American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


AAAS Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy

R&D: Getting Our Money's Worth

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its 23rd annual colloquium on Science and Technology Policy from April 29 - May 1, 1998. The forum, R&D: Getting our Money's Worth, featured speakers from Congres s, federal agencies, and the scientific community.

One plenary session, entitled Evaluating Investments and Performance in Research, focused on the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). More information on GPRA is available on the AGI website. Joshua Gotbaum , White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), admitted that it is difficult to predict the outcome of research and development, but it is necessary to gain the credibility needed when using public funds. He stressed OMB's flexibility in working wit h different agencies to meet their needs, and stated that the "analysis, thought, and communication" in preparing the reports are a vital part of the program. Joseph Bordogna, National Science Foundation (NSF), spoke about the three-pronged GPRA requireme nts for a strategic plan; performance plan; and a performance report. Four of the factors in assessing NSF's success are important discoveries, contribution to the knowledge base, opening new directions, and linkages across areas of knowledge. Ben Martin, Director of the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, spoke about the R&D enterprise in the United Kingdom. It is very decentralized, with six main research councils and no single R&D budget. Higher education funding is separa te, and 95 percent of its funding is based on a research assessment exercise. Because of that system, the UK is in the forefront of performance assessment. In addition, there is an increasing involvement of users of information in policy making, funding d ecisions, research collaboration, and performance assessment. Susan Cozzens, Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute, gave a history lessen in the evolution of GRPA and stated that she believes that it could achieve its goal of improving public confidence in s cience and technology.

Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering gave a lunchtime address entitled "Science, Technology, and Health and US Foreign Policy." He spoke about the increasing global interdependence and cooperation, due to factors such as the global na ture of environmental issues including climate change and public health. In addition, the information revolution has allowed information to travel faster. He said that we rely on international science and technology to improve international relations and improve regional stability.

Another plenary session took its title from an Science editorial by moderator Gregory van der Vink - Scientifically Illiterate vs. Politically Clueless. Alan McGowan, AAAS, spoke about the "nerd" image of scientists, but noted that the pu blic has more confidence in science than in the press or even the Supreme Court. He believes a problem exists in our education system, which is designed to educate the scientifically elite while leaving the general population without an adequate scientfic knowledge base. Marcel Lafollette, George Washington University, spoke about the influence of the media portrayal of scientists and how the image has evolved over the years. Graeme Browning, Center for Democracy and Technology, emphasized the need for sc ientists to explain their work to the media, in an effort to get "accurate fluff rather than inaccurate fluff" reported. She suggested only covering a few key points during an interview and keeping them pithy and easy to understand. OMB Director Franklin Raines scolded the scientific community for not supporting the President's budget. He then provided 5 questions for scientists to ponder:

During a discussion section, questions were raised about the Research Fund for America. Raines replied that the prospects of passing tobacco legislation, on which the fund is dependent, are better than when the budget was proposed. He acknowledged that there is a serious competition for funds with the balanced budget and proposals in the House to cut discretionary spending even beyond the caps. He believes that the highway bill (ISTEA) is too expensive, and may take away from other programs. Raines sta ted that he does believe that the answer to the science community's problems is to further educate the general public, a point which was later emphasized by House Science Committee staffer Njema Frazier. Although he believes that the public should be able to understand scientific processes, he thinks it is more important to have intermediaries to translate between scientists and policymakers. Van der Vink followed his comments with a call to "infiltrate the nation's decisionmaking bodies with scientists" and to train the next generation of scientists with this goal in mind.


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.

Last updated May 14, 1998


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