Category Archives: S&T Policymakers

The Science Coalition Promotes American Leadership of Science

This coalition gets some ink by an annual award to someone, usually a Member of Congress, who supports their goals. The most recent (3/16/15) “Champion of Science” was Senator Dick Durban (D – Illinois).

“The Science Coalition (TSC) is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization of the nation’s leading public and private research universities. It is dedicated to sustaining strong federal funding of basic scientific research as a means to stimulate the economy, drive innovation and secure America’s global competitiveness. Learn more at”

The list of reports at their site tries to make the case that basic research is good for America, more research would be better, but what would it really take for America to be the best?  Well, that will take more motivation that recognizing one of the 535 Members once a year. I think that national security might be that motivation, now the missing item in their goals.

Still, I support what they are trying to do, of course. Too bad there is no way for individuals to participate in their organization.

R. D. Shelton

Science The Endless Frontier

Talk about ancient history! This influential report was written by Vannevar Bush in 1945.  This more constructive Bush had coordinated R&D during WWII with great success, including the Manhattan Project, military applications of radar, sonar, the proximity fuse, the Norden bomb sight, and many others that had helped the Allies win the war.  Near the end of the war, he was asked by President Franklin Roosevelt to study how R&D could be organized after the war for peacetime benefits.  One recommendation led to the National Science Foundation, but there is much more in the report.  Today when we seem to be at a loss for justifying investments in R&D, the report’s eloquence on the benefits of R&D, particularly basic research, to the nation in economic prosperity and national security can be an inspiration.

Bush’s letter of transmittal closes with, “Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.”

Another snippet from later in the report:

“Progress in the war against disease depends upon a flow of new scientific knowledge. New products, new industries, and more jobs require continuous additions to knowledge of the laws of nature, and the application of that knowledge to practical purposes. Similarly, our defense against aggression demands new knowledge so that we can develop new and improved weapons. This essential, new knowledge can be obtained only through basic scientific research.”

The report is at:

Here’s Bush’s Wikipedia biography.

R. D. Shelton

Key US Decision Makers on S&T Policy: Members of Congress

One benefit of working on the Hill is that you quickly learn which Members and Committees you might be able to influence on particular issues.  There are usually only a few. 

Most Members vote the party line decided by the leadership, and your chances of changing this pattern are slim.  More than 90% of Members are in safe seats where incumbents are reelected with only token opposition; these Members may want your friendship, but they don’t need it. 

Most committees are authorization bodies that have little power over appropriations that drive real actions.  Unfortunately, the House and Senate science committees are this type, useful for airing your views, but with not much influence on outcomes.  In some industries, authorization committees do dictate regulations that are important to corporations, but, except for telecommunications and high-tech immigration, S&T mostly doesn’t fall into this class. Committees that control taxation, like Ways and Means in the House, are as powerful as Appropriations, because they have an even bigger effect on a corporation’s bottom line.

Thus the most important of the 535 Members for increased support of S&T are: (1) in swing districts or states that are evenly divided between parties, (2) in the (small) middle of the political spectrum so that they might be swayed by a good policy or political argument, (3) on the most powerful committees for S&T, and (4) particularly in the House, have the clout that comes from seniority.  (They need to be predisposed to support S&T, but, except for a handful of Flat Earth Society supporters, Members do–it’s a motherhood, God, and apple pie issue.) This is a manageable short list, and I will try post a series on several of them.

R. D. Shelton

PS: It’s not enough to just get lukewarm support; to push anything through Congress, you need at least one champion to take the lead–by expending hard work, time (in very short supply), and some of their own precious political capital.  This must be a Member of Congress; staff will not do.  This principle has been around for awhile: the 19th Century term for Congressional champion was horse–to pull your wagon.  And who might be willing to be that champion?  I have some ideas, which I will post later.


Key US Decision Makers on S&T Policy: President Barak Obama

The pale guy on the right is your humble author.  I didn’t crash this event, but I wasn’t impressed with its security, either.

Of course, the President has more influence over S&T policy than anyone else in town. Fortunately he seems to be sympathetic to reaping the benefits of our investments in R&D by manufacturing and selling some of our inventions.

President Obama has restored the role of the White House science advisor and has said some constructive things about goals. OSTP released the first S&T strategic plan in a long time only eight months after the Administration took office. As I reviewed earlier ( ), it gets off to a good start by setting a goal of R&D investment of 3% of GDP, and identifies some reasonable focus areas. However, it is short on incentives for the private sector to cooperate, and by speaking only of economic motivations for R&D, forfeits the most powerful motivator for the Congress and public: national security. (On November 17 the Washington Post reported on a survey that asked the public which government agency was most respected. DOD was on top with four times more votes than NIH; Commerce was not on the list.) These problems could be solved by a more detailed implementation plan.

We S&T enthusiasts have to remember that the President has far more immediate problems, and his attention span can’t exceed 24 hours a day.  It’s hard to remember to floss to keep your teeth,  when you are up to your waist in alligators.  We can try to keep his attention by approaching him through the right channels: OSTP, PCAST, the right members of Congress, and maybe his chief of staff–apparently that’s the contact that got President Bush’s attention on the RAGS report.  I’ll provide more on these contacts later.

R. D. Shelton

Key US Decision Makers in S&T Policy: A Series

As you may have gathered from earlier posts, I believe that American S&T is in more trouble than ever before, despite encouraging signs from the Obama Administration and the Congress.   Even if the Federal Government did everything right, it is quite unlikely that the private sector would cooperate as much as needed; we only have to look at the EU experience of the last decade.  I had a chance to buttonhole a VP of a major US (actually global) corporation recently, and asked him what it would take for his company to locate their next R&D lab in the US. He laughed.

To remedy the problem that I and those of the US innovation movement see, we need to focus on key decision makers in the US.  I know the government officials better than corporation types, so this series will introduce them first. 

I have to hew to a fine line here.  My non-profit scientific research companies are basically not allowed to lobby.  They can provide information on government policy to you.  As individuals, you and I are indeed allowed to lobby the government for remedies to national problems, as long as we don’t do anything improper that would have to be reported on the certs we have to send in with every proposal.  Research!America has played this game with wild success, so far, in doubling the NIH budget, and other initiatives, so it can be done.

Every Member of Congress has to raise huge sums of money for campaigns to keep their jobs and thus need all the friends they can get.  If you become their friend, they are a lot more likely to pay attention to you.  That’s the way the world works, and it’s entirely legal, as long as you know the rules and follow them.

R. D. Shelton