Notes on Science Advising in the

White House

W. 0. Baker

In Science and Technology Advice to the President, Congress, and Judiciary, William T. Golden (Editor), Washington, DC: AAAS Press (1993), pp. 16-27.

William 0. Baker is Chairman of the Rockefeller University and Chairman of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and has been Research Director, President and Chairman of Bell Laboratories. He is a Trustee of Princeton and Carnegie-Mellon Universities. Dr. Baker has been a member of the President's Science Advisory Committee and the National Science Board, is a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Board, and has received numerous awards, including the President's National Security Medal and the National Technology Medal.

Science and technology became part of our American expectations for social and economic and political progress only about a third of a century ago. Our leaders then remembered their role in winning wars, particularly World War 11, and in introducing also new factors in the power of nations and the energy and material resources of the world (as shown through nuclear fission and fusion, substitution of synthetic material, such as nylon and rubber, for the world's natural fibers, metals, and minerals, and also for science and technology's important role in public health). So science and technology began to be recognized as essences of Vannevar Bush's "The Endless Frontier." In this broad sweep of global affairs, dominated as usual by national security and affected by nearly four decades of freedom from major-nation wars, the tendency to expect White House science and engineering to continue in earlier forms is widespread.

Nevertheless, the displacement of the White House Office of Science and Technology in the early 1970s was a signal for more pervasive change than has been assimilated. This was, however, recognized when Dr. Simon Ramo and the writer were assigned by President Ford the task of reviewing and reforming appropriate science and technology activities at 1600 and 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue. Accordingly, we did work out in collaboration with certain members of the House of Representatives and through the active participation of Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, a statutory base. This embodied a feeling that the whole domain of science and engineering had grown to where expressed participation of the Congress should be assured. On the other hand, we had organized preliminary committees, one on Anticipated Advances in Science and Technology, chaired by the writer, and one chaired by Dr. Ramo, (these were combined as a Presidential Committee on Science and TechnologyÑDr. Simon Ramo, Chairman, W. 0. Baker, Vice ChairmanÑwhen the new OSTP was in place) which sought to identify the scope and magnitude of issues facing oncoming Administrations. In this statutory structure, total involvement of national science, technology and engineering-academic, industrial and governmental-would be warranted, and was prescribed.

These studies, of course, emphasized economic and sociopolitical matters much more than national security, which had already achieved such expert attention and interest. But the other areas, ranging from energy supplies and its distribution, health affecting large and growing segments of our population, education, and a variety of other issues relating to vitality and competitive challenges in our industrial system, were transferred to the next stages of OSTP, in 1977. Since actions proposed on these have not yet been adequately reflected in terms of science, technology and engineering policies in-our federal administration, there is a recurrent question of whether this can be expected.

This particular phase of White House Science activity has fortunately been so well documented by Mr. Golden's earlier collections [1], by a special section of the journal about science policy, Science, Technology, and Human Values, [2] and by Thaddeus Trenn's book, America's Golden Bough  [3] that almost every option for the next phases of the federal science office has been offered and discussed. Dr. Trenn has especially carefully reflected the views of a wide sample of the national scientific and technical community, so the context in which further remarks are offered should be known from these sources. A forthcoming study by Dr. Gregg Herken, "Cardinal Choices," [4] also deals insightfully with the record and future of Presidential science advising.

Accordingly, in terms of the changed environ of public, academic, and industrial science and technology noted before, arising from world competition and social concerns, the values of pluralism in federal and other public science and engineering stand out. R. W. Nichols's wide-ranging essay on decentralization of R&D organization is an excellent survey; [5] see also W. 0. Baker [6]. Namely, science and technology have so widely permeated our culture by the approach of the 1990s (ironically perhaps the more so as general literacy has declined) that a single agency such as a Department of Science or a single spokesman such as the Science Advisor to the President, could not adequately deal with what is required. These requirements range from providing a proper position for the President in teaching of kindergarten-to-twelfth-grade science and math to appropriate positions in international trade in super computers and the national values of planetary exploration to decoding of the human genome or pursuit of causes for ozone variation in the stratosphere.


