of large corporations. Thus, for example, a laboratory like the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins or the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake, California, would tend to remain an integral part of the Navy, while the Naval Research Laboratory, which is more in the nature of a corporate laboratory, would be transferred to the administration of a Department of Science.
Actually, there exists a whole spectrum of proposals of which that described in detail above is probably the most radical. A more modest proposal is for a Cabinet Department which would take over certain national laboratories having a rather broad capability, for example, the National Bureau of Standards, the Naval Research Laboratory, Lincoln Laboratory, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and others, and would also take from existing agencies most of the contract research program in universities. Such a Cabinet Department might be similar to the National Science Foundation, enlarged to incorporate substantial inhouse capabilities and operating responsibilities over a broader spectrum of science, replacing the some seven agencies and offices which now play a significant role in the support of university science.
In almost any version of the Department of Science proposal, the new department would have responsibility for the present interagency scientific programs, such as oceanography, atmospheric sciences, high-energy nuclear physics, and so on, which are now coordinated through the Federal Council for Science and Technology. There would probably be fewer such programs because many present programs that now cut across agency lines would probably lie wholly within the assemblage of capabilities brought together under the direct management of a new department. In any case, the Department of Science would carry primary budgetary responsibility for interagency programs, and the funds for such programs would be defended by it before Congress and would be appropriated to it and allocated by it to the participating federal agencies. Through its reporting to Congress, it would take ultimate responsibility for the efficient management of such programs, and to that extent remove it from the agencies themselves.
Similarly, the Department of Science would take responsibility for certain government-wide activities in direct support of the national scientific enterprise, such as scientific information, recruitment of scientific manpower for the federal government, the support of scientific education, and so on.
1 Vannevar Bush, “Science the Endless Frontier, a Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research," National Science Foundation (Washington, D.C., reprinted 1960).
AIGUMENTS FOR A DEPARTMENT OF SCIENCE
The following are some of the arguments that can be brought forward in favor of the creation of a Cabinet Department of Science :
1. It would ensure a better balanced national scientific program. With the present organizational arrangements, new and glamorous subjects, such as atomic energy and space, tend to be selected for special emphasis, often to the detriment of the balanced growth of basic science, and to the neglect of applied areas of equal or greater importance to national welfare. The accidents of congressional committee organization often tend to determine the relative allocation of resources among different fields of science without much reference to the real scientific opportunities or social needs involved. Scientific fields that can be made to appear to serve an immediately useful social or political goal receive lavish support while other fields of equal intellectual importance but less understandable to the public or to Congress receive only meager support. The generous support granted by Congress to the National Institutes of Health is contrasted with the very slow growth of the programs of the National Science Foundation, because the NIH programs are more understandable to the layman.
In the present system there is often strong pressure to create a new agency for each new scientific discipline as its importance is recognized, and in this way to freeze into the executive branch a static organizational pattern which cannot accommodate itself readily to the dynamic reshuffling of relationships between fields which characterizes progress in science. Until relatively recently, many areas of applied science have been able to develop as somewhat isolated and selfcontained disciplines without much dependence on the more fundamental sciences or on the general advance of science as a whole. Within the last twenty years this situation has entirely changed. Each applied area has drawn on a broader and broader base of fundamental science and reached further and further beyond empiricism and experience into common scientific principles. As a result of this, each new major governmental program places increasing demands on almost every branch of science and on advanced scientific education outside its own immediate domain. Whereas agricultural science, for example, was able to develop successfully as a self-contained specialty, “space science” really comprises almost every scientific and engineering discipline, both in the life sciences and the physical sciences. Thus, a government scientific agency can no longer control or command every technical capability or skill needed to carry out its assigned mission. The creation of new agencies for each new scientific discipline tends to place serious organizational barriers in the way of one agency's taking advantage of the skills and facilities of another. Furthermore, the United States has been noticeably slow in adopting and exploiting new areas of science or technology which do not fall clearly within the mission of an existing agency, for example oceanography, radio astronomy, and until the creation of NASA, the scientific exploration of space. It is often argued that a Department of Science could move much more rapidly into new areas and could continually reorganize itself to accommodate to the changing relationships between disciplines and the appearance of new disciplines.
