Statement of the Director, OSTP, before the Committee on Science

For Immediate Release

January 6, 1995

Statement of the Honorable John H. Gibbons, Director, OSTP, before the Committee on Science U.S. House of Representatives

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, on behalf of the Clinton/Gore Administration, I thank you for this opportunity to present our vision of the future in science and technology. We wholeheartedly agree with you that the advancement of science and technology is a vital national goal which is absolutely essential for the future well being of our people and our Nation. And we believe government has a key role to play in working with industry and academia to achieve that goal.

As Peter Drucker has noted, "Long range planning does not deal with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions." So to start off the new dialogue between the Administration and Congress on present decisions about science and technology and their impacts on our Nation's future, I would like to focus on five things today:


As enunciated by the President in his first month in office, our science and technology policies and programs are directed toward three basic goals: Government is an essential actor in making sure science and technology help us reach our goals. Many of the benefits science and technology confer are in areas that are either outside the market or imperfectly subject to market forces --such things as a strong national defense, first-class education and training, improved environmental quality, and fundamental scientific research. In these areas, a strong government presence in R&D investments is essential.

A government role is also vital in promoting technologies that are critical to economic growth, the creation of good jobs, and meeting the common needs of the nation, but cannot attract adequate private investment. In our partnerships with business for pre-commercial technology development, our cardinal rule is to use government funds only where they are essential and where the payoff to society as a whole is large. We invest government funds, on a cost-shared basis, where private sector investment is not adequate to the job because of unacceptably high technical risks, prohibitive cost, long payback horizons, or where the returns cannot be captured by the investing firm but spill out to competitors, other firms, or society at large.

Experience teaches us that the likelihood is that the payoff on government investments in science and technology, if judicially made, will be enormous. It is our steadfast belief that thoughtful federal spending on science and technology is simply good economic policy. Many economic studies have shown that federal money invested in science and technology brings, on average, a 50 percent rate of return to U.S. society.


The record of the past half-century clearly shows a high average rate of return on public and private investments in science and technology. Of course, we can only make educated guesses about which investments will catalyze revolutionary developments in science and technology, and we must expect some failures. One of my early mentors, Alvin Weinberg, always said "Never make a prediction until you're very old; otherwise you might live to see it not come true." But if the past is any predictor, our expectations for an excellent return on our investments are not misplaced.

Had you convened a hearing like today's in January 1975, you might, for instance, have received testimony concerning the Administration's belief that emerging computer and telecommunications technologies would soon change the conduct of warfare; that continued funding of molecular biology would yield revolutionary advances in medical diagnosis and treatments; that progress on environmental pollution required major additional Federal research attention; or that technology could both quiet the noise and cut fuel consumption in airplanes. Decisions made at that time to invest taxpayer dollars in those areas turned out to be wise, for predictable as well as for unforeseen reasons.

One could reasonably say that we got even more than we bargained for from the government's S&T investments of 20 years ago. They were strategic, meaning they were thoughtfully directed toward goals such as national security, high quality health care, and environmental quality. And, in hindsight, they were more than fully successful.


I am confident our successors in governance in 2015 will be able to say the same about many current S&T investments --if, that is, they receive adequate financial support, both public and private. The Administration's science and technology investments are focused on six priority areas: Today I would like to describe a few of the initiatives we believe will ensure long term economic growth, a broader knowledge base to support that growth, and a better quality of life for Americans.


Science and technology are essential to the various missions of the Federal departments and agencies. Looking to the future, our agencies must have a research and development base that will continually refresh and improve the ways in which we carry out our responsibilities.

Coordination and Streamlining

In order to confront the budgetary, scientific, and technological challenges of the 21st century, the Administration recognized that significant changes were needed in the way we plan and fund Federal R&D. The traditional single-agency, single-discipline approach to problem solving must be supplanted by a coordinated, multi-agency, interdisciplinary approach. Multi-dimensional problems can only be addressed by bringing together natural and social scientists, economists, engineers, and policymakers. For too long, science has been decoupled from informing policy decisions. Fixing this disconnect has been one of our highest priorities.

Over the past two years, the Administration has been working to improve the Federal R&D enterprise in many ways. For the first time, the United States has a comprehensive, coordinated Cabinet level body devoted to the Federal R&D enterprise. In November 1993, the President created the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The principal purpose of the NSTC is to:

Although each agency, to accomplish its missions, must have R&D directed to its particular needs, there are some commonalities in the science and technology needs of all the agencies. Put another way, overarching national goals typically cross agency boundaries. This is particularly true because of the highly interactive nature of research and development with its many feedback mechanisms. The NSTC provides a structure in which to prioritize the many legitimate demands on the public's R&D dollar. It assures a forum where critical national needs cannot be pushed aside by urgent and parochial agency needs. It can sensitize agencies to the advantage of symbiosis over isolated pursuit of objectives.

Through its nine standing committees, the NSTC has identified R&D priorities that link our S&T activities to critical national goals. Unprecedented cooperation among the member agencies plus a great deal of hard work in 1994 enabled these committees systematically to prepare research and development strategies to meet the goals. OSTP then worked with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure the priority areas received adequate attention --all within a level R&D budget.

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FY 1996 Science and Technology Budget - Press Briefing

John H. Gibbons - The First Rule of Tinkering

Sound Science, Sound Policy: The Ozone Story

Keynote Address - 6/18/96

Remarks of John H. Gibbons: AAAS Policy Colloquium

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Remarks - Dr. John H. Gibbons

Statement of the Director, OSTP, before the Committee on Science

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