Clearly, no coherent position of the national scientific or technical population can be expected from the White House on such complex and diverse matters. More importantly, the federal priorities assigned to them come through political rather than technical (or rational) considerations. Of course, this in no way implies that there should not be strong scientific and technical participation in both the political formulation and resolution of such matters, but such participation can hardly be centralized. Further, and most importantly, the validity of scientific and engineering positions taken in behalf of the public interest will gain from working experts being directly involved and having qualities recognized by professional peers, such as the national academies.

Indeed, such representation was intrinsic in our formation of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and the cognate group affiliated with the Engineer's Joint Council, during the early 1970's. See also current suggestions for a "New Science Advisory Apparatus," NSAA, by J. Thomas Ratchford and William G. Wells. [7]

     Also, a special function of the eventual federal sponsorship and policy is to assure systems synthesis and analysis, to advocate the role of some form of systems engineering, in dealing with the broad issues which involve large segments of national science and technology resources. This, too, demands first-hand, on-site information.

New pathways to assure scope and vitality of this pluralism in science advising seem to be forming. We have emphasized the growing role of scholarly and professional societies (in the striking expansion and quality of the Materials Research Society, for instance) as well as the increasing public responsibilities recognized by industrial firms and such groups as the Industrial Research Institute, the Scientific Research Administrators Society, the Conference Board, and others. But in addition, local governments and particularly state-based agencies are bringing issues of science and education, and economy and technology of public ventures, including public engineering and health, ever more deeply into their basic operations and politics. Now, of course, it is unrealistic to expect that highly informed and coordinated findings about Super Colliders or vaccine programs or environmental improvement around cities, etc., will emerge from fifty localized and variable centers. Nevertheless, stimulated especially by the compelling urgency of educational reform and the restoration of literacy ("A Nation At Risk. . .," "To Secure the Blessings of Liberty," "Education Commission of the States Report on Undergraduate Education") [8] and by dislocations of industry and impact of foreign competition, the National Governor's Association has become a growing strength. It is building bases for mobilizing and expressing the widespread views of our expert populations, without having them molded into a conventional government format. (The National Science Foundation's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs, with the special attention of Joyce Hamaty, is conducting an analysis and listing of these state entities.)


So as we have said before, the endless quest of how to make the culture of science (which C. P. Snow and Robert Oppenheimer and many others felt was hopelessly disparate from other human affairs), nevertheless part of a broader citizen participation may get significant aid from such new statebased activity. Our experience in New Jersey is encouraging. There our statutory State Commission on Science and Technology (in succession to a preliminary Governor's Commission on Science and Technology) is providing new linkages. These include specific operational politics (several of its members are members of the legislature and the Governor's Cabinet) while at the same time involving significant numbers of younger, directly active scientists and engineers from industry and universities. These serve in the formation and conduct of consortia and institutes for R&D in materials, biomedicine, food and agriculture, waste disposal and recycling, and other important capabilities.

Further evidence of major shifts in science and technology initiatives comes from our experience with the Health Effects Institute. This novel enterprise was organized independently in 1979 and 1980, with precisely balanced sponsorship by the federal government's Environmental Protection Agency and the automotive and engine manufacturing industry (worldwide). Its administration (sternly independent) benefits from joint government and private missionsÑa blend which can minimize the shortcomings of separate sectors. We believe that the future of American science policy and application for public benefits would gain notably by other locally engendered combinations of public and private initiative and management.

These ongoing endeavors are all related to our fundamental theme that modem science and engineering flourish from pluralistic policy guidance, intrinsically derived from often first-hand knowledge of diverse leaders who have earned professional respect of their peers. They must be sufficiently involved in the rational and ethical principles of scientific and engineering practice so that the often subjective and emotional dominance of technical matters through big politics is suitably modulated or contained. Indeed, this tactic will probably become increasingly desirable as the role of video in shaping popular human attitudes, from infancy through maturity, becomes ever more prominent. New generations of citizens could be led to expect bizarre roles of science and technology from political campaigning that "shows" medical marvels, automobile perfection, faultless plumbing . . . for public purposes. Our government should go ever more in direction of authentic dispersion of seeking counsel among a national community.

