Low-Key Start For Bush's Science Panel

WASHINGTON--Although it's been touted as the first scientific group to report to the president in 15 years and a symbol of George Bush's commitment to science, the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology was sworn in last month with little pomp and circumstance. With barely two hours' notice to the press and no written descriptions of the backgrounds of its 12 prominent members, Vice President Dan Quayle administered the oath of office and then, after a few comments, left wit

By | March 5, 1990

WASHINGTON--Although it's been touted as the first scientific group to report to the president in 15 years and a symbol of George Bush's commitment to science, the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology was sworn in last month with little pomp and circumstance.

With barely two hours' notice to the press and no written descriptions of the backgrounds of its 12 prominent members, Vice President Dan Quayle administered the oath of office and then, after a few comments, left without introducing the advisers. Quayle was pinchhitting for the president, who, ironically, was speaking about the importance of science during a visit to two research facilities in the South.

Only after prompting from the audience did Allan Bromley, the president's science adviser and chairman of the new council, recite the credentials of his colleagues. Then they, too, were whisked away, before reporters had a chance to ask any questions.

These experts will meet monthly to give private-sector advice to the president on shaping his science and technology policy and translating research advances into new products. "He [Bush] intends to spend as much time with the council in these meetings as his schedule permits," says Bromley. In fact, the day after the ceremony the council had a three-hour meeting with the president and his staff at Camp David. Bush declared in January 1989 that he would name such a council "as soon as possible," and for more than a year the scientific community has been waiting for him to keep his word.

"The fact that you [PCAST] were invited for a three-hour brainstorming session shows that what we are really talking about is a primary focus on civilian-based science," Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) told Bromley at a hearing the next week. "That is extremely important. Science advisers should have the same status as the military advisers." Mikulski, as chairman of the Senate appropriations committee that oversees budgets for the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was holding a hearing on the administration's global climate change program. Bromley noted that PCAST has already been asked to convene an outside subcommittee that will report to Bromley and the president about the status of research on global change.

For the first time, a presidential science advisory group counts among its members a woman and a black, as well as four life scientists. In the past, the panels have been composed of engineers and physical scientists, and their discussions have centered on issues relating to defense and technology. "The life sciences, and biotechnology, is something he [the president] is keenly aware of," says Bernadine Healy, vice chairman of PCAST and head of the Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

Although members are optimistic that this group will have more influence than did its predecessor, the White House Science Council that was formed in 1981, there is some question about what role it should play. "We're advising, we're not making policy," says Healy, who hopes that one outcome will be greater coordination among agencies and disciplines. "But I have no doubt that, as a group, PCAST has the president's ear."

Bromley has said that PCAST "will be more open" than the White House Science Council and that portions of its meetings will be open to the public.

The PCAST members - and their phone numbers - are as follows:

  • Norman E. Borlaug, distinguished professor of international agriculture, Texas A&M University, College Station, (409) 845-8247;
  • Allan Bromley, chairman of PCAST and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, (202) 456-7116;
  • Solomon J. Buchsbaum, senior vice president for technology systems, AT&T Bell Laboratories, (201) 949-5564;
  • Charles L. Drake, professor of earth sciences and of geology, Dartmouth College, (603) 646-3338;
  • Ralph E. Gomory, president of the Sloan Foundation in New York City, (212) 649-1649;
  • Bernadine Healy, chairman of the Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, (216) 444-3900;
  • Peter W. Likins, president of Lehigh University, (215) 758-3157;
  • Thomas E. Lovejoy, assistant secretary for external affairs at the Smithsonian Institution, (202) 786-2263;
  • Walter E. Massey, vice president for research, University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, (312) 702-6021;
  • John P. McTague, vice president of research, Ford Motor Co., (313) 322-3000;
  • Daniel Nathans, professor of molecular biology and genetics, Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, (301) 955-8445;
  • David Packard, chairman of the board, Hewlett-Packard Co., (415) 857-2627;
  • Harold T. Shapiro, president, Princeton University, (609) 258-6100.

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