APS News

Inside the Beltway: A Washington Analysis

Bingo! APS Policy Planners Score on Education and Energy

By Michael S. Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs

There's nothing like 20-20 hindsight - except 20-20 foresight. And when you've got it, flaunt it. So I will.

More than half a year ago, the APS political sages put their heads together, pondered the imponderable and tried to forecast the hot issues for the next administration. Science education and energy policy bubbled to the top. Impossible, we said. Too wonkish, too cerebral. No political pizzazz.

But often, life in Washington is nothing more than a craps shoot. So, we rolled the dice, used some body english and watched as, gasp, the cubes came up reading science education and energy policy. Hallelujah, now what?

No choice but to rev up the policy engine, call in the experts and formulate appropriate APS positions. Taking a cue from industry, we applied "just-in-time" techniques and emerged from the November 19, 2000 Council meeting armed with two statements that fueled our audacity: Energy Policy for the 21st Century and a Policy Statement on K-12 Science and Math Education.

Then, along with the rest of America, we sat numbly and watched the Disney show from Florida, until the Supreme Court told us that boots and Stetsons would set the inaugural fashions. Yeehaw! We had scored one bulls eye. The "Education President" was moving into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Scroll forward six weeks. A White House transition is never a pretty sight, and this one didn't disappoint.

The one-month election delay sent members of the Clinton clan - many of whom had hoped for promotions in a Gore government - packing in record time. But just as "w" keys were disappearing from West Wing work stations, and copiers were coughing up unflattering pictures of Dubya, the lights went out 3,000 miles away in California.

Yeehaw, another bulls eye. Energy policy was also on the front burner.

Here's how the education landscape is shaping up. At least ten major bills will be in the congressional hopper come the end of March: GOP leadership bills that embrace Bush's devolution and choice proposals, Democratic leadership and liberal Democratic bills that retain many federal controls, New Democrat bills that try to strike a middle course, physicist Vern Ehlers's (R-MI) package and physicist Rush Holt's (D-NJ) bill that emphasize science and math education. All the bills add significant money to federal education programs, and all try to improve outcomes through assessment and teacher training. But none of them address all of the major science concerns in the APS Council statement.

Still, it's a long way to the legislative finish line, and there will be many opportunities for the APS members to weigh in on the final bill.

Out of the chute, Vice President Dick Cheney, former CEO of the Halliburton oil exploration company and all purpose guru, is dominating the energy terrain. He is heading a task force charged with developing a national energy policy focused on new energy supplies and energy efficiency. The early line has increased production of fossil fuels leading the policy picks, accompanied by relaxed environmental standards to accomplish that goal.

But the Bush-Cheney plans could run into a buzz saw on Capitol Hill, where the House Science Committee is preparing to tackle the same issue. Staunch environmentalist Sherwood Boehlert, a moderate New York Republican, who now chairs the committee, identified energy, environment and K-12 science education as his top three priorities for this session. In its quest to identify long term energy research needs, the Science Committee is likely to stress alternate sources and conservation.

In his "maiden" speech before the University Research Associates, Boehlert also expressed strong interest in passing the "Doubling Bill", which his right-wing predecessor, James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), had long held hostage. But translating that commitment into solid appropriations may prove very difficult this year. Although science now has many allies on Capitol Hill, the Bush-Cheney budget request they will receive is likely to have little in it that will please research advocates.

The top priorities for the new administration are hefty cuts in taxes, big increases for K-12 education, and plus ups for military salaries and nuclear missile defense. Even the DOD's R&D budget, which during his campaign President Bush promised to boost by $20 billion, will be held in check, pending a full review by the service chiefs. Only NIH is expected to emerge unscathed.

With science not even a small blip on the White House radar screen, the action on R&D has already shifted to Capitol Hill. It's still winter, but the odds are that it will be a long, hot summer.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette