Good morning and welcome to the White House forum, "The Role of Science and Technology in Promoting National Security and Global Stability." I would also like to take time out to thank those of you in the audience today who have helped us to shape this forum; to those of you here who have a designated role as speaker, as chair, we thank you also for your time and expertise; but most importantly, I want to thank each of you for contributing your time and wisdom toward the end of improved governance and brighter horizons for our children.
We have brought together for this forum a unique group of people with expertise in a diverse range of topics. We have one mission in mind to use our science and technology enterprise and position of global leadership to make this world a safer place. While we agree on the mission, I am confident that this distinguished group will have richly different ideas about how to accomplish our mission. That is why we need to hear from all of you, for as Lincoln said, "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present."
I believe this forum for dialogue comes at an important juncture in terms of the future that we choose. The realities of today's world present us with as many opportunities as problems.
The rapidly changing geopolitical scene offers us the potential to use science and technology to reach out to former adversaries, create new partnerships and develop a basis of working together. Rapid advancements in our science and technology base afford us the opportunity to be better guardians of both national security and global stability.
For example, technological capabilities in verification enable us to live in comfortable coexistence with other would-be adversaries. Meanwhile, innovations in areas such as telecommunications technologies are helping us reach our economic, national security, and global stability goals. New advancements not only create new markets for United States products and services, but allow us to foster a global community of learning, one based on democratic principles of freedom of information and broad-based social discourse.
We are typically drawn like summer moths to night lights to issues of the moment; partly because if we do not take care of tomorrow, next week may not matter that much. Paradoxically, it is the slower-paced changes taking place around the world that may present the greatest challenges for us. The issues are profound, but they fail to grab our attention through screaming headlines that demand immediate action.
The issues are complex and demanding, as Adlai Stevenson once said: "...not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." Whether it be the impacts of human activities on the earth's atmosphere and ocean life, the inexorable buildup of human population pressures, or the steady loss of arable lands, we must guard against the inertia that can plague the resolution of profound but slowly moving problems such as these that require long-term solutions and sustained commitments.
This forum is also timely in that it is part of a process designed to make government work better and comes at a time when we are reviewing United States priorities and making increasingly tough budget choices. The Administration is working hard to marshal its assets so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. We now have a cabinet-level body, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), dedicated to coordinating overall science and technology policies. The NSTC, chaired by the President, has its roots in the Vice President's National Performance Review.
Unlike previous multi-agency bodies that helped to shape federal policies and goals, the NSTC has authority to establish priorities, direct policy, and participate fully in the budget process. Two of the nine NSTC committees the Committee on National Security and Committee on International Science, Engineering and Technology have been central supporters of this forum. Much of the agenda that we are covering reflects the priorities and strategies of these inter-agency groups.
We are also fortunate to have many of members of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology as participants in this forum. This talented group of 18 people from all walks of life, academia, business, and research institutions, was brought together to provide the Administration with quality advice on a range of science and technology issues and to ensure that federal policies reflect national needs.
At the most recent PCAST meeting on Monday and Tuesday of this week, in fact we heard among other things a subpanel report from PCAST on United States-Russian cooperation to control and account for fissile materials and an update on a PCAST study assessing the origins of civil conflict. Moreover, this Administration in general and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in particular also rely heavily on forums such as this to solicit additional input. For example, the Forum on Science in the National Interest, held last year here at the Academy, was a milestone in shaping this Administration's goals and strategies for science. Likewise, the White House Conference on Environmental Technology held several months ago brought together almost 1,300 representatives from government, industry, and nongovernmental organizations to set new approaches to developing and deploying environmental technologies both here and abroad.
At this time, I would also like to announce that this forum has a "sister" forum to be held this Fall "The Role of International Cooperation in Advancing Scientific Discovery and Technological Innovation."
This next forum is based on our philosophy that so much more can be accomplished if we wisely pool our resources with our global neighbors. It will be designed in many ways to celebrate the numerous benefits arising from bringing together the best the world has to offer in terms of scientific expertise. We will also want to use the occasion to think about how we approach international science, to seek out advice on the parameters, the mechanisms and financing tools we may want to consider.
Finally, before we get started, I have a word of caution for all of us who are responsible, in government or outside government, for moving the science and technology agenda forward. We must ensure that what we do today, what we learn and discuss, what we gather in terms of sound advice, is translated into actionable policy and that it does not remain unused or, even worse, misused. As we reach out to new frontiers of knowledge and applications, I am reminded of the experience our forefathers and foremothers had as they settled this land and explored the Western frontier.
I think of John Wesley Powell as one of this country's first PCAST members. In fact, much of the history of how we approach science and government can be traced back to Powell and his relationship with the National Academy of Sciences in the late 1800s. As you know, Powell is largely credited with the first expedition to use scientific instruments to classify and understand the Western lands. His report on the lands of the arid region of the United States sent a cautionary note to government planners that the settlement policies they were pursuing, while okay for much land west of the Mississippi, were inappropriate for many Western areas.
Unfortunately, much of Powell's advice was largely disregarded as an unnecessary inhibition to progress. At the time the rains were big and the crops plentiful and his concerns were beaten back by optimistic politicians and land speculators. It was only after the screaming headlines of disaster in the newly-settled West in the late 1880s blizzards, droughts, and floods that the significance of Powell's report on the Arid Lands was appreciated.
The lesson here is that much of what Powell had to say (had it been heard) could have prevented much human tragedy. Much of what Powell had to say (had it been heard) would have meant our settlement policies would have been more friendly to the land and nature, and would have left fewer scars for future generations. This is why the partnership we are nurturing today in this forum is so essential.
Late in his extraordinary life, Albert Schweitzer once said, "The promise and gift of science and technology is that, given nurturing, guidance, and time, the opportunities to help solve problems are infinite."
Although the challenges and choices and indeed the responsibility ahead of us are sometimes sobering, I am hopeful and confident about our abilities and intentions to succeed at the task.
To tell us more about our mission and how we can position ourselves to make the right choices, I proudly introduce a woman, who along with her hard-working staff in many ways made today possible, OSTP's Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, and Senior Director at the National Security Council, Jane Wales.
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
T H E W H I T E H O U S E