April 27, 1999



Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
April 27, 1999


East Wing of the White House

3:08 P.M. EDT 

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  I want to begin by thanking Neal Lane and Secretary Daley for the terrific job they do for our administration every day and for the American people.  I also want to welcome the two eminently  qualified members of Congress to be here, Senator Bill Frist, a distinguished physician, and Representative Rush Holt, our only bonafide scientist in the United States Congress -- and it's about time we had one and I'm glad they're both here.  (Laughter.) 

Each year, I look forward to presenting these medals because they show again that America's future is flowering as a result of the work of the honorees and people like them all over our country.  I suppose I am living proof when I  come here every year that it is possible for a person to love and support those things which he does not fully understand. (Laughter.)  Indeed, one of the reasons that I asked Al Gore to join the ticket with me in 1992 was that I felt  that the work you do would shape the future of America, and I thought there ought to be somebody here in the White House who knew more about it than I did. In the years since, I've done my best to be a good student. 

One of the things that impresses me is the nature of the work that all of you do, although it is very different.  I was deeply moved when I read as a young man what Albert Einstein said when he said, "I think and think for months 
and years.  Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false.  The hundredth time I am right."  I wonder how many of you day and night, perhaps fueled by luke-warm coffee or kept awake by stubborn puzzles, have waited for that hundredth time. 

We are very glad that you made the effort. 

You have sought answer to questions that few Americans can even begin to understand, or others people ask but can't answer  -- questions about neutrino physics and plant genetics, about polymer composites and urban poverty.  Your success in illuminating the hows and whys of our world and raising the quality of human existence have helped make the time in which we live perhaps the most exciting in human history.  I am humbled by your achievements, and honored to present these medals to you. 

I'd like to take just a moment to reaffirm something that is obvious to all of you, but needs to be equally clear to your fellow Americans.  In an age when the entire store of knowledge doubles every five years, where prosperity depends upon command of that ever-growing store, the United States is the strongest it has ever been, thanks in large measure to the remarkable pace and scope of American science and technology in the last 50 years. 

Our scientific progress has been fueled by a unique partnership between government, academia and the private sector. Our Constitution actually promotes the progress of what the Founders called "science and the useful arts."  The partnership deepened with the founding of land-grant universities in the 1860s.  After World War II, President Roosevelt directed his science advisor, Vannevar Bush, to determine how the remarkable wartime research partnership between universities and the government could be sustained in peace. 

"New frontiers of the mind are before us," Roosevelt said. "If they are pioneered with the same vision, boldness and drive with which we have waged the war, we can create a fuller and more fruitful employment, and a fuller and more fruitful life." Perhaps no presidential prophecy has ever been more accurate. 

Vannevar Bush helped to convince the American people that government must support science, that the best way to do it would be to fund the work of independent university researchers.  This ensured that, in our nation, scientists would be in charge of  science.  And where before university science relied largely on philanthropic organizations for support, now the national government would be a strong and steady partner. 

This commitment has helped to transform our system of higher education into the world's best.  It has kindled a half-century of creativity and productivity in our university life.  Well beyond the walls of academia, it has helped to shape the world in which we live and the world in which we work. Biotechnology, modern telecommunications, the Internet -- all had their genesis in university labs: in recombinant DNA work, in laser and fiber optic research, in the development of the first Web browser. 

It is shaping the way we see the universe. Just last week, astronomers at San Francisco State University, whose work was supported by the National Science Foundation, announced they had detected a solar system of three large planets orbiting the Star Upsilon and Andromedae.  This suggests strongly that there are billions of planets in the universe, some of them, undoubtedly, very much like Earth.  Now, on my bad days here, that's a very sobering thought -- (laughter) -- but quite an exciting one. 

It is shaping the way we see ourselves, both in a literal and in an imaginative way.  Brain imaging is revealing how we think and process knowledge.  We are isolating the genes that cause disease from cystic fibrosis to breast cancer. Soon we will have mapped the entire human genome, unveiling the very blueprint of human life.  Meanwhile, I want to compliment the committee on recognizing today the role of social science in honoring William Julius Wilson whose work has deeply influenced what I have tried to do as President -- to bring the benefits of work to people too long denied them. 

Today, because of this alliance between government and the academy, we are indeed enjoying fuller and more fruitful lives. With only a few months left in the millennium, the time has come to renew the alliance between America and its universities, to modernize our partnership to be ready to meet the challenges of the next century. 

Three years ago, I directed my National Science and Technology Council to look into, and report back to me on, how to meet this challenge.  Today, I'm pleased to present their findings. 

The report makes three major recommendations.  First, we must move past today's patchwork of rules and regulations and develop a new vision for the university-federal government partnership.  Vice President Gore has proposed a new compact between our scientific community and our government, one based on rigorous support for science and a shared responsibility to shape our breakthroughs into a force for progress.  Today, I ask the National Science and Technology Council to work with universities to write a statement of principles to guide this partnership into the future. 

Next we must recognize that federal grants support not only scientists but also the university students with whom they work. The students are the foot soldiers of science.  Though they are paid for their work, they are also learning and conducting research essential to their own degree programs.  That is why we must ensure that government regulations do not enforce artificial distinctions between students and employees.  Our young people must be able to fulfill their dual roles as learners and research workers. 

And I ask all of you to work with me, every one of you, to get more of our young people -- especially our minorities and women students -- to work in our research fields.  Over the next decade, minorities will represent half of all of our school-age children.  If we want to maintain our continued leadership in science and technology well into the next century, we simply must increase our ability to benefit from their talents, as well. 

Finally, America's scientists should spend more time on research, not filling out forms in triplicate.  Therefore, I 
direct the NSTC to redouble their efforts to cut down the red tape, to streamline the administrative burden of our partnership. These steps will bring federal support for science into the 21st century.  But they will not substitute for the most basic commitment we need to make.  We must continue to expand our support for basic research. 

You know, one of Clinton's Laws of Politics -- not science, mind you -- is that whenever someone looks you in the eye and says, this is not a money problem, they are almost certainly talking about someone else's problem.  (Laughter.) 

Half of all basic research, research not immediately transferable to commerce, but essential to progress, is conducted  in our universities.  For the past six years we have consistently increased our investment in these areas.  Last year, as a part of our millennial observation to honor the past and imagine the future, we launched the 21st Century Research Fund, the largest investment in civilian research and development in our history.  In my most recent balanced budget I proposed new information technology initiative to help all disciplines take advantage of  the latest advances in computing research. 

Unfortunately, the resolution on the budget passed by Congress earlier this month shortchanges that proposal and undermines research partnerships with NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.  This is no time to step off the path of progress and scientific research.  So I ask all of you, as leaders of your community, to build support for these essential initiatives.  Let's make sure the last budget of this century prepares our nation well for the century to come. 

From its birth, we have been built by bold, restless, searching people.  We have always sought new frontiers.  The spirit of America is, in that sense, truly the spirit of scientific inquiry. 

Vannevar Bush once wrote that "science has a simple faith which transcends utility...the faith that it is the privilege of  man to learn to understand and that this is his mission ...  Knowledge for the sake of understanding, not merely to prevail, that is the essence of our being.  None can define its limits or set its ultimate boundaries." 

I thank all of you for living that faith, for expanding our limits and broadening our boundaries.  I thank you through both anonymity and acclaim, through times of stress and strain, as well as times of triumph, for carrying on this fundamental human mission. 

Major Williams, please read the citations. 

(The medals are presented.) (Applause.)

Thank you, Major.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Congratulations again.  We're adjourned, thank you.  (Applause.) 

END                      3:29 P.M. EDT