American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Report on Meeting of President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology

Public Session- March 6, 1997

The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a panel of 18 distinguished members from industry, research, and academia, ensures that private and academic sector perspectives are included in the policy making process. PCAST advises the President both directly and indirectly though the Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Dr. John Gibbons, who also serves on the committee. To view a list of members and learn about future activities, visit the PCAST homepage.

Education:
Joseph Conaty, Director of the National Institute of Student Achievement, Curriculum, and Assessment within the Department of Education, addressed the committee on the results of the Educational Technology Panel Final Report. His remarks focused on the results of the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), which placed student performance in the United States near the bottom in these subjects. Forty percent of US eighth graders are unable to read at a basic level, which in turn affects performance in math and science. Furthermore, students are gaining an inaccurate assessment of their work since most testing is norm based with students only competing with other students in their area. Students that receive B's in inner city schools would receive a D for the same work in the suburbs. Since the properties of science and math are universal, he emphasized the need for a national standard to ensure that children in all geographic and socioeconomic regions are learning the fundamentals of these subjects.

President Clinton's goals for education, announced during the State of the Union, are as follows:
1. A safe, secure environment for students to learn
2. All students able to read by the third grade
3. Proficiency in math and science by the TIMSS standard
These goals will be achieved through a focus on learning technology such as software and the Internet, for which grants will be available.

Budget:
T.J. Glauthier, Associate Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science, provided an overview of the President's budget request for FY1998. According to Glauthier, most agencies still have a stable base and are facing more gradual declines than expected. He explained that "in this environment, being frozen is a pretty good thing." Three of the agencies -- the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and NASA -- received a 3% inflation increase in the science and technology portions of their budgets. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) received a sizable R&D increase of 10%, while the Department of Defense and Department of Agriculture fell 2% and 4 % respectively.

Al Teich, Director of Science and Policy Programs for AAAS, presented AAAS's analysis of science and technology trends. Since FY1994, only 2 agencies -- NIH and NSF -- have sustained their funding level. With inflation, all other S&T agencies have less spending power, with the Department of the Interior receiving the most drastic decline of over 20%. However, the cuts for FY1998 and the future are much less than originally expected, allowing agencies to have stable funding to continue activities.

Representatives George Brown (D-CA) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI) presented their view of the role of the federal government. Rep. Brown believes the government needs to increase funding levels to a certain point, then keep adjusting for inflation to allow scientists the stability to complete their research. Rep. Ehlers believes much support for science exists in Congress, but members are grappling with how to increase funding when entitlement programs are causing the discretionary portion of the budget to shrink so dramatically. Both agreed that the United States needs to formulate a science policy, as the world has profoundly changed since Vannevar Bush created the current policy more then half a century ago. Brown believes this process is essential, stating "the United States does not have a science policy- it has a budget policy," an assessment shared by Ehlers.

PCAST case discussions:
Energy R&D: President Clinton requested a study of the "current national energy research and development portfolio" to ensure the United States can adequately address future energy and environment issues. A panel comprised of six PCAST members and six additional experts will present the findings by October 1.

Biodiversity: With the growing human population and loss of wildlife habitat, preserving biodiversity has become an important concern. Twenty percent of the world's organisms are expected to disappear within 20 years. PCAST is studying ways that environmental monitoring and land use planning can help prevent some of this destruction.

The next PCAST meeting will be held June 9-10, 1997


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 March 17, 1997

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