William 0. Baker

Bell Laboratories, Murray Hill, N. J.

American Physical Society Meeting, Recent Federal Science Policies

Shoreham Hotel, Washington, D. C.

April 23, 1973 Evening


The present state and structure of Federal science and technology were implicit at the beginning of the mid-century actions which took science to the highest level of government. This move by. President Eisenhower was announced in his speech to the nation on the evening of Thursday, November 7, 1957, which he began with the sentence: “My subject tonight is Science in National Security.” The President went on to describe the present U.S. position with respect to missile and nuclear weapon development and said “According to my scientific friends, one of our greatest and most glaring deficiencies is the failure of us in this country to give high enough priority to scientific education and to the place of science in our national life! … They believe that the second critical need is that of giving higher priority, both public and private, to basic research. … Tonight I shall discuss two other factors, on which prompt action is possible. The first is the tragic failure to secure the great benefits that would flow from mutual sharing of appropriate scientific information and effort among friendly countries. … The second immediate requirement is that of greater concentration of effort and improved arrangements within the government in the fields of science, technology and missiles-including the continuing requirement for the closest kind of executive-legislative cooperation. As to action: I report the following items to you tonight … The first thing that I have done is to make sure that the very best thought and advice that the scientific community can supply, heretofore provided to me on an informal basis, is now fully organized and formalized so that no gap can occur. The purpose is to make it possible for me, personally, whenever there appears to be any unnecessary delay in our development system, to act promptly and decisively … To that end, I have created the Office of Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. This man, who will be aided by a staff of scientists and a strong advisory group of outstanding experts reporting to him and to me, will have the active responsibility of helping me follow-through on that program of scientific improvement of our defenses that. I am partially outlining tonight and next week. … I am. glad to be able to tell you that this position has been accepted by Dr. James R. Killian, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a man who enjoys my confidence, and the confidence of his colleagues in the scientific and engineering world, and in the government. … Through him, I intend to be assured that the entire program is carried forward in closely-integrated fashion, and that such things as alleged inter-service competition or insufficient use of overtime shall not be allowed to create even the suspicion of harm to our scientific and development program. “

President Eisenhower ended the speech with a typically noble belief in the future: “Never shall we cease to hope and work for the coming of the day when enduring peace will take these military burdens from the back of all mankind, and when the scientist can give his full attention, not to human destruction, but to human happiness and fulfillment.”

Now from these excerpts, to say nothing of all that has been experienced in the past fifteen years, it is clear that science . and technology were advanced in national policy for the purpose of defense. With his keen insight into politics and public attitudes, it was clear to all of us who worked with him that President Eisenhower had no illusions about the public support of research and development for their own sake or for social, cultural purposes beyond their demonstrated, though admittedly self-generated, roles in defense and possibly public health. What happened thereafter reflected the wise leadership of the White House Science Office and the historic success of the national scientific and technical and engineering community in implementing the original policies of the President. Nuclear energy, space, and domestic biomedicine derived immediately from the original themes of national security through a host of by-ways that are now familiar to you all. But the original thrust has been obscured by the complexity of paths and of social revolution throughout the world. Nevertheless, I submit that the basic political, public, basis for science in the White House is what we have just described and has not varied deeply in the past decade and a half. Remember President Eisenhower's carefully chosen words, “The purpose is to make it possible for me, personally, whenever there appears to be any unnecessary delay in our development system, to act promptly and decisively.” Succeeding sentences said the same, that he, the President, wished to work personally and intimately with the science office for assuring the freedom of our society. As this was achieved in the early 1960s, all of the realities of the Science Advisor, PSAC, and his staff shifted. A progressive and unmodified decline in involvement of political leaders with the national scientific community set in. Indeed at the beginning of the Kennedy Administration it was clear that maintenance of 'momentum in behalf of the broader purposes of Federal science and engineering required institutionalization of the White House resources already and we submitted an extensive report accepted by President Kennedy and activated as Reorganization Plan No. 2, establishing the Office of Science and Technology in the executive office of the President. However already a small panel of us in PSAC, the Panel on Research Policy chaired by Dr. E. R. Piore had prepared a paper responding to President Eisenhower's call for attention to basic research. Entitled, “Strengthening American Science,” this report was adopted by the President December 27, 1958, and he thereafter acted on its proposal for the Federal Council for Science and-Technology and for the establishment of Assistant Secretaries or their correlates for research and development in the major technical departments of the government. Both he and very-soon President Kennedy were mindful of our conclusion in the report: “As America approaches the decade of the 1960s it can take reasonable satisfaction in its past scientific and technical accomplishments. Thoughtful men now see another role for science and technology—a new and creative role that is still only thinly grasped. … The endless frontiers of science, now reaching to the stars, can provide rich opportunities for men to seek a common understanding of the natural forces which all men must obey and which govern the world in which all men must live together.”