The role of the White House Science Office should move even further toward these positions we have discussed before, so as not to centralize the assessments and needs of all science and technology of public import. Rather, it should transfigure into appropriate scientific and engineering terms and meanings the major interests of the President at a given time. These would be expected constitutionally to have a large national security component (unlike earlier Science Advisor and OST, the OSTP has had little or no involvement in national security systems or budgets.)


Hence, in the theme of looking to the future that William Golden has emphasized for these reports, we shall see new proposals for further decentralization, pluralism and diversity, in seeking ways for research and development to serve even more strongly the needs and interests of our people. Certain functions do, however, endure. The first official report of the President's Science Advisory Committee received by President Eisenhower was on the creation and distribution of suitable and widespread access of the record of understanding and discovery on which all science and engineering depend.9 This matter of accumulated record, avoiding among other things a costly and futile repetition of the work of generations of engineers and scientists up to now, remains an ever-challenging need, but one which has been significantly unmet in recent years.

The challenge of knowing what is being done in both federal and independent sponsorship is already vast. But this is an area where machine aids and thought, augmented by enduring ties to evaluative resources such as the National Academies, the Engineering Society Councils, and the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, would yield new visions of what is going on and what is needed. One more reminder of the dimensions of these issues, looked at from this need for Executive branch perspective, accents the point. This year's national research and development spending will exceed $125 billion which is in current dollars more than 300% that of the spending of a decade ago, when we were pursuing the reconstruction of the OSTP. Although inflation reduces the steady value (the constant 1982 figure for this year would be about $105 billion), the actual management and spending of the funds have clearly surged. About $60 billion or 48% of this comes from the federal government and, of that ftaction, about two-thirds is from the Department of Defense. About $65 billion or the remaining 52% comes from industry, academic, and other non-profit institutions. But of the total $125 billion, about 75% will actually be spent in January. [10] Now everyone knows that in this combination of basic research (about $15 billion), applied research (about $27 billion), and development and engineering ($83 billion), the mechanisms of resource management and administration have reached such complexity and idiosyncratic diversity that the conventional notion of knowing the scientific and technical results related to the dollars administered for them is fantasy.

     As we have said, we do not even have the comfort that we are avoiding extensive and corrosive repetition, to say nothing of whether quality and authenticity are surviving. The dimensions are such that naturally the agencies, particularly the federal bureaus and the Congress, are uneasy and have pursued vast hearings, such as those during 1986 from the Fuqua Committee of the House, on trying to see what has happened and what might be expected. (These followed the report of the Task Force on Science Policy, Don Fuqua, Chairman; H. P. Hanson, Staff Director; December 1984. This "Agenda for a Study of Government Science Policy" resulted in notable testimony from many segments of the national community.)

The White House needs far more incisive views of what is truly critical for national strength that any of the present processes offer. Indeed, those of us who moved some years ago into the billion dollar per year laboratory budgets of individual industries (these have now been notably exceeded and include in 1987 about $4 billion each for General Motors and IBM, $2.3 each for Ford and AT&T, and more than a billion dollars each for GE, DuPont and Eastman Kodak) know that even on that comparatively modest scale, special new tactics involving particularly substantive information or guidance of science and technology programs have become compelling. So it's not surprising that recurring unease about the national total is building. The General Accounting Office accented this in its current staff study. [11] This careful study, disputed, of course, by other agencies, such as the OSTP, brings together the old familiar criticisms of all kinds. These emphasize a stronger role in central planning, an aggregation of expertise, correlations with OMB, enhanced functions of the National Academies, and continuum of multi-year funding for research, etc. But there are other implications in the report connected with our themes of seeking a new grasp of what is actually being done. This, too, appears in the growing functions of the Office of Technology Assessment, in moving toward coalition and quality-weighting in the large range of initiatives coming from Congressional committees.


