PCAST Letter - December 6, 1996

December 6, 1996

President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Clinton:

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) during your first term. You and the Vice President understand andsupport science and technology as critical national investments. A high level of investment, excellence in education, and accelerated innovation through science and technology are keyelements that enable growth in the standard of living for every American.

We are writing in response to the Vice President's request for our observations and recommendations regarding science and technology policies and activities over the coming four years. While it may seem far afield from science and technology, we believe that it is extremely important to address the entitlement issues of Medicare and Social Security. Unless these expenditures are realigned, the amounts remaining for all other investment areas after deductingfor defense and interest will be under tremendous pressure. For example, in the last Congress, Federal support of science and technology in the nation's leading research universities was projected to decline by 30 percent by 2002 as a result of their misguided tactics to close the budget gap.

Recognizing that there are no short term fixes, we respectfully urge that you present astrengthened science and technology budget for FY 1998 and sustain those levels in the yearsthereafter. This investment in the future should not be allowed to be diminished by inflationeven if modest tax adjustments are required. A firm commitment to support of colleges,universities, and research institutes, where the next generation is trained and the frontiers ofresearch most often are established, is especially important.

Consistent with your leadership in Reinventing Government, getting more for the same Federalscience and technology dollars is a key issue. Having a process to clearly prioritize science andtechnology and to redirect work on the most important and that address the nation's social,economic and security objectives is an urgent need. With private sector R&D becoming focusedon shorter and shorter product life cycles, Federal support for science and advanced technologiesis increasingly important and a key contributor to -industrial competitiveness. In addition,assuring the nation's sustained technological leadership will require that our national innovationsystem be strengthened both through Federal support and a fresh look at -incentives forprivate-sector research investment.

In addition to these critical ongoing issues, our own discussions in PCAST of the science and technology challenges facing our nation in the next four years suggest five issues that deserveincreased attention:

1) A National Strategy for Energy R&D

Adequate and reliable supplies of affordable energy, obtained and used in environmentallysustainable ways, are essential to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and politicalstability around the world. Moreover, energy-supply and energy-efficiency technologiesrepresent a multi-hundred-billion-dollar-per-year global market. There isconsiderable doubt whether the world, which gets three-quarters of all its energy supply fromoil,coal, and natural gas, can continue to rely on these fossil fuels to this degree through theexpected economic growth of the next few decades without encountering intolerably disruptiveclimatic change caused by the resulting greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet the United States --which is the world's largest energy consumer and the largest greenhouse-gas emitter -- is 85-percent dependent on fossil fuels and imports nearly half of its oil at a cost of $50 billion peryear. The United States has allowed Federal spending on energy R&D to fall more thanthree-fold in real terms in the last 15 years, a period iii which private funding for energy R&Dalso was falling. Government spending on energy R&D is more than twice as high in Japan asin the United States, and about four times as high as a fraction of GNP.

  • We recommend a substantial and sustained increase in Federal expenditures onenergy R&D, coupled with measures to encourage increased energy R&D iii the private sector. This effort should include greatly increased work on renewable energy options and energyend-use efficiency, restoration of fusion R&D funding to the levels recommended by PCASTlast year, exploration of whether and how the conditions for an expanded contribution to worldenergy supply from nuclear fission can be achieved, and an expanded effort on clean and moreefficient fossil-fuel technologies.

    2) Improved Understanding and Management of the Biological Resources

    Unfortunately, increased attention in recent years to the issues of global environmental change,biodiversity loss, and environmentally sustainable development has not generated as much newwork on the biological underpinnings of these issues as the associated challenges require. The underpinnings to which we refer are the composition, structure, and function of the biota -- theplants, animals, and microorganisms of the planet. This includes their functions in support ofhuman well-being and the ways in which improved management of human interactions with tilebiota can preserve and enhance those functions to meet the needs of the world's growingpopulation. Individually, plants, animals, and microorganisms are the sustainable sources of ourfood, most of our medicines, and much of our fuel, fiber, and building materials -- yet weunderstand only a very small fraction of their diversity or how to use them for our benefit. Yethow all of tilts actually works remains vastly understudied compared with other areas of scienceof less immediate and direct importance to the human condition.

  • We recommend a major national initiative to increase research and training inthe biological and ecological sciences relevant to increasing our understanding of thecomposition, structure, function, and management in the biota.