So over these years each successive administration without fail has extended the public funding of basic research, leading for instance, in the case of the National Science Foundation, from $ZO million in the early times to the present program of $275 million for research itself and an overall budget of $641.5 million. And in similar terms of what is now officially classified by the Science Foundation as basic research, the Federal obligations went from $200 million in 1958 to $1 billion 200 million at the end of the decade. As you know, a similar record exists for biomedical research.

Nevertheless, the illusion of popular support for science engendered by the magnificent upsurge of higher education and the success of national programs mentioned previously spread widely through the scientific and engineering world. You all know the chronicle—vast increases in numbers in both academic and industrial as well as governmental staffs, understandable but naive publicity about the solutions of social problems through science and technology, wars, inflation, and economic duress—the story will be rewritten in history for decades to come. But already foretold by President Johnson's discomfort about biomedical research and the funding of high energy machines in 1966 by the spring of 1970 the true position of science and technology in the executive branch had clearly confirmed the realities of the speech of 1957 and the futility of dreaming that somehow science for its own sake had gained popular affection and respect forever. Thus the problem immediately became how to readjust without dumping the heroic capabilities which had indeed been engendered in the earlier years. Rather than looking for change, adaptation and new pathways the mood of the national scientific community often reflected self-pity and despair. However as Dr. E. E. David came into the White House staff aided by immediate conferences and advice from all the prior Science Advisors and leaders in the national science and engineering groups, new turns were taken especially to begin the spread of responsibility for research and development throughout the operating agencies and to create a sharply enhanced interaction with the Office of Management and Budget in efforts to embed the funding for Federal science and technology intrinsically into the total and severely stressed resource allocations of the Executive Branch. In the succeeding two years, what might have been a devastating regression in our national capabilities was modulated into sharply reduced growth and emphasis on quality and excellence, which many now assert was overdue. Nevertheless, basic to these changes was also the realization that despite the President's abiding commitment to keep American science and engineering strong, a fiction that it had been a self-standing activity in the White House for the past decade could not be sustained. Quite probably, as the history of these times emerges, it will be seen that to have continued this fiction would have been at least unwise and probably unkind and deeply damaging to the culture of science and engineering.

Anyway, the mandate of the American people regarding the Federal Government and its organization was interpreted by the President and his staff, who eventually heeded President Nixon's deep belief in the importance of learning and discovery, so that strong charges were given in Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1973 to transfer “necessary continuing functions to line departments and agencies where they can be better performed.” We shall hear presently from two principal leaders of these agencies, Dr. Roberts representing the national function of the Department of Commerce, and Dr. Stever, central agency for basic research and education in science. In the official announcement it was said, “OST has performed with distinction since its creation in 1962, during the post-Sputnik period when major evaluation and coordination of science and technology programs was vital. Increasingly, the research and development capabilities in line department and agencies have been upgraded, and our R&D programs have stabilized. With the growing range of capability in the NSF, the President will now look to its director as a principal adviser in science and technology matters.” The key words, as we have reported earlier, are “post-Sputnik period,” for that was what it was all about. In further accord with this theme you will know that 60 days since its forwarding have elapsed and the Reorganization Plan is in effect. In the Congressional Hearings were apparently mindful of the President's words in the Plan, “This Administration is firmly committed to a sustained, broad-based national effort in science and technology, as I made plain last year in the first special message on the subject ever sent by a President to the Congress.” No witnesses opposed the change, which became effective April 7, 1973, with the organizational conclusion to have been done by July first.