Similarly, on August 20, 1987, the National Academy of Engineering released a report undertaken at the request of the National Science Foundation, asserting growing provincialism in the US scientific and engineering community. It properly deplores language deficiencies and other skills which would permit our scientists and engineers suitably to participate in world advances. It notes that among the 30,000 Americans attending foreign universities, only about 3% are even studying technical subjects. In comparison, of the more than 317,000 foreign students enrolled in our academic centers in the US, about 180,000 are studying engineering and science. The various recommendations of the NAE panel wisely urge expanded overseas participation by American professionals and students, including the establishment by the government of "international technology assessment centers" at various US universities. This is another way of saying that the scientific and technical knowledge base of the world ought to be mastered in the US.

So, once more, we feel that a new shaping of the White House science advice should focus on information handling, on setting a pattern of assuring recognition for what is both new and true. These basic elements of science and engineering are easily (and presently) lost in the skittish frenzy of titillating the American people's instinctive and worthy interest in engineering, invention, science, and discovery through sensational headliners of super-everything. Indeed, the current experiences of The Scientists Institute for Public Information, which provides for the media a credible and expert-based information resource on current technology and science, further support the view that a highest level conscience is needed in this domain, both to support public understanding and the responsibility of the R&D community.


The evolving situationÑthat the alleged findings of science and technology can not be taken at face value to the degree which has become accepted during much of the century-is ideologically regrettable, But it is an inevitable consequence of the range and size of the effort and the difficulty that human frailty has in dealing with it. Hence effective high-level science advising, in shifting from prescriptive to critical descriptive phases, warrants new attention to information resources and communication of knowledge. In fact, since many aspects of the Information Age derive from technical facilities themselves, it is fitting that science strategy and advising have a more sweeping connection with the knowledge base than has been attained or even been fashionable in recent years. Overall, we have not quite adopted knowledge as the basis for action sufficiently. [12] Indeed, the currently proposed Technology Competitiveness Act, (H.R.2916/S.907, 1987), (which includes among other related elements of national science structure making the National Bureau of Standards into the National Institutes of Technology and even one more attempt to make federal agents adopt the metric system by 1992) has emphasis on improved information resources. The HR2958/ 1223, "Economic Competitiveness . . . Act" carries forward the old theme of a new federal Department of Industry and Technology, including Advanced Civilian Technology Agency. While this idea of a new Department of Industry and Technology has not survived eventual Bill drafting, the hearings and statements also recognize strongly the role of information resources.

A significant common element of all this legislative movement is a feeling of information deficiencies, and an abiding unease that modem technology is inadequately applied to organizing knowledge for action in the public realm. This has taken specific form in HR1615 entitled "The Government Information Act" of 1987 on which hearings were held by the House Subcommittee on Science Research and Technology on July 14 and 15. This proposal would establish a Government Information Agency, absorbing the present National Technical Information Service of the Department of Commerce, and making the NTIS officially government owned. Such an activity would thus follow the departure from the White House Science Office of a once active Committee on Science and Technology Information in the original Federal Council of Science for Technology, which, in turn, has declined from its once lively responsibilities for information exchange among federal science and engineering bodies. It has become a quite different and diffuse "coordinating" and conversation symbol. But we should say again that just extension or restoration of effective information circulation, such as the functions of the former Science Information Exchange and Science Information Council, is not the essence of the present proposal. Rather a major shift in science advising is intended. In this, the content and ethics of new knowledge, and its potential for use are steadily assessed by expert leadership and support. This should be done in terms of the issues that a particular President and his Administration are pursuing. Certain potential elements of this have appeared since the 1976 reestablishment of the OSTP, when the National Academy of Sciences, for example, has presented overviews of COSEPUP and other studies of significant frontiers of science and engineering to the White House group. The assessment of existing knowledge bases, however, primarily the literature, and the relationships to Administration issues, have rarely been covered.


The needs being considered are strikingly represented in a recent survey, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, of principal engineering advances of recent years, In this work, "National Science Foundation Support for Significant Advances in Fundamental Engineering Research as Shown in Publication Acknowledgements 1965-1985," apparently a group of well-qualified academic leaders judged, by publication quality and frequency (but seemingly not with the breadth of statistics provided by such effective bibliographic analyses as from the Institute for Scientific Information) what were thought to be important new findings. However, the judgments of such communities as the National Academy of Engineering, with appropriate industrial insights and particularly with a worldwide perspective, do not seem to have been involved.

