When President George W. Bush finally appointed Jack Marburger to be the Director of OSTP in June, 2000, I reported in my old ITRInews #34 that the press release clearly signaled a downgrade of the position, indeed the rumours were that several candidates had turned down the position for that reason.
This was not the only downgrade. Fourteen months later, their former top goal, as stated in first sentence on the OSTP homepage, “The Federal Government plays a critical role in maintaining American leadership in science and technology.” disappeared completely from the site, without comment. See the ITRInews #48 article and editorial, “The dog that didn’t bark.” (In the interests of full disclosure, I had actually sent a letter to Dr. Marburger warning that, based on scores of WTEC studies, such a goal was going to be difficult to achieve. I doubt if I had any impact on this decision, though; he or his staff certainly didn’t reply.)
Insiders in the Bush OSTP have told me that they just got tired of being hammered by agencies who pointed with alarm abroad to bolster their requests for more money. So the easiest thing was to just get rid of the goal that President Truman had set in 1950–they probably didn’t even know that history. The last time I looked, the White House OMB still puts this goal in its annual budget submissions to Congress, but they seem to only be talking at the US input investment in R&D being greater than any other country, not any kind of output performance measure.
The new OSTP doesn’t exactly highlight this goal either. Their website now starts with,
“The Office of Science and Technology Policy advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The office serves as a source of scientific and technological analysis and judgment for the President with respect to major policies, plans and programs of the Federal Government. OSTP leads an interagency effort to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets. The office works with the private sector to ensure Federal investments in science and technology contribute to economic prosperity, environmental quality, and national security.”
But if you drill down into the site, you find their new innovation strategic plan that does address this goal. (We wonks had waited in vain for eight years for the Bush Administration to produce an S&T plan.) The plan has near the top:
“1. Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation. We must first ensure that our economy is given all the necessary tools for successful innovation, from investments in research and development to the human, physical, and technological capital needed to perform that research and transfer those innovations.
Restore American leadership in fundamental research. President Obama implemented the largest increase in basic R&D in history, which will lay the foundation for new discoveries and new technologies that will improve our lives and create the industries of the future.”
Nitpickers will notice that restoring leadership in fundamental research is not nearly as a broad as Truman’s goal of maintaining world leadership in S&T generally, but it is a start.
R. D. Shelton