December 6, 1996

President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Clinton:

Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) during your first term. You and the Vice President understand and support science and technology as critical national investments. A high level of investment, excellence in education, and accelerated innovation through science and technology are key elements that enable growth in the standard of living for every American.

We are writing in response to the Vice President's request for our observations and recommendations regarding science and technology policies and activities over the coming four years. While it may seem far afield from science and technology, we believe that it is extremely important to address the entitlement issues of Medicare and Social Security. Unless these expenditures are realigned, the amounts remaining for all other investment areas after deducting for defense and interest will be under tremendous pressure. For example, in the last Congress, Federal support of science and technology in the nation's leading research universities was projected to decline by 30 percent by 2002 as a result of their misguided tactics to close the budget gap.

Recognizing that there are no short term fixes, we respectfully urge that you present a strengthened science and technology budget for FY 1998 and sustain those levels in the years thereafter. This investment in the future should not be allowed to be diminished by inflation even if modest tax adjustments are required. A firm commitment to support of colleges, universities, and research institutes, where the next generation is trained and the frontiers of research most often are established, is especially important.

Consistent with your leadership in Reinventing Government, getting more for the same Federal science and technology dollars is a key issue. Having a process to clearly prioritize science and technology and to redirect work on the most important and that address the nation's social, economic and security objectives is an urgent need. With private sector R&D becoming focused on shorter and shorter product life cycles, Federal support for science and advanced technologies is increasingly important and a key contributor to -industrial competitiveness. In addition, assuring the nation's sustained technological leadership will require that our national innovation system be strengthened both through Federal support and a fresh look at -incentives for private-sector research investment.

In addition to these critical ongoing issues, our own discussions in PCAST of the science and technology challenges facing our nation in the next four years suggest five issues that deserve increased attention:

1) A National Strategy for Energy R&D

Adequate and reliable supplies of affordable energy, obtained and used in environmentally sustainable ways, are essential to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and political stability around the world. Moreover, energy-supply and energy-efficiency technologies represent a multi-hundred-billion-dollar-per-year global market. There is considerable doubt whether the world, which gets three-quarters of all its energy supply from oil, coal, and natural gas, can continue to rely on these fossil fuels to this degree through the expected economic growth of the next few decades without encountering intolerably disruptive climatic change caused by the resulting greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet the United States -- which is the world's largest energy consumer and the largest greenhouse-gas emitter -- is 85- percent dependent on fossil fuels and imports nearly half of its oil at a cost of $50 billion per year. The United States has allowed Federal spending on energy R&D to fall more than three-fold in real terms in the last 15 years, a period iii which private funding for energy R&D also was falling. Government spending on energy R&D is more than twice as high in Japan as in the United States, and about four times as high as a fraction of GNP.

  • We recommend a substantial and sustained increase in Federal expenditures on energy R&D, coupled with measures to encourage increased energy R&D iii the private sector. This effort should include greatly increased work on renewable energy options and energy end-use efficiency, restoration of fusion R&D funding to the levels recommended by PCAST last year, exploration of whether and how the conditions for an expanded contribution to world energy supply from nuclear fission can be achieved, and an expanded effort on clean and more efficient fossil-fuel technologies.
  • 2) Improved Understanding and Management of the Biological Resources

    Unfortunately, increased attention in recent years to the issues of global environmental change, biodiversity loss, and environmentally sustainable development has not generated as much new work on the biological underpinnings of these issues as the associated challenges require. The underpinnings to which we refer are the composition, structure, and function of the biota -- the plants, animals, and microorganisms of the planet. This includes their functions in support of human well-being and the ways in which improved management of human interactions with tile biota can preserve and enhance those functions to meet the needs of the world's growing population. Individually, plants, animals, and microorganisms are the sustainable sources of our food, most of our medicines, and much of our fuel, fiber, and building materials -- yet we understand only a very small fraction of their diversity or how to use them for our benefit. Yet how all of tilts actually works remains vastly understudied compared with other areas of science of less immediate and direct importance to the human condition.

  • We recommend a major national initiative to increase research and training in the biological and ecological sciences relevant to increasing our understanding of the composition, structure, function, and management in the biota.
  • 3) Research and Technology to Improve Education and Training

    Your Administration has promoted national investments in education and training, which are essential to continued economic growth and international competitiveness. The Administration also has recognized that information technology, which is having such a dramatic impact on the performance of the economy, can also have a powerful impact on the way Americans teach and learn. PCAST strongly supports the programs encompassed by the President's Educational Technology Initiative, which aim to provide our nation's schools with modern computer equipment, local network connectivity and Internet access, and to promote development of innovative new forms of educational software and content. The initiative further supports professional development activities designed to ensure that educators are able to use technology effectively within their classrooms. We believe, however, that rigorous new scientific research is urgently needed to determine which approaches to the use of technology in education and training are most likely to be both educationally effective and economical. More generally, new research is needed to assess the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of all aspects of the nation's current educational reform efforts.

  • W e recommend the initiation of a large-scale, federally funded program for rigorous scientific research on the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of alternative approaches to educational reform, including various applications of information technology to education and training.
  • 4) Industry-Government-University Partnerships

    In the rapidly change global markets of the 21st century, technology innovation will remain the most distinguishing characteristic in economic competitiveness. Breaking sharply from historic growth trends of 5 percent per year, R&D in the corporate community (the funder and performer of more than half of the R&D in the United States) is today undergoing dramatic changes, shifting away from both basic and applied research, and focusing on near-term product development and process improvement. We are being outpaced by Japan and Germany, our chief technology competitors, who invest proportionally more in civilian R&D than the United States. At issue is the appropriate Federal response that has included both fiscal and regulatory initiatives, as well as partnership programs aimed at supporting key enabling technologies identified by industry. Tile programs that focus on mid- to long-term technology development should now be reviewed carefully and refined for further increasing their effectiveness, restoring their bipartisan Congressional support.

  • We recommend that the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) evaluate, review and refine the Federal technology partnership programs to assess and further increase their effectiveness.
  • 5) Improved Protection, Management, and Disposition of Nuclcar Materials

    Prevention of nuclear proliferation, protection against nuclear terrorism, and further progress on nuclear arms reductions all depend on improving the systems for minimizing, monitoring, sequestering, and protecting the stocks of nuclear-weapons materials -- separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- in both the military and civilian sectors, in the United States and Russia and around the world. (These stocks are associated with nuclear-weapons production complexes, with the nuclear arsenals themselves, and with the residues of nuclear-weapon dismantlement; with civilian nuclear-power facilities of certain kinds; with the fuel--supply chain for naval reactors; and with nuclear-energy research facilities.) The prospects for future contributions of nuclear energy to world energy supply, moreover, depend not only on tight controls on the nuclear-weapon materials in civilian nuclear energy systems, but also on the demonstration of acceptable methods I and sites for the disposal of radioactive wastes -- and these two problems are related. Your Administration has devoted substantial efforts to both problems a d we were pleased to assist you. The cooperative programs between the United States and the countries of the former Soviet Union to improve management and protection of nuclear materials on the military side, in particular, have made great progress. But much more is required.

  • We urge you to continue, strengthen, expand, and better coordinate these national and international efforts in the management, protection, and disposition of nuclear materials.
  • PCAST hopes that these recommendations will be helpful as you consider how best to carry the Nation into the next century. Bipartisan support and international cooperation will be required to successfully implement this agenda. You can count on our best efforts to help you develop a consensus in the Congress, in the country, and around the globe on these important scientific and technical issues. We have appreciated the opportunity to discuss our concerns with you and the Vice President these past several years, and hope you will continue to look to our members for guidance.

    [PCAST Documents]