2. A Department of Science would provide a more congenial home for certain national laboratories that cover a wide spectrum of disciplines. The National Bureau of Standards, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Naval Research Laboratory could be cited as examples. In this connection a Department of Science would facilitate maximum national utilization of the full capabilities of these laboratories and would permit reassignment of laboratory missions to conform with the rapidly changing needs and requirements of technology. When a new national problem such as air traffic control, urban transportation, water or air pollution came to the fore, a Department of Science, it is argued, would permit us to move into the problem with all the national resources available, unconstrained by existing roles and missions. The potential contribution of a laboratory would be assessed wholly in terms of its capability rather than in terms of the limited mission of the agency of which it is a part.
3. Science budgets would be defended before Congress in a more uniform, coherent, and consistent way. There would be a single focus of responsibility in the executive branch, and this would engender greater congressional confidence in the overall management of the program and in the absence of “duplication and waste.” There would be a single spokesman for science and technology in the executive branch, who could speak with the authority born of vast operational responsibility and budgetary control.
Furthermore the creation of a single spokesman for science and technology in the executive branch would naturally lead to the development of a counterpart committee in Congress. There would thus grow up within Congress a group which would make a career of defending and promoting science as a whole and would provide a channel for mobilizing the testimony of the outside scientific community on congressional issues affecting the health of U.S. science. Much of this has already happened in the area of the health sciences in relation to the National Institutes of Health.
4. The centralization of key scientific service activities such as scientific information, the support of scientific education, and the development of the overall scientific plant of the country would be greatly facilitated by a Department of Science and would provide greater insurance of the healthy development of science as a national resource. Such a department would pay greater attention to the health of scientific institutions.
5. A Department of Science could support and plan those technical activities which are of interest and importance to the government as a whole but not of overriding importance to any one agency or department. In this way it would be possible to avoid the difficult problem of adjusting agency interest and budgets to a comprehensive national program. Individual agencies could receive funds to support their role in an interagency science program outside their normal budget ceilings by direct transfer from the Department of Science. The problem of conflict of priorities would thus be avoided, and at the same time, the Department of Science could exercise much greater control over how the money was spent. The above function in the past has been exercised mainly through the Federal Council for Science and Technology, which has only the power of persuasion but no control over agency budgets. Coordination of interagency programs in the past has been successful only in those fields that were expanding very rapidly, because it is much easier to divide a pie which is growing in size 30 percent or 40 percent each year than to divide a pie of nearly constant size.
6. A single agency for science and technology would conserve scarce manpower needed in the effective monitoring and management of science programs in the federal government. For example, there are now no less than seven agencies that support substantial basic research programs in the physical sciences in universities: the Atomic Energy Commission, the Office of Naval Research, the Office of Scientific Research in the Air Force, the Office of Army Research, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The administration of these extramural programs requires a high degree of skill, experience, and judgment, and the realization of the benefits of the basic research requires a unique combination of technical understanding, with knowledge of the needs of the government. As each new basic research agency has been created, it has recruited many of its key administrators from existing agencies with a resulting general dilution of talent and lowering of standards. It is argued that this talent should be concentrated in one agency where it can achieve maximum effectiveness.
It is also argued that the proliferation of agencies with different policies and administrative practices is demoralizing to the universities and greatly complicates their internal administrative problems.
In addition to these problems, there is also the problem that the basic research people in the more mission-oriented agencies are forced to spend a great deal of time and effort in defending basic research budgets against their superiors rather than on running the program. This happens because long-range research programs having a somewhat nebulous connection with specific mission requirements are forced to compete with urgent current problems and procurement in allocation of the budget. In a Department of Science as proposed, mission-oriented agencies would expend their basic research funds through the department and would thus not only make use of a single reservoir of administrative talent but also face a much stronger and more articulate set of defenders of the needs of basic research.
7. It is also argued that a new government agency is needed now to assure the continued healthy growth of U.S. science. Since the last war, the spectacular growth of science has resulted mainly from the creation of a series of new scientific agencies at regular intervals. New money has been brought into the program by these new agencies rather than through expansion of the older agencies, which tend to reach a static budget after their glamour has worn off during the first few years. In each case the new agency has been created to exploit public interest in a new field or a new idea. The impact of all the series of new agencies has