F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E T Y
of The American Physical Society 
October 2006 
Vol. 35, No. 4

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American Institute Of Physics State Department Science Fellowship

Experience a unique year in Washington, DC! Make a personal contribution to U.S. foreign policy while learning how the policy-making process operates. This Fellowship is open to qualified members of all ten AIP Member Societies (for list, see http://www.aip.org/aip/societies.html.) All ages and career levels welcome to apply. By sponsoring at least one Fellow a year in the State Department, this program benefits the government, the science community, and the individual Fellows. Qualifications include U.S. citizenship; membership in one or more AIP Member Society; and PhD or equivalent in physics-related field. Applicants should possess interest or experience in scientific or technical aspects of foreign policy.

APPLICATION DEADLINE: NOVEMBER 1, 2006.

For details on how to apply, please visit http://www.aip.org/gov/sdf.html or contact aleath@aip.org.

Student Fellowship in Physics and Society

Sponsored by the APS Forum on Physics and Society in partnership with the Society of Physics Students and the APS Forum on Graduate Student Affairs.

APPLICATION DEADLINE: November 15, 2006

The American Physical Society Forum on Physics and Society (FPS) is proud to announce the Student Fellowships in Physics and Society. The Fellowships are open to undergraduate or graduate students in physics who will be awarded up to $4,000 each to support a project that applies physics to a societal issue.

The primary goal of the Student Fellowship in Physics and Society is to provide research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students interested in physics and society, and to raise the awareness of applying physics to problems in society as a career and as an important undertaking by members of the physics community.

There are three objectives of the program.

  • First, some students who are exposed to issues where physics impacts societal issues will choose to make careers in this area. These students will provide a badly needed younger generation of technically literate policy researchers, analysts, and leaders.
  • Second, there are many more technical issues on the interface between physics and society than there are physicists working on them. Putting talented young people to work on these problems will help society and the physics community.
  • Finally, students involved in projects applying physics to social issues will communicate their excitement to fellow students and faculty members in their institutions and nationally, thus raising the awareness of the entire physics community.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, GO TO: /units/fps/index.cfm

Orbach Sees Promising Future for Science at the Department of Energy

“Both the Senate and the House have expressed their confidence in you, the scientific community,” Under Secretary for Science Ray Orbach told the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee on August 3. Orbach made  a number of important points during his 45-minutepresentation about the FY 2007 appropriations outlook, his  new position, how basic and applied research programs at the Department will improve their communications and coordination in the future, and ITER.

Orbach was very pleased with how the House and Senate appropriations committees have fully funded the 14.1% requested increase for the Office of Science (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/088.html.) Of particular note was how  the committees added additional money for congressionally-earmarked projects  above the President’s  request, something that Orbach had not seen in the last five budget  cycles. These recommended increases demonstrate the confidence and commitment that Congress has in the Office of Science, he said, adding that the consequences of a doubling of the Office’s budget over ten years would be “phenomenal.”

When the Congress will finish work on the FY 2007 funding bill is uncertain, with it looking “increasingly likely,” Orbach told the committee, that the legislation will not be finished until after the November election, at least a full month into the new budget year. ”We don‚t know” what the consequences of that delay would be on DOE’s science programs, he added. If stop-gap funding continued at the current  level it “would really hurt the new initiatives‰” the department wants to start.

The Energy Policy Act, now one year old, established the position of Under Secretary for Science. For the remainder of this Administration,  Orbach will “dual hat” this position and that of the Director of the Office of Science (Orbach explained that future Energy Secretaries will have to decide how to staff these positions.) On July 3, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman sent Orbach a memorandum stating: “the primary responsibility of the Under Secretary for Science is to advance the science portfolio at the Department of Energy and to strengthen the contributions of science to all of the Department’s  activities  in collaboration with the Under Secretary and the Under Secretary for Nuclear Security.” In addition, the memo stated, “to work collaboratively with the UnderSecretary  and Under Secretary  for Nuclear Security to review  all applied research programs in the Department to better coordinate these programs with the Department’s basic research programs...”

This memo, Orbach explained, gives him the mandate to work with the Department’s applied research programs. It is his goal to develop better communications between basic and applied research programs at the Department, while maintaining the integrity of the Office of Science. He quickly added that he does not want to “fuzz” the boundaries between Office of Science programs and applied research programs. Reaction within the Department to increasing communications has been “very positive,” he said.

Orbach gave a number of examples of what he envisions. The National Ignition Facility is scheduled to come on line in 2010. Operation of this facility will provide unanticipated “surprises,” and Orbach wants basic research scientists to be involved. He said it is not clear where stockpile stewardship ends and science begins when the NIF achieves ignition. Other examples of areas requiring collaboration and coordination between basic and applied research programs are advanced nuclear energy systems, alternative energy, hydrogen, materials, high-performance computing, and carbon sequestration. “We can learn a lot” at the interface,  he told the committee.

In response to a question, Orbach said the department is still in the process of responding to the Senate Appropriations Committee report language calling for the establishment of a new Office of High Energy Density Physics (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/088.html.) He explained that the federal government has not dealt effectively with research in this area, adding that a task force report on the opportunities in this field is due in December.         