In recent times, these trends have become much stronger and are attended by other tendencies in the national government which prompt further insight and adjustment of how science advising in the Executive branch should be shaped. For instance, in this Bicentennial period, the classical Constitutional bonds between the activities of the President and the Congress become especially relevant.

Direct connection of science and technology to the President has come from their role in national security and public health, Since the mid-century, however, the surging position of research and development for economic progress, [13] their predominant role in industrial gains and especially in modem world competition for both social and economic position, and the prominent part of science and engineering in education, especially post-secondary, have raised new issues. Although the principal post-World War II discoveries and industrial advances, such as materials science and engineering, the transistor and solid-state electronics, the laser and photonics, have occurred without initial government support or participation, the dramatic advances in the life sciences, pharmaceuticals, and medical therapy, have represented intermediate cases. There, the federal NIH in particular has provided, largely through its academic and federal laboratory programs, an interesting large and hybrid role also enhanced by vigorous innovation from the pharmaceutical and health care industry. Likewise, although much molecular biology beginning with molecular genetics and the discovery of RNA/DNA systems originated in private academic research, this area in recent years has represented a special move of entrepreneurship by academic leaders. Often their work was initially linked to the NIH, but they recently have formed many independent small companies.

So altogether, the mission of science and technology advice to the President and his staff has shifted drastically from earlier times. Then, huge defense programs; major issues of public health requiring concerted industrial action on new vaccines, therapeutic agents, etc.; and overall social programs, such as social security, access to education, environmental protection were the primary sociotechnical concerns.


Nowadays, diversity and decentralization become vital issues, so valid but vast realms represented by information, publication and bibliography provide examples that highest-level governmental science and technology advising should deal with usefully. For ways of assuring that the now vast national (and international) community can be informed about what is known and what needs to be known are needed, while similarly providing an authentic overview of whether groups know each other, and what sort of total resources, are working in given areas of research and development.

This is especially significant for advances in engineering, where modern engineering systems can benefit very quickly and steadily from quite new and even incomplete scientific discoveries. In turn, if the OSTP and its Director maintain a keen awareness of the large movements in the literature around the world, they will be able to recognize important trends and to find the experts we have referred to with a confidence that they are not reflecting only the necessarily special interests of this or that federal agency. We have seen trends of the large sponsoring agencies toward claiming priority for both their programs and results. But significant new values can come from having science advice in the White House and Executive Office of the President that does not derive from or espouse particular programs, as merited as they may be. For instance, the tight coupling of the science of directed energy beams to the development of SDI is not necessarily a fruitful high-level tactic, nor is the emphasis of commercialization of superconducting solids the pathway to understanding the basis for electron movement in complex crystals. But there is a kind of over-wisdom that should be cultivated at the highest levels, about how discovery and knowledge are moving worldwide in science and engineering, and thus about what it is reasonable to expect in our total national effort.

Now these expectations often turn out to be the strongest catalyst for new findings, if they are expressed with credibility and care in the highest forms of national leadership. In fact, many of the successful elements of OST and PSAC, as established by President Eisenhower and pursued by a couple of Administrations thereafter, was in the published reports that established expectations, rather than Presidential commitment to a particular technical or political technical goal. The space program and the national materials program, both begun the latter part of President Eisenhower's tenure, are pertinent examples. PSAC reports were prepared by experts who were either working directly in the field and or had carefully evolved the best counsel. Then, statements of expectations, such as those of the Apollo mission forwarded by President Kennedy (without specific scientific or technical consultation, but based on wide-ranging political considerations), have appropriate significance in terms of what is known, or merely imaginable. This difference is the advice Presidents and other political figures truly need.