    3) Research and Technology to Improve Education and Training

    Your Administration has promoted national investments in education and training, which are essential to continued economic growth and international competitiveness. TheAdministration also has recognized that information technology, which is having such a dramaticimpact on the performance of the economy, can also have a powerful impact on the wayAmericans teach and learn. PCAST strongly supports the programs encompassed by thePresident's Educational Technology Initiative, which aim to provide our nation's schools withmodern computer equipment, local network connectivity and Internet access, and to promotedevelopment of innovative new forms of educational software and content. The initiative furthersupports professional development activities designed to ensure that educators are able to usetechnology effectively within their classrooms. We believe, however, that rigorous newscientific research is urgently needed to determine which approaches to the use of technology ineducation and training are most likely to be both educationally effective and economical. Moregenerally, new research is needed to assess the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of all aspects ofthe nation's current educational reform efforts.

  • W e recommend the initiation of a large-scale, federally funded program for rigorous scientific research on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of alternative approaches toeducational reform, including various applications of information technology to education andtraining.

    4) Industry-Government-University Partnerships

    In the rapidly change global markets of the 21st century, technology innovation will remain the most distinguishing characteristic in economic competitiveness. Breaking sharply from historicgrowth trends of 5 percent per year, R&D in the corporate community (the funder andperformer of more than half of the R&D in the United States) is today undergoing dramaticchanges, shifting away from both basic and applied research, and focusing on near-term productdevelopment and process improvement. We are being outpaced by Japan and Germany, our chief technology competitors, who invest proportionally more in civilian R&D than the United States. At issue is the appropriate Federal response that has included both fiscal and regulatoryinitiatives, as well as partnership programs aimed at supporting key enabling technologies identified by industry. Tile programs that focus on mid- to long-term technology developmentshould now be reviewed carefully and refined for further increasing their effectiveness, restoring their bipartisan Congressional support.

  • We recommend that the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC)evaluate, review and refine the Federal technology partnership programs to assess and furtherincrease their effectiveness.

    5) Improved Protection, Management, and Disposition of Nuclcar Materials

    Prevention of nuclear proliferation, protection against nuclear terrorism, and furtherprogress on nuclear arms reductions all depend on improving the systems for minimizing,monitoring, sequestering, and protecting the stocks of nuclear-weapons materials -- separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- in both the military and civilian sectors, in the UnitedStates and Russia and around the world. (These stocks are associated with nuclear-weaponsproduction complexes, with the nuclear arsenals themselves, and with the residues ofnuclear-weapon dismantlement; with civilian nuclear-power facilities of certain kinds; with thefuel--supply chain for naval reactors; and with nuclear-energy research facilities.) The prospectsfor future contributions of nuclear energy to world energy supply, moreover, depend not only ontight controls on the nuclear-weapon materials in civilian nuclear energy systems, but also on thedemonstration of acceptable methods I and sites for the disposal of radioactive wastes -- andthese two problems are related. Your Administration has devoted substantial efforts to bothproblems a d we were pleased to assist you. The cooperative programs between the United States and the countries of the former Soviet Union to improve management and protection of nuclear materials on the military side, in particular, have made great progress. But much more isrequired.

  • We urge you to continue, strengthen, expand, and better coordinate these national and international efforts in the management, protection, and disposition of nuclear materials.

    PCAST hopes that these recommendations will be helpful as you consider how best to carry the Nation into the next century. Bipartisan support and international cooperation will be requiredto successfully implement this agenda. You can count on our best efforts to help youdevelop a consensus in the Congress, in the country, and around the globe on these important scientific and technical issues. We have appreciated the opportunity to discuss our concernswithyou and the Vice President these past several years, and hope you will continue to look to ourmembers for guidance.


    Teaming with Life: Cover Page

    Report to the President on the Use of Technology

    National Nanotechnology Initiative - PCAST

    PCAST Review of the Interim Report

    Federal Energy R&D for the Challenges of the 21st Century

    Fusion Energy Report 1995

    PCAST Letter - November 8, 1995

    PCAST Letter - December 6, 1996

    PCAST Letter on Educational Research

    PCAST - Consistent priority for American policy

    PCAST Letter - January 7, 1997

    John A. Young Letter to the President

    PCAST letter on the 2000 Budget

    PCAST Principles

    PCAST - Nation's Investment in Science and Technology

    PCAST 2001 budget to POTUS

    PCAST - Entire national science enterprise

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