A View from Capitol Hill

David Goldston

Legislative Director for Representative Sherwood Boehlert

I am going to talk mostly about the status of science funding and some reactions to it, which are current discussion items in various quarters. This is based on what I have heard at scientific meetings over the years both as a legislative director and when I was on the science committee's staff. I will indicate concerns I hear from scientists and mathematicians, where I think they are well placed and where I think they may be less well placed, and what should be done as a result.

Funding for mathematics and science, especially basic research funding, has really done remarkably well thus far in this budget environment. Last year, despite concerns about the long term, the National Science Foundation held its own fairly well. The Department of Energy programs, which had been much more under attack over the years, ended up coming out fine in terms of basic research. The National Institutes of Health had (as was indicated before) a healthy increase. So everything worked out pretty well despite a lot of trepidation in the community that science was being targeted. This does not necessarily mean times are easy. Proposal pressures are unbelievable, and young scientists have terrible problems getting started. But in terms of macro figures, science and mathematics have done much better than any political science review of the factors influencing the budget would lead one to predict. The questions are, Why has that been the case, and how does that relate to the future?

There are three reasons that scientists have done well so far, none of which should give much cause for comfort. The first one is that, despite some of the paranoia one hears at scientific conferences, science and mathematics are not on anybody's hit list. They are not targeted (although technology programs are a different story). But the people on the Hill who know and think about basic science and mathematics research problems are extraordinarily supportive, and nobody else on the Hill knows those issues exist. That is really the way it has always been; it is not a new phenomenon. That is the way these problems are addressed by Congress, and they are viewed relatively as being as close to sacrosanct as anything can be on Capitol Hill. In a meeting this morning with a senior appropriations staffer who oversees NSF funding, we were reviewing all the problems coming up this year with the Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and similar things. He just mentioned in passing, "And, of course, no one wants us to touch the foundation." So NSF is in some ways in the eye of the hurricane within appropriations. There has been no targeting of basic science, and that is good.

Another, related reason is that science and technology funding have had specific champions on the Hill. Often such people are senior members of Congress, and that has been very helpful because, as I said, there is only a small community of congressional people who really watch these issues, who know that they exist, and who care about them. And those people support science.

The third reason is that, even though it does not feel like it today, in all the budget-cutting scenarios these are, in fact, the "easy years." All of the proposals are for 6 years of budget cutting, and they are all back-loaded. The Administration's plan is slightly more back-loaded than the congressional proposals, but all the cuts are—not surprisingly—in the future. If we stay



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A View from Capitol Hill David Goldston Legislative Director for Representative Sherwood Boehlert I am going to talk mostly about the status of science funding and some reactions to it, which are current discussion items in various quarters. This is based on what I have heard at scientific meetings over the years both as a legislative director and when I was on the science committee's staff. I will indicate concerns I hear from scientists and mathematicians, where I think they are well placed and where I think they may be less well placed, and what should be done as a result. Funding for mathematics and science, especially basic research funding, has really done remarkably well thus far in this budget environment. Last year, despite concerns about the long term, the National Science Foundation held its own fairly well. The Department of Energy programs, which had been much more under attack over the years, ended up coming out fine in terms of basic research. The National Institutes of Health had (as was indicated before) a healthy increase. So everything worked out pretty well despite a lot of trepidation in the community that science was being targeted. This does not necessarily mean times are easy. Proposal pressures are unbelievable, and young scientists have terrible problems getting started. But in terms of macro figures, science and mathematics have done much better than any political science review of the factors influencing the budget would lead one to predict. The questions are, Why has that been the case, and how does that relate to the future? There are three reasons that scientists have done well so far, none of which should give much cause for comfort. The first one is that, despite some of the paranoia one hears at scientific conferences, science and mathematics are not on anybody's hit list. They are not targeted (although technology programs are a different story). But the people on the Hill who know and think about basic science and mathematics research problems are extraordinarily supportive, and nobody else on the Hill knows those issues exist. That is really the way it has always been; it is not a new phenomenon. That is the way these problems are addressed by Congress, and they are viewed relatively as being as close to sacrosanct as anything can be on Capitol Hill. In a meeting this morning with a senior appropriations staffer who oversees NSF funding, we were reviewing all the problems coming up this year with the Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and similar things. He just mentioned in passing, "And, of course, no one wants us to touch the foundation." So NSF is in some ways in the eye of the hurricane within appropriations. There has been no targeting of basic science, and that is good. Another, related reason is that science and technology funding have had specific champions on the Hill. Often such people are senior members of Congress, and that has been very helpful because, as I said, there is only a small community of congressional people who really watch these issues, who know that they exist, and who care about them. And those people support science. The third reason is that, even though it does not feel like it today, in all the budget-cutting scenarios these are, in fact, the "easy years." All of the proposals are for 6 years of budget cutting, and they are all back-loaded. The Administration's plan is slightly more back-loaded than the congressional proposals, but all the cuts are—not surprisingly—in the future. If we stay

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on this track, as it now seems we actually will, every year is going to get tighter. What that adjective "easy" means is that budget cutters have only have had to go after things that have long been targets of opportunity or targets of ideological criticism. These three factors explain why things have worked out so well thus far for basic science. However, the one common trait they share is that none gives much hope for the situation continuing. The easy years are obviously followed by hard years. You do not even get 7 fat years; you get maybe 21/2 fat years and then 5 lean years. The champions of science are going to be retiring, and so Congress's historical memory in the area of science is evaporating. Also, not being targeted is great, but it also means that people on the Hill do not necessarily know a lot about what is happening in science when budgetary constraints get tougher, and when having political support depends on being known and appreciated. Consequently, we have a window of opportunity to build more support for basic science programs. Even more than that, the primary issue is not building more support for these programs, but figuring out how people in your community are going to survive in this different environment. That is an internal question rather than an external question. People like to focus less on the internal question because it is much easier to focus on how to do a lobbying campaign using the springboard of mathematics society meetings. But lobbying is not going to be the answer, because the hard numbers do not allow any positive scenarios for the future. The good news that we have had thus far does not mean that such things are going to continue. What we have is not a cause for complacency, but a small window of time in which to address both internal and external issues. In thinking about what to do, there are three fallacies that need to be avoided. One I call the internalist fallacy. This is the belief that everything that happens to science and mathematics is about science and mathematics. This kind of thinking assumes that math and science exist separately from the world at large, and that if funding for science and mathematics is being cut, then that has something to do with scientists and mathematicians and their attitudes. That sort of thinking is ridiculous. There is a comprehensive budget situation, and there is an overall political situation. Science and mathematics for most people in Congress are not even background noise. If you disagree with long-term congressional budget scenarios, then write your congressman or Congresswoman and say that you do not want the budget balanced in 6 years. But do not write to them saying, "I want more mathematics and science funding." The Administration and the Congress are committed to balancing the budget in 6 years, although no rationale has been given for why it must be done or done in that time. That 6-year balancing is now the political context in which all debate takes place. It is important to avoid viewing things only in terms of your piece of the world, because that is not where the primary forces are that are generating the problem. The second fallacy is what I call the Vannevar Bush fallacy, the notion that all we really need now is another report like Science: The Endless Frontier. I worked with the Council on Competitiveness while it was trying to write such a report, and it is a very appealing thing to do. But this approach reflects a total misunderstanding of the role that the Endless Frontier report actually played, what it meant, and how that time differs from the present. This is more than just a nice historical point because it does affect the way people think. There is the sense that if we issue the right report, then everything will be fine again because that is the way it worked in 1945. Following that 1945 report we were happy for 40 years. Unfortunately, that is not true. First, what the Endless Frontier report said is that what worked well during the war, worked well, so let us keep doing it. That is very different from trying to come up with new solutions.

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Second, except for its fundamental, essential point that the government should have an important role in science and mathematics funding and support, none of the report's actual recommendations—ones that Bush thought were important and cared about—have ever been put into place! There is no department of science and technology. There is no system of math and science governance that is insulated from political forces. None of that has ever happened. The third point is that the present system did not come into place the day after the Endless Frontier was released. There were about 4 years of very nasty debate before the National Science Foundation was established in 1950. NIH got built up on a separate track, and so did DOD (because of Cold War concerns). Hence, the world did not then and does not now spring up out of a box; you do not get a little kit and put it together to produce structure. Waiting for a magical report that is supposed to solve our problems is silly. Yet I hear hints of that in the background of a lot of discussions. It does not mean that writing those kinds of reports is a waste of time or that the Endless Frontier report did not have significance. But relying on report writing as a solution reflects misunderstanding about how things happen and puts us on an impossible path away from acting on the real problems. The third fallacy concerns communication. These fields do not have funding trouble now because of a communications problem. By this, I do not mean that people should not engage in communicating and do some of the things that Michael Schrage discussed. There should be more of that just so that the public can better understand science and mathematics. Better communication and understanding are needed for all sorts of idealistic reasons, without regard to funding issues. And certainly, not communicating will make matters worse, because budgets are going to get tighter and tighter. When the squeeze finally comes, you do not want people on the Hill who have never been paying attention to you to say, "I have never heard of those guys; how important can they be?" However, the problem is not a communications problem; it is a budget problem; it is a problem of numbers. When people develop communication strategies, those strategies usually have the effect of saying, "We are important and we are interested in the long-term health of the nation, not just in helping ourselves; we are not just an interest group, please give us (fill in the amount), and sign here." The odd thing about this is that very few groups come to the Hill and say, "We are just concerned about our own short-term interests, so please increase our budget." The arguments that scientists and mathematicians have to make—and they do have to make them—do not distinguish them from other bidders for public support. Teachers make the same argument; people working in the welfare system make the same argument; defense contractors make the same argument. This is because it is the only argument for public support. It is not an argument unique to science and mathematics. Now, these arguments need to be made. However, the idea that what has been lacking is a communications strategy, and that if we just talk more everything will be OK (1) leads to the wrong kind of talk and (2) is going to lead to woeful disappointment because that is not really or solely the issue. The hard part, of course, is deciding what to do. This is where I suddenly like working in Congress, and I can say, "Well, you do not want us to solve your problems, so go do it." To a large degree, that is my message. I am going to offer some solutions, but this situation of decreasing funding is not going to go away—1968 is not coming back, and neither is 1980. People in your scientific community who know the system well, who live in it day to day, are going to have to come up with reforms that you think work for you, because if someone else comes in with reforms for you, believe me that will not be pleasant.

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As part of the communications strategy, one of the initiatives has to involve saying clearly, "Here is what we are doing to change things ourselves, on our campuses, in industries, and in our departments." Once you have said that, then others may be more willing to listen to you say, "and here is why we are still important to the public at large." But if your message is just "this worked really well in 1960, and if you give us enough money it will work really well now," the answer will be that it is not 1960. I wish it were, but it is not. So, what kinds of things ought now to be done? The answer, which is perfect for this group, is to focus more on education—not to the exclusion of research, but with the intention of changing the culture through students. Do you want to know how? You focus most—and in the case of mathematics, it has to be a lot—of the attention on students who are not going to be math majors. Consider all of those people who crowded through introductory calculus classes. Guess what? They graduated—and went on to work in a congressman's office, telling him how to vote on science budgeting. Most congressional staffers, especially those handling issues that are not the top priority for the member, are in their early- to mid-twenties. Maybe new distribution requirements, or at least better advanced placement courses, are part of the answer, but in all seriousness, that is your best entree. Focusing on better educating the non-mathematics majors works better than an article in the New York Times, and even works better than a TV program. If you want to get people interested in your discipline and have them understand why it is important, you have them right there—they are in your classrooms every single day. If you want to change the culture, that is who you should turn to. To press the point, there must be a focus on nonmajors. If all a 25-year-old knows about research is that it has kept her from ever seeing her professor, then good luck getting to meet that person's congressman or ever getting any kind of money. And that is not an unreasonable attitude for a lot of students to have today. If you do only one thing, emphasize teaching, which will have lots of ancillary benefits that are more important than lobbying. This is the one thing that the academic community has to offer that other constituencies do not have, both in terms of selling yourselves and the very important education component for undergraduate and graduate students. You already have direct access to all of the people you are trying to influence—access that so far, social workers, defense contractors, and none of the other lobby leaders have. One message that I would emphasize, and that is extremely important, relates again to this internal universe of "you." When members of Congress look at science and mathematics, they look at it in terms of their overall attitude toward academia, not just in terms of research. If the academic system seems to be broken in terms of tuition, or in terms of indirect costs, or political correctness, or whatever, that will not be the sole determinant, but it will have an impact on all of you. Members of Congress do not ask "How much do we give to mathematics?" At the appropriations level, they do not get below (or at least we try to keep them from getting below) the funding line for research for NSF, called "Research and Related Activities." Members do not go to the directorate level unless there either is some special problem or some special need they are trying to address. At the authorization level for the science committee, where those individual accounts do have to be considered, we generally follow the Administration. If we lower the macro level, we lower everything proportionally; we generally do not try to second-guess field-by-field decisions. It is important to recognize these perspectives and to play from your source of strength: you have access to students. For both the students' sakes and for your sake, that strength should not be frittered away.