APS News

The Back Page

Resources for Science and Technology: Investments in America's Future

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

Last year in his State of the Union address, President Clinton called for "action to strengthen education and harness the forces of technology and science" to prepare America for the 21st century. In May, on the weekend after he and Congressional leaders had finalized the details of the historic, bipartisan budget agreement, he announced at Morgan State University [see Back Page by President Clinton in the July 1997 APS News] that "this agreement contains a major investment in science and technology, inspired in our administration by the leadership of Vice President Gore, to keep America on the cutting edge of positive change, to create the best jobs of tomorrow, to advance the quality of life for all Americans."

Many in the scientific community were skeptical. But in this year's State of the Union message, the President emphasized that our investments in science and technology, our passion for discovery, and our sense of adventure were at the heart of his strategy to assure America's prosperity into the twenty-first century. The proof is in the President's FY 1999 budget for R&D: unprecedented commitment to public investment in scientific research combined with the first balanced budget in 30 years!

Investing Across the Frontiers of Science

The President's budget request for research and development in FY 1999 totals $78.2 billion, up 3 percent. The centerpiece is the 21st Century Research Fund, which targets research programs in ten civilian agencies for an 8 percent overall increase to $31.1 billion. This fund will grow by 32 percent over the next 5 years, directing new resources into expanding fundamental knowledge, and creating the new technologies and industries that will lead to untold thousands of new, high-wage jobs. These public investments will also invigorate the American science and technology enterprise to expand knowledge and create innovations that, together, will inspire further inquiry, progress, and prosperity.

Because nearly every family has loved ones suffering from cancer, diabetes, AIDS, or other diseases, and Americans know research will lead to cures, public funding for biomedical research is at record levels. In FY 1999, NIH is slated for an unprecedented increase of $1.15 billion. Today health researchers are making phenomenal progress in deciphering the structure of proteins, the properties of cells and genes, and the circuitry of the human brain. This capability rests firmly upon decades of discoveries in physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computer science, and other fields that, at first glance, appear unrelated to health care. Harold Varmus, the Director of NIH, is a staunch advocate for strong public support for these non-medical fields, because their contributions will underpin yet-to-be-developed treatments for many of our most devastating illnesses and disabilities.

In the President's budget, physics and related fields also fare well, with 11 percent increases overall for R&D at the Department of Energy (DOE) and for the Mathematics and Physical Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Basic research at the Department of Defense climbs 7 percent. Space Science at NASA also rises. Substantial investments in many agencies are devoted to the major scientific facilities so critical to advancing physics, but also serving biomedical research, pharmaceutical design, and even archeology and agriculture. In the President's FY 1999 budget, $87 million is set aside for U.S. participation in the international Large Hadron Collider; $157 million will start construction on the eagerly awaited Spallation Neutron Source; additional funding is proposed for synchrotron light sources, telescopes, the National Ignition Facility at Livermore, the Laser Interferometer Gravity Wave Observatory (LIGO), the B-Factory at Stanford, Fermilab's Main Injector, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven; and new space science missions sponsored by NASA.

Harnessing the Forces of Science for the Challenges of the 21st Century

Sustained investment in science and technology is absolutely essential for solving many of humanity's greatest challenges, such as climate change, disease, energy sustainability, global security, and abundant and safe supplies of food and water. Whether conducted at our world-class research universities or at our world-renowned Federal and industrial laboratories, research on such complex issues will help keep the United States at the cutting edge. The effect of the proposed increases in funding for R&D will be amplified by the Administration's concurrent and continuing emphasis on improving the cost effectiveness of every research dollar.

President Clinton and Vice President Gore are steadfastly committed to the importance of science, engineering, and technology to America's future. Both leaders emphasize that diverse fields of science are intricately interconnected, with each breakthrough stimulating a chain reaction of advances in seemingly unrelated areas. These advances create new jobs and industries, thereby spurring America's economic growth. Additionally, the President and Vice President point out that public investments are essential to long-term, groundbreaking research and to keeping our scientific infrastructure at the frontier.

Physics is a cornerstone of our science and technology enterprise, with exciting frontiers of its own, and a track record rich in linkages and spinoffs benefiting other fields. The discovery of the laser by Nobel laureate Charles Townes has led to numerous applications from medicine to manufacturing, from non-invasive surgery to atom cooling and trapping. High-energy physicists working at CERN invented the World Wide Web to solve their problem of real-time communication among collaborators scattered around the world. Just last month the intricate insights obtained from more than 570 million years old microfossils from China impressed me yet again with the awesome-but often unsung-capabilities the tools and developments from physics provide other scientific fields and society at large.

Looking Ahead

By providing the best scientific and technical knowhow and combining it with wise legislative action, America can successfully address its twenty-first-century challenges. For the sake of future generations, we must-among other things-reduce carbon emissions, ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, implement the thousand-fold increase in network speed promised by the Next Generation Internet, and pursue partnerships that speed the transfer of results from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Last December, a blizzard of letters from scientists and students from all parts of the country enveloped the White House urging increased government support for science. Physicists, astronomers, geophysicists, biologists-you name it-reiterated the importance of publicly funded research to achieving our over reaching national goals of economic growth and prosperity, personal health, national security, global stability, and environmental stewardship. Many writers provided eloquent examples of the interconnections and benefits of research, and the emergence of exciting interdisciplinary areas defining the frontiers of knowledge today. They also wrote of the importance and difficulty of attracting bright students-particularly ones from under represented groups-to scientific careers.

As the President has noted, "The future, it is often said, has no constituency. But the truth is, we must all be the constituency of the future. We have a duty-to ourselves, to our children, to future generations-to make these farsighted investments in science and technology to help us master this moment of change and to build a better America for the twenty-first century." At the White House, we are confident that the bipartisan support for research will lead to Congressional passage of the President's R&D budget.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin