June 27, 1996
Dear Mr. President:
The members of PCAST recently reviewed the capacity of America's research universities to serve the national interests. Profound structural changes are now sweeping through our entire national science enterprise. U.S. investments in R&D are declining in real dollars, not only in academia, but also in industry and government. This trend appears to be long term, rather than a brief aberration. New realities of the marketplace are transforming all three sectors. America must act now to sustain the productive partnership of government, industry and academia in science and technology. The future of our national innovation system is in danger. All of the research partners must re-create themselves in order to overcome the threat.
American universities and independent research institutes, which lie at the core of our national innovation system, set the world standard of excellence, especially at the advanced graduate and post-doctoral level. These academic institutions are under great stress; stable sources of support are eroding, while administrative and regulatory burdens are growing. Such stress threatens the two basic missions of academic institutions: discovery of new knowledge and preparation of the next generation.
We are deeply concerned that the institutional effects and policy implications of the structural changes in the science enterprise are not widely recognized. In today's reduced resource environment, the unintended and cumulative consequence of many small federal decisions has created a growing dichotomy between government policies that support academic research institutions and governmental practices that harm them. Without any malice aforethought, government actions are driving a wedge between research and education on America's campuses. These developments have been accelerated by Congressional and Administration actions throughout the 90's, and threaten our nation's long-term leadership in science and technology. Government and research universities bear a shared responsibility to address them.
PCAST has reviewed the recent reports on the government-university research partnership, including the December 1992 PCAST report on research universities, Renewing the Promise, and the August 1994 report on your Administration's science policy goals, Science in-the National Interest. The policies and recommendations stated in these reports are worthy and remain timely, but many have not yet been implemented. We have conclude that another such report is not needed. Instead, we recommend a Presidential review of implementation plans for incorporating the sound ideas from these reports within our rapidly evolving science and technology structure.
We respectfully suggest that you again promulgate your goal of sustaining U.S. world leadership in science, technology and education and your policies to achieve this goal to all federal science mission agencies, and also to the American people. To assure attainment of this goal, a government wide policy and administrative review, including the elements described below, should be undertaken.
All executive agencies should assess collectively their current policies and their plans to achieve the goal of sustained world leadership. Each agency should report its expectations and conditions for meeting the goal, including, if necessary, a consideration of a rebalancing within and among agency R&D portfolios.
Each agency should be directed, in consultation with university and industry leaders to undertake a comprehensive assessment of its policies, programs and regulations for academic research, including management circulars and tax policies. There would be major benefits if each agency were asked to identify federal opportunities to:
improve research partnerships among government, academia and industry; streamline the federal administration of university research activities and administrative relationships; meet the real and appropriate costs of research, advance the intellectual and financial vitality of our universities and their infrastructure; and strengthen undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral science and engineering education.
We recognize that supporting university research is a policy priority of your Administration. What is needed is more effective implementation of that policy and a shared commitment to achieving these opportunities on the part of both universities and government.
It is important that the federal agencies complete their assessments and report to you expeditiously. To optimize the entire system, our hope is that these reports would then be evaluated on a government wide basis by an executive branch body with a Presidential perspective (e.g. the National Science and Technology Council). This evaluation should lead to an action plan for implementation in the coming Administration.
Beyond this review, PCAST advises that Presidential advocacy is vital if our country is to meet this challenge. We salute your leadership in sustaining federal science and education investments despite the federal budget constraints. You should continue your staunch resistance to cuts proposed for these programs, because they are the best investment for America, and because our international competitors are increasing such investments. We also encourage you to search for new ways to sustain the national R&D investments in the years to come. We urge you to speak forcefully to the nation on the relationship of excellence in education and research to meeting national goals. Your advocacy can lift our nation's vision and focus its attention on the importance of discovery and learning to our future in a knowledge based economy.
If we cede U.S. primacy in research and education to others, our economic progress, national security, standard of living, health and quality of life surely will suffer. The members of PCAST stand ready to assist you in detailing these issues and completing the review we propose, and to support your leadership on behalf of research and education.