APS News

Inside the Beltway: A Washington Analysis

Getting it Right

By Michael S. Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs

Finding a way to inject science into the psyche of policy makers and elected officials is always a daunting task. You might think that the September 11 attack and the anthrax assaults would make it easier. But you'd be wrong. No question, fighting terrorism requires crack intelligence operatives. And it depends on international cooperation to control the flow of laundered cash. But to succeed it must draw on the best that science and technology have to offer.

Intercepting clandestine communications, recognizing suspect behavior patterns, detecting biological and chemical agents, decontaminating infected sites - all of these are high-tech activities. Yet if you look at the new Office of Homeland Security, you don't find a whiff of science at the loftiest levels.

True, Jack Marburger, who was recently installed as the President's Science Advisor, has attended cabinet meetings on terrorism and can be expected to play a role. True, one of the dozen or so panels on counter-terrorism policy and planning will focus on science and technology.

For now, however, the six key players on the homeland security team, according to CQ Weekly, count one retired Navy admiral, two lobbyists, one legal counsel to the Bush campaign, one marketing specialist and one communications executive.

But fighting terrorism requires more than PR and political hype. More than three years ago, then-Secretary of Defense William Cohen appointed a 14 member bipartisan commission, headed by two former senators, Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat, and Warren Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican. Their task was to examine and redefine America's national security policies in the post Cold War era.

It was a posse of heavyweights that included ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Motorola Board Chairman John Galvin, former Lockheed-Martin CEO Norm Augustine and James Schlesinger, whose priors comprised stints as Secretaries of Energy and Defense.

Last March, the Hart-Rudman Commission, formally known as the US Commission on National Security/21st Century released its Phase III Report, calling for the creation of an Agency for National Homeland Security with Cabinet status.

In what must be one of the most prescient analyses of recent times, it said, "The combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the US homeland to catastrophic attack. A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century." They certainly got that right.

In response, last spring, President Bush expressed his appreciation for the work that the former administration had inspired and promptly asked Vice President Cheney to reexamine the issue, this time with a plan to have the Federal Emergency Management Agency take the lead.

September 11 changed all that, and now former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge is installed as the Terrorism Czar, with full Cabinet privileges. But the White House has failed to act on three other key Commission recommendations, the ones dealing with science and technology.

The Phase III Report noted, "In this Commission's view, the inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to US national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war we can imagine."

To address the threat, the Commission made three policy recommendations: "doubling the federal research and development budget by 2010 and instituting a more competitive climate for the allotment of those funds," elevating "the role of the President's Science Advisor to oversee these and other critical tasks," and passing "a new National Security Science and Technology Education Act."

Judging by White House actions and rhetoric, these recommendations are receiving scant attention. The Office of Science and Technology Policy has been down-sized from four to two associate directors. The Office of Management and Budget has signaled that science budgets for Fiscal Year 2003 will be slashed unless programs focus strictly on fighting terrorism. And the President insisted that DOE's bottom line be held even if Congress restored funding for energy technology programs. The result was no increase in the Department's FY 2002 budget.

Largely through the work of science advocacy groups and the good judgment of science champions James Walsh (R-NY) and Alan Mollohan (D-WV) in the House and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Kit Bond (R-MO) in the Senate, NSF and NASA fared relatively well in the November budget conferences, with NSF rising 7.6 percent and NASA space science jumping 8.5 percent. In the coming months the White House and the science community need to get it right. Scientists must accept their responsibility and help the nation in a time of need. That was one of Vannevar Bush's main arguments to President Roosevelt when he advocated strong federal support for research. And the White House must foster the future strength and vitality of A merican science by providing the necessary resources for long-term research.

No other prescription can defeat the disease of terrorism and safeguard our homeland in the 21st century.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette