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NSB Demands Bigger Role for Scientists in Setting National Agenda

WASHINGTON, April 4 – The federal government needs more input from scientists in order to balance the national research portfolio and set long-term objectives, said a recent draft report released by the National Science Board, a panel chartered to advise the president, Congress, and the National Science Foundation on science objectives.

“Expert input is particularly important for decisions on long-term, high-risk investments in research – sponsored mainly by the federal government – which are steadily losing ground in the national research portfolio to short-term investments,” said the report, entitled “The Scientific Allocation of Scientific Resources.”

The NSB report is the product of a two-year study, rather than a response to current developments. However, its content echoes the concerns expressed by many scientists about the direction of science policy under the Bush administration.

President Bush's budget plan calls for a 1.2 percent overall increase for the NSF, which amounts to a decrease for its research activities in real terms. The plan also eliminates the Commerce Department's Advanced Technology Program, which was instrumental in the development of DNA chips and other cutting-edge technologies.

The NSB report calls for a detailed evaluation of science priorities, which would be updated annually and used as input to the budget process. The 24-member panel also advocated beefing up existing science advisory bodies, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

President Bush has yet to appoint the OSTP director, who would serve as one of the PCAST co-chairs. For the other co-chair, Bush has appointed venture capitalist Floyd Kvamme, a relative unknown among scientists.

A coordinated approach to the science budget has also been hindered by its fragmentation among numerous appropriations subcommittees in Congress, according to the NSB.

“The federal portfolio for research is an accounting device that aggregates the research portfolios of the individual departments and agencies funding S&T. It has not been managed as a portfolio,” the report said. 

Additional obstacles to a strategic view of the science portfolio, according the report, include information gaps between defense and civilian programs, and the disappearance of advisory bodies such as the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. The OTA was eliminated in 1995 as part of the Republican Party’s "Contract with America" to reduce the size of the government.

The draft report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub?nsb0139.

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