Now we continue our plea that the national community respond to the new opportunities and above all to maintain the vital independent linkages between those who know and do science and technology and those who govern and administer for the public benefit. Our Academies, and above all our scientific and professional societies, have been repeatedly and warmly considered in creating new combinations of public and private resources for the progress of research, learning, and development. As always the integrity and courage for initiative must come in science and engineering from those who practice and are skilled, to those who govern and are apolitic. We are heartened by the recent open letter to the President and to the Congress of the Joint Engineering Societies representing several hundred thousand of premier and loyal citizens. They note in calling for a sustained policy for use of science and engineering “...  we offer our earnest cooperation and talents in helping to devise such policy and in providing for its rational execution.” (If anything, they overreach in extending the hand of collaboration by attributing a partnership of Government not only to those developments in which it functioned, such as Atomic Energy, Apollo, but also those which really came from private ventures, such as synthetic fibers, a computer, television, Telstar, and the transistor. But this Administration will not confuse the primary role of independent initiative either.

In the physics community, through the American Physical Society and the American Institute of Physics, most welcome initiative has been taken in an informal committee, chaired by Professor Philip Morse, in considering special new needs, such as research and development for the enlargement of energy sources. Here again, in accord with our earlier findings, the Federal structure to pursue this challenge which may eventually compare with defense and health in its urgency has taken a political and administrative form, as reflected in the President's Message on Energy, sent to the Congress last Thursday, April 19th, as consistent with the present concepts, responsibilities have been assigned to various operating groups, including a domestic council, and a new division, Division of Energy and Science, was established within the Office of Management and Budget, to be headed by Dr. John C. Sawhill, an economist and business manager. There are wide-ranging plans for responding to inputs of the national community of engineering and science to help with this mission, and Mr. Charles .DiBona of the domestic council, as well as Presidential Councilor and Secretary George Shultz and his deputy, Kenneth Dam, are pursuing with Dr. Stever and other science administrators new ways to engage the intellectual resources of our universities, industry, and other independent institutions.

So, in this specific example and many others which could be' cited and which are known to you all, the new pattern is evident. The world perspective in science and engineering, invoked by President Eisenhower's words, will ultimately judge the wisdom of what has been done. Certainly we in the U.S.A. are not alone in the public and political soul-searching about the proper national role of science and technology. You all know of the White Papers and Green Papers which have been fluttering throughout Western Europe, of the many conferences involving the Soviets and Chinese, of the fabulous utilization of western invention achieved by Japan, and so on. Perhaps the depth of tribulation is expressed as well as anywhere by a conference a couple of weeks ago in Britain between the Confederation of British Industry and the select committee on expenditure and higher education. Here the dismaying conclusion of the Confederation of British Industry was that “M. Scs. and Ph. D. s are out of their depth once they leave the ivory towers of universities.” According to the report, “The CBI also complained that universities absorb their best graduates, spending many thousands of pounds producing scientists only interested in pure research. A few of these remain in the university after obtaining a higher degree, expanding the boundaries of knowledge, but the remainder are left to find employment in a highly competitive economic world for which they are not suitably trained.” We expressed a completely contrary view at The White House Conference on the Future of Business a year ago, which has recently been published in detail. We felt that our American graduates with higher degrees in science and engineering represented a magnificent new intellectual evolution for the advance of commerce even beyond its technological elements. So great questions remain to be resolved, but in our Federal science now we have moved again to answer with hope and resolve the sobering query of the philosopher George Santayana: “Science ... has flourished only twice in recorded times, once for some three hundred years in ancient Greece (when its life was ‘brilliant but ineffectual’), and again for about the same period in modern Christendom. Its fruits have only begun to appear, the lands that it is discovering have not yet been circumnavigated, and there is no telling what its ultimate influence will be on human practice and feeling… .”

It is now my privilege to introduce Dr. H. Guyford Stever, Director of the National Science Foundation, who will speak on “A View From the National Science Foundation.”