American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology Meeting

Public Session- September 29, 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 ad vises 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. A report on the March 6 PCAST meeting is available on the AGI website.

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Neal Lane reported on the progress of the NSF/Department of Education Working Group on Science and Math Education. Lane recommended "early, strong, and continuous math and science education" as keys to successfu l learning. He reported that NSF spends 1/5 of its budget (approximately $670 million) on education and training in science and math. Of that amount, $375 million is spent on K-12 education. He emphasized the importance of partnerships with schools and noted that many of these programs are cooperative agreements, not grants, that focus on systemic initiatives rather than long-term support. He concluded by stating that education is controlled by local and state governments, but the "federal government has information, tools, and resources" essential to successful programs.

Marshall Smith, Department of Education (DOEd), followed up on Lane's comments. He reported that two current priorities for students are to increase the quality of reading by fourth grade and succeed in math by eighth grade. He stated that these two gra des are critical transition points and referred to studies that show a high correlation between not reading by fourth grade and dropping out of school. He supports national testing because state standards are not challenging and views testing as a way to mobilize people to give children a better education. The first test will be given in the spring of 1999 and will be similar to the international test given in TIMSS. A version of the test will be available on the internet by early next year along with answers, reasons for including the questions, and suggestions of ways to teach the concepts covered.

Smith cited three main problems with teachers regarding math and science. First, there is a lack of training in science and math, and many teachers do not feel qualified to teach. Second, high school courses aimed at students who will not be attending c ollege are "a disaster." Finally, he feels instruction for college-bound students is to "weed out" students, not to better prepare them. He suggested increasing the amount of science and math courses prospective teachers take while in college and pressu ring school boards as ways to combat these problems. He concluded by explaining the relationship between NSF and the DOEd. The two agencies work closely together but have very difference missions. NSF uses merit review to determine which unsolicited pr oposals will be funded while DOEd distributes money by a formula.

Milton Goldberg reported on efforts of the National Alliance of Business (NAB) regarding Education and the Workforce. The NAB is interested in the quality of education throughout one's life. They match schools with businesses with an expertise in a needed area and have over 300 groups with 34 million employees involved in the program. In New England, they have increased the use of high school transcripts in hiring, thereby increasing the importance of high school work on one's future. In additi on, NAB is very involved in developing and implementing school-to-work curriculum.

Duane Alexander reported on Investing in our Future: Children's Initiative Update. He spoke about the importance of research directed at youth, noting that the federal government must conduct this research or it will not get done. He then listed five areas in need of study: risks for chronic health problems, i.e. osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease; environmental and safety threats; cognitive development; childhood and adolescent behavior; and overall well being. He recommended that OSTP join w ith the Domestic Policy Council to lead an interagency working group on these issues.

Energy R&D
John Holdren reported on the recently released report Federal Energy R&D Challenges of the 21st Century. The report illustrates that energy R&D funding is not commensurate with the challenges facing the nation and contains recommendations for futu re funding levels through 2003 to address this issue. Energy efficiency would receive the largest increase, with money going to equipment and material research, Next Generation Vehicle project, and industry. Renewable energy research received the next l argest increase because of its diverse portfolio and its environmental benefits. The report sets a goal of cutting the cost of photovoltaics and wind in half by 2005 and making ethanol competitive by 2010-2015. It also includes support for research into biomass sources of energy with the pulp and paper industry.

Fossil energy research will stay constant when accounting for inflation, as some projects -- such as clean coal -- will be terminated and given to industry, and others -- such as those included in "Vision 21"-- are increased. Funding for long-term gas r esearch will increase as will funds for international collaboration. Funding for marginal oil and gas resources will increase and support exists for a strong carbon sequestration initiative. Additional funding is included to support air pollution resear ch and development and explore potential technology to develop methyl hydrates.

Fusion research will increase until it reaches a constant 1995 level with an emphasis on basic science and plasma confinement. Fission research increases slightly to give researchers an opportunity to determine if they can remedy previous problems. The r eport is available from the PCAST home page or by calling 202-456-6100 or faxing 202-456-6026.

Holdren concluded by stating that the US public has been lulled by low gas prices and a sense of military security to get US oil and that attitude must be adjusted to adequately plan for the future.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs.

Last updated December 1, 1997

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