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Foresight Update 18

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A publication of the Foresight Institute


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Policy Watch

Compiled by Jamie Dinkelacker

US President Clinton's 1995 spending plan asks Congress to boost support of research and development, including military R&D, by 2.8%—or nearly $2 billion more than is to be spent this year. The current White House views these research funds as "investments" that will ultimately pay off in new products and services that create jobs and benefit the economy.

If approved, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would go up 4.7% to reach $11 billion. The National Science Foundation would get a 9.6% raise, pushing its budget for grants to scientists up $194 million to reach $2.2 billion. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is slated for a 78% increase that would raise its funding to $874 million.

These figures represent direct support of research and do not include amounts budgeted for administration. [San Jose Mercury News, 2/11/94]

US President Clinton will chair a new National Science and Technology Council to oversee US science and technology policy. The administration seeks to exert stronger central control over the $76 billion that the federal government spends each year on R&D. Plans for this new body are included in the report of VP Al Gore's national Performance Review, published last September.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy sees the council as developing into the principal national body for science and technology policy, comparable to such powerful existing bodies as the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. The plan is for the council to have sufficient teeth to "direct science and technology policy more forcefully." The idea of a coordinating science policy body chaired by a president or prime minister is not new, have been previously attempted in the United Kingdom and Japan, for example, but has had a mixed track record in effectively controlling the activities of strong and independently minded government departments. [Nature, Vol. 365:195]

Japan has begun abandoning its strategy of steady research spending increases due to its deepening recession. The latest Japanese victim is government research spending for FY93, which is now expected to have been less than that spent in FY92, according to Japan's ministry of finance. Japanese research practices are also being questioned because they no longer seem to match marketplace realities, according to Jon Choy, a senior economist at the Japan Economic Institute, Washington, DC. [R&D Magazine, 1/94:13]

In Japan, an audacious plan has been presented to the government for re-grouping all the science-related sections of its ministries and agencies into a single ministry of education, science, and culture, a move that would have profound consequences for the administration of government-funded science.

The plan is one of a series of proposals for government reform put to the new administration of prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa. Specifically, the plan calls for the reduction of the number of ministries and agencies from over 20 to 6. Although it may be hard to take such a radical proposal very seriously, it's notable that the proposal comes from the powerful ad hoc committee on administrative reform, the body which in the early 1980s recommended the privatization of the national railways, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone and Japan Tobacco. These goals were each realized, thanks in large part to the strong leadership of the then prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone.

The committee's overall goal is to increase the efficiency of central government by eliminating unnecessary duplication of effort and breaking down the bureaucratic walls that separate ministries and agencies with similar or overlapping interests. The fate of this latest proposal, which would create in effect a Super-Ministry of Science and can be expected to be fiercely resisted by the ministries themselves, depends very much on Hosokawa and his coalition administration. [Nature, Vol. 366:196]

The new director of the Russian Foundation of Basic Research (RFBR), Vladimir Fortov, took over the helm last June and is trying to persuade the Russian government to double the foundation's budget. Fortov says he is confident that the foundation, set up in April 1992 along the lines of a Western science funding agency, can use funds far more effectively than the Russian Academy of Sciences. He says that this is primarily because much of the money channeled to the academy is spent on administration; the RFBR limits overhead to 20% of its budget.

Despite the general lack of money in Russia, the foundation has been successful in obtaining from the government most of the money it had been promised. This year it expects to receive about 20 billion rubles (US$18 million). [Nature, Vol. 366:282]

A "one-stop" guide to programs is available from the National Institute of Standards & Technology. The 116-page guide details the advantages NIST offers to potential industrial partners and covers all major NIST programs, including some 250 different research projects, with agency contact names, addresses, and phone numbers for each entry. Also listed are electronic bulletin board and information retrieval systems, as well as research consortia, research grants, publications, mechanisms for collaborative research with NIST, and research facilities. For a free copy of "Guide to NIST," send a self-addressed mailing label to NIST Public Affairs Division, A903 Administration Bldg., NIST, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-0001 or fax requests to 301-926-1630. [C&EN, Nov. 29, 1993, p. 44]

As U.S. corporate R&D managers look forward to 1994, they see "a climate of manpower reductions and higher tax burdens [that] does not foster confidence," says William Copeland, president of Copeland Economics Group, Stamford, CT. "While consumer spending has picked up and capital spending is increasing at boom proportions, the U.S. economy is held hostage by the excesses of the 1980s. Neither new deficit spending nor monetary ease by the government can be brought into play to give the economy a boost."

Less foreign investment has also held back the U.S. economy. The influx of foreign capital that boosted the U.S. economy through most of the 1980s has lessened due to the recession in Europe and Japan, as well as the unattractive low interest rates in the U.S.

The result of this is that cost controls are being put into place for the research community at a time when staffing costs are increasing overall and as a share of the total research budget. However, staff reductions in research groups are not expected to be as affected as are other corporate functional groups, according to a recent R&D Magazine salary survey. [R&D Magazine, 1/94:28-34]

The new director of the National Science Foundation is Neal Lane, formerly the provost at Rice University in Houston. Lane is a strong advocate of basic, undirected research. His agenda is to show Congress that NSF can make a difference in the social and economic fabric of the country and not just appear as a feeding trough for curiosity-driven individual investigators.

