Dr. Neal Lane
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

Regional Meeting on Government-University Partnership
Atlanta, Georgia

Oct. 13, 1999



 

Introductory remarks
Thank you.  I'm delighted to be here today.  Like you, teaching and research captured my heart and my mind early in my career.  With the week we've had in Washington, I kind of wonder what I'm doing so far from the campus!  Seriously, my roots in this community sustain my public service, and I look forward to returning to this rich soil when I leave Washington.

Public service is a privilege and a frustration.  I have learned a lot, but it has taught me some things I wish I didn't know.  Take the appropriations process.

Some of you may have heard me refer to last year's budget process as "the craziest one I had ever seen."  Well I'd like to retract that statement - this is the craziest budget process I have ever seen.

The Continuing Resolution that is funding much of the Federal government runs out in eight days.  Congress has to figure out how to fund a significant part of the Federal science and technology enterprise in that time.  Given that the President is not inclined to sign another Continuing Resolution, there is little room for error.

There are still six bills that Congress has not sent to the President - four of those, if not changed significantly, will be vetoed.  Federal science and technology funding is caught in a political shell game that attempts to hide critical funding needs under clever guises.

In the past month, we have watched money go from the Defense Appropriations Committee to other committees so that they could pass their bills, and then money somehow returns to Defense Appropriations - a process the Washington Post referred to as "Guns to Butter to Guns."  We have seen census funding and veterans' funding declared an "emergency."  And now we are still hearing about across-the-board cuts.

I am heartened by the way that NASA and NSF were treated in the Conference report to the VA/HUD appropriations bill.  NASA will receive a slight increase over the Administration's request, and NSF will receive just slightly less than the funding amount the President requested, but (due to rounding) will still receive the 7 percent increase we requested over last year's level.  We owe a great deal of gratitude to Jack Lew, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, and John Podesta, the President's Chief of Staff, whose intense efforts secured these increases for NASA and the NSF.

I cannot tell you what the outcome of this budget is going to be, because no one honestly knows what is going to happen.  I can assure you that my colleagues in the White House and I will continue to work long and hard to ensure that science and technology funding is not bartered away at the negotiating table.

 The high stakes game of political brinksmanship between the Senate GOP and the White House would have been thrilling to watch
if the peril to the country weren't so great.  That treaty is key to our global efforts to discourage proliferation to nuclear weapons.  The President has asked that the vote be postponed, and that is being considered today.

But enough about Washington.  Today, it feels good to be among friends and colleagues, to discuss one of the most important issues on the national agenda the government-university research partnership.

I especially want to thank President Clough for inviting me to Georgia Tech.  I appreciate his hard work on behalf of the Federal research budget.  And my association with Georgia Tech goes back several decades, as I have had many good friends and research colleagues there.  This is one of the nation's truly outstanding science and engineering schools.  And I look forward to getting an update with a tour of your facilities later today.

I would also like to commend the organizers of the meeting.  Successful meetings depend on the ingenuity and hard work of organizers such as Susan Cozzens and Patty Bartlett, and the others involved in making this event happen.

I also want also to recognize my colleagues from Washington.  Arthur Bienenstock, Sybil Francis, Martha Krebs (DOE), and Judy Sunley (NSF) brought the NSTC report together and got it out the door so that we could start these discussions with our university partners.

As a high-technology growth area with ambitious goals and great potential, Atlanta provides an ideal locale for us to examine the importance of partnerships involving state and Federal governments, universities, and industries.

In the next few minutes, I'd like to give a little background regarding what brings us together today.  I want to say a word about the current state of our partnerships and share a few ideas about steps the partners could take to strengthen the relationship and our collective contributions to the national good.

Early in his first term President Clinton established the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to advise him on how science and technology can be used to make the nation stronger and how the tools of governance can strengthen the S&T enterprise.  To no one's surprise, NSTC soon determined that the importance of the 50-year-old government-university research partnership required us to first find out how that partnership is faring in the face of the enormous global changes that have affected the conduct of research and the stresses that have affected the quality of education.  The NSTC's report, Renewing the Federal Government-University Research Partnership for the 21st Century, is the basis for our discussion today.

PRD Background and the NSTC Report

When the President released the NSTC report in April of this year, he called on the NSTC to work with universities toward three goals, and I want to look briefly at each.

The first goal is to make sure we have a common understanding - a set of principles - to guide the partnership between the government and universities.

We need to replace today's patchwork of rules and regulations with a new vision for the university-Federal government partnership.

Why do we need a vision, a statement of principles?  For one thing, a statement of principles provides an excellent educational tool for those outside the immediate orbit of the government-university research partnership to understand what it's about.  For example, a former President of the United States is quoted as having once asked, "Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?"  Well, that misses the whole point, "Research is an investment in the future."  We cannot always predict the outcome, but we do know from decades of experience that in the aggregate it is a wise investment to make.  Everybody should be able to understand this argument.

A statement of principles also can help guide our thinking and our decisions in times of change.  How often have you heard a fellow faculty member characterize some government action as the "dumbest thing I ever heard of"?  Why, I even heard a provost make that comment once!  Usually, when people react this way, it's because the

particular governmental action appears arbitrary - or even capricious.  Without the principles, it's easy to assume someone just dreamed the idea up in some back room and decided to go with it.  Guiding principles come in handy because they inform the action and the reaction.

I hope you will seriously consider the principles and give us your thoughts about them.  Did we get things right?  Did we leave anything out?  What would you change?  We plan to publish a revised statement of principles by next April.

The second goal outlined in the report is to strengthen the links between research and education.  We as a nation entrust our universities with the dual responsibilities of creating new knowledge and training the students who will ensure that the cycle of creativity and innovation continues.  The issue of integration of research and education lies at the core of quality university experience.