The present dimensions of science and technology require Presidential science advising combining disciplines and ranging over wider fields of knowledge and discovery than have been adequately covered. The strong tradition of science to specialize in disciplines is particularly limiting in the habits and experience of premiere Advisors. Likewise, integration of new and , complex science with technology and engineering is allowed to languish over times which are often important in recognizing new movements in international security, economics, industry and social affairs. Hence, a challenge for the future is to make Presidential science advising a focus of information handling, supported naturally by the potentially powerful and unprecedented abilities of both the public and independent publication, and learned and professional society, knowledge basis. This will demand multidisciplinary interests and skills. So far, little has developed out of it, except for some special industrial resources. The increasing use of systems engineering in applications of science and technology is, however, a constructive factor in such development.

Nevertheless, much new effort and training will be needed in universities and other institutions to develop both the hierarchical coverage of new knowledge and trends and simultaneously to access the validity of what is alleged. Quality assurance, in recent years a byword in industrial competition, particularly with Japan, and for decades before that a necessary component of high technology operations in the industry where it was evolved, is pursued in the validation of discovery primarily by peer-review systems in publication. These vary so profoundly that the quality control of reviewing would itself be a major gain (but still astonishing). Overall, however, with a "publish or perish" doctrine still firmly dominant and with a proliferation of journals, circulars and bulletins anticipated, quality assurance on a knowledge base for national Presidential science and technology judgments remains for the future.

Indeed, the size of the task is not to reform research and development in 20th Century science, as appealing as that may be, but merely to provide for the head of government in the US some credible estimates of scientific and technical aspects of particular political positions. But the task is illustrated by the intensity of effort used by the Swedish Academy of Sciences in sorting out validity of exceedingly narrow and specialized fields for Nobel Prize designation, and of similar work in other groups such as the Wolf Prizes, the Welch Prizes in chemistry, and, on a broader scale, awards of the National Science Board, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and others. And these judgments are usually made long after performance, whereas we now need such quality identification during the course of discovery and its earliest application.

The influence of scientific and engineering advice, critically conditioned as we have suggested, would, of course, challenge many of the fondest habits of the respective communities. That, too, could have values, however.


1. William T. Golden, ed., Science Advice to the President (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1980).

2. William T. Golden et al., Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol. II, no. 2 (1986).

3. Thaddeus F. Trenn, America's Golden Bough (Cambridge, MA: 0elgeschlager, Gunn and Hain, 1983).

4. Gregg Herken, Cardinal Choices (pending publication, 1987).

5. Rodney W. Nichols, "Pluralism in Science and Technology: Arguments for Organizing Federal Support or R&D Around Independent Missions," in Frederick Seitz, ed., "Special Issue: A Department of Science and Technology: In the National Interest?," Technology In Society, Vo. VIII, nos. I & 2 (1986), pp. 33-63.

6. W. 0. Baker in Science, Technology and Human Values, op. cit.

7. J. Thomas Ratchford and William G. Wells, Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol. 12, no. 1 (1987), pp. 73-79.

8. David P. Gardner, Chairman: W. 0. Baker, et at., National Commission on Excellence in Education, "A Nation at Risk. . ." (1983); Terrel H. Bell, Chairman; W. 0. Baker et al., National Commission on the Role and Future of State Colleges and Universities, "To Secure the Blessings of Liberty," American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 1986.

9, Panel of PSAC, W. 0. Baker, Chairman, "Improving the Publication and Dissemination of Scientific and Technical Information in the United States," July 1958.

10. Data from the National Science Foundation (NSF87-303, 1987).

11. General Accounting Office, "U.S. Science and Enkineering Base: A Synthesis of Concerns About Budget and Policy Development," RCED-87-65.

12. W. 0. Baker, S. Lazerow Memorial Lecture, University of Pittsburgh, 1984; HR Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Oversight, Record of Hearings, September 29, 1981 "Information Centers As Basic Emergency Management Systems"; and The World Future Society Conference, New York, July 1986.

13. See R. Landau and N. Roserberg, eds., The Positive Sum Strategy (Washington, DC: The National Academy Press, 1986).

14. M. MacCarty, The Transforming Principle (New York: The Rockefeller University Press, 1985).

15. W. 0. Baker, "The Bridge," National Academy of Engineering, Vol. 16 (1987), p. 15.