Although Congress gave NSF an 11% raise in its fiscal 1994 budget, bringing its total budget to $3.2 billion, some observers believe that NSF is troubled and confused. Congress wants NSF's academic grantees' research to relate more to life on the street. The Senate Appropriations Committee has detailed a number of tasks for the NSF that must be completed in time for its fiscal 1995 budget submission to Congress. These tasks include:

  • Develop a new strategic plan.
  • Set performance milestones for each NSF program that are part of a major interagency initiative.
  • Develop a plan for spending not less than 60% of its research activities budget on strategic research, one that does not shroud "curiosity-driven activities under the rubric of strategic activities."
  • Set a large proportion of the foundation's budget for academic infrastructure.
  • Develop new initiatives with state-based science and technology programs.
  • Find new ways for the private sector to help support NSF-funded basic research centers.
  • Assess whether the NSF Board has lost touch with the changing world scene.
  • Provide a detailed description of the working relationships between NSF and other agencies that are R&D intensive.
[C&EN, 11/29/93, p.45-46]

Dr. Jamie Dinkelacker serves on the Foresight Board of Advisors.


Foresight Update 18 - Table of Contents

 

Three Reprints Available

Reprints of three technical papers have been donated to Foresight for distribution to members. Please send $2 each to cover postage and handling:

"Steps Towards Molecular Manufacturing" by Markus Krummenacker, published in Chemical Design Automation News, January 1994. Based on work done for the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing.

"Molecular Nanotechnology" by Gregory M. Fahy, published in Clinical Chemistry, Vol. 39, No. 9, 1993. An introduction to nanotechnology from a medical perspective.

"There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" by Richard Feynman. His classic 1959 after-dinner talk, given for the American Physical Society, pointing in the direction of nanotechnology.


Foresight Update 18 - Table of Contents

 

Thanks

Special thanks are due to our departing Project Manager Jane Nikkel, who has heard the siren call of a Silicon Valley startup company and joined Menlo Park-based InterNex. Among her many innovations for Foresight, Jane improved the Update, ran conferences, and upgraded databases. We look forward to getting expert Internet advice from her in her new position.

Thanks to all those helping to get Foresight up onto the Internet on a broader scale, including eventually the World Wide Web: Chris Allen, Robert Armas, Norm Hardy, Ted Kaehler, Martin Haeberli, Markus Krummenacker, and others. Ongoing thanks to Josh Hall of Rutgers, who for years has made Foresight information available via ftp. Thanks to Niehaus Ryan Haller Public Relations for inviting Foresight to participate in their Internet marketing group.

Speaking of the Internet, thanks to Bob Schumaker and Keith Farrar for repairing our Eudora email program.

Thanks also to Robert Armas and Dave Krieger, who helped Foresight make the move to new offices.

Special thanks go to our guests at the Senior Associates Officewarming event: Mary Eisenhart, Doug Engelbart, Ed Feigenbaum, Chuck Moore, Hans Moravec, and Ted Nelson. We appreciate help from volunteers Stephanie Corchnoy and Dean Tribble at that event.

Ongoing thanks go to the Foresight members who assist us in keeping up to date by forwarding articles and other items we need to see; these include Jon Alexandr, Vincenzo Balzani, Joe Bonaventura, Stuart Elton, Jerry Fass, Dave Forrest, Wesley Du Charme, Tom Glass, Jones Hamilton, Markus Krummenacker, Joy Martin, Raymond McCauley III, Charles Miller, Ron Pernick, Jack Powers, Ed Regis, James Rice, Jeffrey Soreff, Alvin Steinberg, Jack Veach, Steven Vetter, Charles Vollum, and Robert Winfield.

—Chris Peterson


Foresight Update 18 - Table of Contents

 

New Foresight Office

In February, the Foresight Institute moved to new offices at 123 Fremont Avenue in Los Altos, adjacent to Palo Alto. (Our mailing address has not changed.) We share the Foresight Center building with two other nonprofit foundations, the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing and the Center for Constitutional Issues in Technology, organizations familiar to Update readers.

On March 12 we held an officewarming for Senior Associates of the three organizations, and some special guests:

  • Mary Eisenhart—editor, Microtimes
  • Doug Engelbart—inventor of the computer mouse and Augment hypertext
  • Edward Feigenbaum—AI expert, Stanford computer science professor
  • Ralph Merkle—nanotechnology researcher, Xerox PARC
  • Chuck Moore—inventor of FORTH computer language
  • Ted Nelson—computer visionary, inventor of Xanadu hypertext, filmmaker

Later events will be held which are open to all Foresight members. When visiting the new office on your own, not as part of an announced meeting, please be sure to call ahead (650-917-1122) for an appointment and directions.


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From Foresight Update 18, originally published 15 April 1994.



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