In this arena, universities have the lead.  Government can remove some stumbling blocks, which I'll get to in a moment, but universities - an independent lot, to say the least - run the show.  They determine the curriculum requirements and provide the opportunities and incentives for undergraduates as well as graduate students to participate in the scientific process.  They make the decisions that most directly influence the diversity of our graduate school populations.  It's a big job.  Everyone expects outstanding performance.  Tell us how we can work together to make some progress.

The final goal is rules that make sense.  The benefits of this goal are obvious.  But I do want to give one example.  The dual role of students - students as learners and students as active researchers - has caused untold confusion for bean counters who attempt to divide the research and education enterprise into financial or operational components.  That exercise reduces the effectiveness of the enterprise as a whole.  Before I leave government, I hope we will eliminate government policies that force universities to make artificial distinctions that characterize graduate students as either students, with no employee status, or employees, with no consideration of their studies.
Let me talk for a minute about some common interests of the Federal government, universities, and industry.  When universities train the next generation of scientists and engineers, they're not just training future professors.  They're training the mainstays of the 21st century economy.  Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, well known for being careful with words, this past spring repeatedly cited unexpected gains in technology as primarily responsible for the nation's phenomenal economic performance.  The nation needs people who can produce knowledge and use it to propel the knowledge-based economy.

Let me quote the President in this context:  "Where once we focused our development efforts on the construction of factories and power plants, today we must invest more in the power of the human mind, in the potential of every single one of our children.  A world-class education for all children is essential to combating the fear, the ignorance, the prejudice that undermine freedom all across the globe today in the form of ethnic, religious and racial hatreds.  It is essential to creating a worldwide middle class.  It is essential to global prosperity.  It is essential to fulfilling the most basic needs of the human body and the human spirit. That is why the 21st century must be the century of education and the century of the teacher."

Reflecting on the President's statement.  We should ask ourselves:  Are we ready for a century in which the most valuable resource will not be something we dig or pump out of the ground, but instead will be educated people?  The Department of Commerce tells us that 60 percent of new jobs in the year 2020 will require skills that only 22 percent of our workers have today.  What are we doing to make up the difference?  Universities can't handle the job alone.  Our K-12 programs will have to carry much of the load.  How can we help them do that?

The opportunities to improve our system of education - from kindergarten through undergraduate level - lie in two areas that will sound familiar:  research and teaching.  Through better research, we will learn a lot more about how kids learn and what makes teaching effective.  On the recommendation of the President's Committee of

Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), we have initiated a new large-scale educational research program.  The objectives are similar to those of large-scale clinical trials - to see what works and what doesn't in terms of approaches to teacher preparation, student learning, and the use of educational technology.

But, we don't have to wait on the research results to make some improvements.  We already know things we can do to improve teaching and student learning.  There are at least three places where concentrated effort could have substantial multiplier effects:

First, curriculum development for K-12 and college non-majors; second, linking departments that focus on scientific disciplines - physics, chemistry, math, biology - with education schools; and last, but not least, focusing on diversity.

We need national standards for achievement in science and mathematics.  Our nation's children are seriously disadvantaged when school boards deny evolution and other core scientific knowledge.  Or when "back to basics" means "dull drill" and "role memorization", that's not education.  What do we do about that?  What is the role of the university?  What is the role of government?

Individuals will only succeed in our complex economy if they understand and we can use math and science the concepts - the process of thinking - and the tools!  And national prosperity depends on the success of individuals - many of whom never take a science course after high school.  What do we do to turn that around?

Too few of our K-12 teachers are prepared for the math and science courses they teach.  Can we get them some help from the physicists, chemists, biologists, and mathematicians who rarely set foot in our schools of education?  Is there anything the Federal government, perhaps working with the universities, can do about that?

The current direction of the U.S. economy clearly indicates that we will need more scientists, engineers, and people with technical training.  Demographers tell us that the fastest growing populations - minority populations - are not attracted to those fields.  What do we do about that?  How do we reach young people coming from communities that throughout history have not been included in science and technology?  How do we attract and retain more women as scientists, mathematicians and engineers?

Before closing my remarks today, I want to put one more issue on the table.  What should this nation invest in science and technology?  We're here today to make sure we spend every nickel of the taxpayers money wisely, but that nickel's getting squeezed mighty thin.  In 1994, the Clinton-Gore Administration endorsed a long-term national goal of funding R&D at a rate of 3 percent of GPD.  That would be a national rate of spending, not just Federal, but in either event, it would be a remarkable stretch for all of us in the climate of fiscal discipline.  But the current economic boom compels us to think about the possibilities and capitalize on this moment to prepare ourselves for the future.  Many observers, in industry, in academia - and even a few in government - believe we're under investing.  The total Federal R&D budget continues to increase, but some fields are left behind.  Will we pay for this oversight down the road?  What can we do about it today?  Again, I know you have a lot on your plates for today, but I welcome your thoughts on this issue for the longer term.  A healthy partnership will require a healthy investment.

My colleagues from Washington and I are here to listen to your concerns - to learn from you what we got right and what we didn't quite get right in this report, and to learn about your thoughts for how to address these issues.  I found the morning sessions stimulating and thought-provoking and look forward to this afternoon.  Most of all, I look forward to a continuing dialogue with you.

So finally, in closing, thank you for convening this meeting today.  We want to be good partners and we cannot do that if we do not hear from you.  This opportunity for dialogue helps ensure we meet our partnership obligations.  We've already had some excellent discussion - including specific suggestions.  Thank you.  I look forward to the rest of the meeting.
 
 


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