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Gibbons Outlines Government Policy on Research Funding


News Office
John H. Gibbons, presidential science adviser

By Jeremy Hylton
Technology Director

President Charles M. Vest concluded Tuesday's forum on national science policy with a call for cooperation between the government, research universities, and the industrial sector.

"As leaders of government, industry, and academia we must build a strong, mutually-supportive system for scientific advancement and technological innovation that serves the national interest in both the near and long-term," Vest said.

The "Science in the National Interest" forum drew attendees from over 100 corporations and universities and from the federal government for a day-long discussion of the changing nature of research in science and technology.

In the keynote address John H. Gibbons, science adviser to President Clinton, outlined the administration's budget priorities in science and technology, which include proposed increases in the 1996 budget for research funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and several other agencies that support for university research.

Reducing the federal deficit is the overriding concern of the Clinton administration, Gibbons said, but draconian reductions in the science and technology budget would hurt the economy.

"Government is a vital partner in promoting technologies that are critical to economic growth, the creation of good jobs, and meeting the common needs of the nation," Gibbons said.

Consensus needed

In a Monday night statement, Vest said he hoped the conference would assist in building consensus between government, academic, and industry and would inform the ongoing debate in a substantive way.

Dean of the School of Science Robert J. Birgeneau felt that the conference had done just that. Representatives from government were inspired, he said. "They felt that they really got the kind of support they need for an aggressive science policy," he said.

Birgeneau believes that some industrial leaders will step in to improve the at-times strained relations between Congress and research universities.

"Some of the industrial people understood better the importance of American industrial leaders presenting [research universities'] cases or defending our case. I think there will be some action on that front as well," Birgeneau said.

Birgeneau said the forum was encouraging in a number of ways. "We heard from the Clinton administration that they really are deeply committed to science," he said.

"We heard from several major industries that are crucial to the American economy that they recognize that science underlies their present and future success," Birgeneau continued.

Despite his positive feelings, Birgeneau said some reasons for concern remained. "Many of our major industries, which supported outstanding basic research and hired many of our graduates, are in turmoil," he said. This turmoil means less support for research universities.

Vest's closing remarks also addressed turmoil in the nation's research and development systems. "Much of our important mid- to long-range research that is a prime source of innovation and future products has been eliminated," he said. "The system that couples basic research to commercial application is disintegrating."

All participants agreed that the government should encourage closer collaboration between industry and academia. "The hope of achieving upward movement [in basic research] is slim unless we foster ties between industry and research universities," Gibbons said.

Gibbons said that the government should work with industry to set national goals for research and to develop and fund programs that advance these goals. He mentioned several areas of basic science and engineering that are needed for the 21st century industrial base: computers and communication, chemicals, imaging, and biotechnology.

Strained relations with Congress

Cornell University President Frank H. T. Rhodes said that Republican proposals for cuts in spending to support research and education "would erode the ability of universities to conduct research."

Rhodes and Gibbons were both concerned by discussion in Congress to place across-the-board caps on indirect research cost reimbursement.

Rhodes also argued against proposals in the Republican Contract with America. The "elimination of things like the work-study program and interest subsidies for student loans are liable to have very serious consequences for the support of students who will become our future scientists and engineers," Rhodes said.

While Congress and the Clinton administration seem to agree on the need for basic science research, Gibbons said he expects differences to arise over applied science and technology programs involving industry and research universities.

But Gibbons said considering pure research and applied technology differently was short-sighted. "Science and technology are intertwined in a multitude of ways, and each builds upon the advances of the other," Gibbons said.