Regarding ITER, Orbach said the agreement has now been sent to Congress for its review. He anticipated there will be a formal signing of the document in mid to late November of this year.

FYI
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 101: August 7, 2006
Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
http://www.aip.org/gov
(301
) 209-3095

Is Congress Getting the S&T Analysis It Needs?

 “We do not suffer from a lack of information here on Capitol Hill, but from a lack of ability to glean the knowledge and to gauge the validity, credibility, and usefulness of the large amounts of information and advice received on a daily basis.” - Rep. Rush Holt

On July 25, the House Science Committee heard from Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and four other witnesses that Congress lacks an effective mechanism for sorting through the vast amounts of scientific and technical information that it receives on many issues, and identifying various policy options and their ramifications. They discussed the sources of S&T policy analysis currently available to Congress, as well as the benefits and shortcomings of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a congressional support office that conducted such analyses from 1972 until 1995, when its funding was terminated as a budget-cutting measure.

The purpose of the OTA, Holt said, was to “inform the policy debate with assiduous and objective analysis of the policy consequences of alternative courses of action” and consider “the various outcomes given particular policy choices,” without making any recommendations. When OTA was eliminated, Members of Congress believed “technical assessment could come... through committee hearings, CRS reports, experts in our district, think tanks, and the National Academy of Sciences,” he said. “In the ten years...[since the OTA was eliminated] we have not gotten what we need in order to do the people’s work.” Holt has been active in trying to resurrect some version of the technology assessment office. However, witnesses and Members alike acknowledged that negative perceptions of OTA’s timeliness  and responsiveness would make reviving it a difficult task. Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), who had supported OTA, remarked, “I think we need to get beyond the debate about reviving it”. He also pointed out that in many cases the problem was not that Congress lacked sound analyses, but that it did not have the political will to make the appropriate policy decisions. “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” he said.

 “Much of the information we receive comes from advocates selling their point of view,” said Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN), adding that Congress could certainly use an in-house entity to help „in sorting through the conflicting expert opinions.” Of the other sources of policy analysis available to Congress, Jon Pehaof Carnegie Mellon University noted that broad, comprehensive assessment of S&T topics was beyond the traditional purview of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Peter Blair of the National Academy of Sciences explained that while Congress relies heavily on the National Academies and the associated National Research Council (NRC) for their reports on S&T issues, the NRC generally uses a time-consuming process to form a committee of expert volunteers who review the issue and present consensus recommendations. This process, Blair said, “is less well equipped to elaborate on the broader context of an issue” and analyze “thepolicy consequences of alternative courses of action, especially those that may involve value judgments and trade-offs.” He suggested that the NRC might be able to expand its role to take on that type of analysis. Blair and others also had positive comments about a pilot program of technology assessment by GAO, but warned that such a program would have to compete for resources with GAO’s more traditional role.

“Do adequate resources exist for Congress to address these issues? From our perspective, the answer is no,” declared Al Teich of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).”Information is abundant, but objective, timely, policy-relevant analyses, which is what Congress really needs, are in short supply.” Teich and Catherine Hunt of the American Chemical Society described efforts by scientific societies to inform Congress, including briefings, testimony, letters, reports, and other interactions.

Boehlert and other members of the committee praised the AAAS for its Science and Technology Policy Fellowships as a valuable source of S&T advice for Congress. Through this program, many scientific societies sponsor scientists and engineers to spend a year in Washington, providing expertise to the federal government (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/104.html for details on such Fellowships, including two run by the American Institute of Physics). Speaking “on behalf of the entire committee, both sides,” Boehlert called the Fellowships “a wonderful program, warmly embraced by all.” While some former Fellows stay on Capitol Hill to aid Congress as permanent staffers, he noted, others return to the scientific community with a better appreciation for how the political process works. That is “good for science,” Boehlert said, ”because I find that in most instances... scientists are not effective at lobbying for their interests.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) criticized the OTA for being a slow, inefficient, added layer of bureaucracy. He instead advocated the use of outside consultants, and having “people on both sides of a scientific issue debating it here in front of us.” Teich responded that the many competing sources of information are “part of the problem.” Boehlert  and Gordon defended the OTA’s record, saying that it never received sufficient resources to respond promptly to all the requests it received. Citing a list of OTA reports, Holt said they were so timely and relevant that many are still useful today.

Gordon asked the pros and cons of resurrecting OTA; all agreed that any new technology assessment organization should learn the lessons of OTA and react more nimbly, interact more regularly with congressional staff, provide more interim results, and collaborate with other congressional support agencies and outside experts. Rep. Al Green (D-TX) questioned how such an entity could avoid becoming a victim of a “shoot the messenger” reaction if it produced analyses that one party or other did not like. Holt stated that it must be ”scrupulously nonpartisan,” and Peha recommended that it  receive funding for more than one year at a time and have careful oversight of how topics for analysis were chosen, to ensure that both the majority and minority “feel their issues are represented.”

After OTA’s demise “we have made due, not particularly well, but not particularly badly either” said Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) in closing. He concurred with the value of an organization like OTA, and wished Holt luck in reviving it, but warned that it would be hard work “to make it come about.”

FYI
The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News
Number 106: August 28, 2006
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
The American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
www.aip.org/gov
(301) 209-3094

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