Science in the National Interest: Gibbons Testimony
Statement of

The Honorable John H. Gibbons
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy


Subcommittee on Science
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
U.S. House of Representatives

August 4, 1994


Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Committee to discuss the Administration's science policy. Yesterday, the President and Vice President released an Administration statement that defines a new vision of science in society, calls for strong investment in science as a national priority, and links scientific research and education to national goals and the future well-being of the country. The policy document is a road map for putting science to work on behalf of a broadened set of goals which reflect post-Cold War national priorities: health, prosperity based on long-term economic growth and technological investment, new approaches to national security, environmental responsibility, and improved quality of life for our citizens.

The President and Vice President are strong supporters of science and technology. In fact, the Administration has already taken two key steps to move us towards broader national science goals. In November of last year, President Clinton established (1) the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to coordinate Federal research and development (R&D) across the government, and (2) the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

The NSTC, chaired by the President, met in June and approved the release of two documents: "Science in the National Interest" which is the focus of this hearing, and "Technology for a Sustainable Future" which focuses on environmental technologies that have the potential to achieve our long-term environmental, energy, and economic goals. The NSTC was actively at work well in advance of its first formal meeting, and can point to a number of significant accomplishments. These include two recent Presidential decisions -- one on convergence, that merges into a single national system the planned polar-orbiting environmental satellite systems of NASA and the Department of Commerce , and another continuing the Landsat remote sensing satellite program while restructuring Federal agency responsibilities for acquiring and operating the next satellite, Landsat-7. These and other accomplishments confirm my belief that the NSTC is operating as a "virtual agency" in coordinating and implementing our science and technology policies.

The second key step was the creation of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) whose members were announced yesterday afternoon. These private sector advisors -representing industry, academia, and nongovernmental organizations -- will provide valuable advice on major science and technology policy issues. I am submitting with my testimony a list of PCAST members for the record.

Science in the National Interest

Our children's future depends on the Federal government's investment in the creation of new knowledge and developing scientific talent. This investment is not a luxury; it is a critical necessity. The Administration will insure that science survives and flourishes even in these difficult financial times. We know its health depends on our ability to direct the investment toward overall national goals and to explain to the American public why we must nourish this effort. This policy statement establishes a framework for the Administration's efforts and challenges the scientific community to assume a greater role in this effort.

Science is an endless frontier, as Vannevar Bush described it, and also an endless resource when properly nurtured. Science and technology are interdependent parts of a whole that, together, underpin the nation's economy. We view the long-term investment that the Federal government makes in pioneering discovery and knowledge generation as our "venture capital" for the future. The Federal government invests approximately $70 billion per year in R&D, of which approximately $14 billion is spent on fundamental research -- research in mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, social, behavioral, and other fundamental sciences. In the past 50 years, we have witnessed breakthroughs that led to technological innovations which generated great return to our economy as well as the means to make important new fundamental scientific breakthroughs. By investing in fundamental research, we ensure the long-term security and vitality of the entire science and technology enterprise.

The new focus on a broadened set of goals (beyond defense) will require the most efficient and effective use of scarce resources, and over the long term our investment must be commensurate with those goals. One measure of the appropriate size of our investment is to compare it to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a benchmark for total economic activity. Total U.S. support of non-defense R&D (public plus private) is about 1.9 percent of GDP, well below that of Germany (2.5 percent) and Japan (3.0 percent). When all defense R&D is added (most of which is applied research, development, testing and evaluation), the U.S. total becomes 2.6 percent, but that is a less relevant comparison.

The Administration seeks to maximize the competitive edge this Nation gains with its R&D investment. Our greatest strength has always been in innovation -- something we will not let slide. We are committed to equalizing the Federal government's investment in civilian and defense R&D, and to emphasizing dual use in all of its defense investments. With steady progress in these areas, a reasonable long-term goal for the total national investment (both civilian and defense) might well be about 3 percent of GDP. This investment should be shared by the Federal government and the private sector. As the private sector investment is likely to remain heavily weighted towards shorter term applied R&D (and properly so), the Federal investment should continue towards strengthening fundamental research, rebuilding the science infrastructure, and strengthening longer-term applied R&D.

The Federal government has a very important role and has traditionally assumed the responsibility for funding fundamental research. About two- thirds of fundamental research conducted in the U.S. is supported by the Federal government. This investment is only about a quarter of a percent of our GDP, yet it represents a large part of the intellectual "venture capital" of our national enterprise.

An Action Agenda

"Science in the National Interest" speaks to the need for science to be responsive to national goals while also retaining commitment to the core values that have enabled our scientific community to achieve so much. Our five broad goals for sustaining America's world leadership in science, mathematics and engineering are:

Actions Taken

We've started to check off some items on our science policy "do list" already. For example:


The Administration's science policy calls for full and equal participation of all Americans, as both contributors to and benefactors of the scientific investment. The President and Vice President call on scientists, engineers, and other technicallytrained people to become directly and actively involved in the critically important national challenge to increase science and math literacy.

We are, I believe, in the midst of a revolution. And we had better be, as historian Jacob Bronowski observed, for we have much to set right. The end of the Cold War marks the beginning, not the end, of science and technology's march toward victory in this Nation's battle for prosperity and high quality of life and toward defeat of global afflictions such as poverty, disease, and environmental degradation. This committee's esteemed chairman -my friend, George Brown -- has called this the transition from a vigilant society to a humane society. I endorse his effort to focus this country's attentions on the challenges and opportunities ahead for scientists and nonscientists alike.

I would like to conclude by quoting one of this century's brilliant scientists, P.D. Medawar. He said that "science is incomparably the most successful enterprise human beings have ever engaged upon." This Administration wholeheartedly agrees. We have charted a course to ensure continued success in science and technology. I hope we can work productively with the Congress to realize our vision.