Fuqua: Advice to Scientists

Last March, Rep. Don Fuqua (D-Fla.) startled many in the science community by announcing that he was calling it quits after 24 years in the House, all of it serving on various science-oriented committees. The chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology for the past eight years, the 53-year-old Fuqua has decided to embark on a second career as president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a Washington-based organization representing space and defense contractors. Under his dire

By | November 17, 1986

Last March, Rep. Don Fuqua (D-Fla.) startled many in the science community by announcing that he was calling it quits after 24 years in the House, all of it serving on various science-oriented committees. The chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology for the past eight years, the 53-year-old Fuqua has decided to embark on a second career as president of the Aerospace Industries Association, a Washington-based organization representing space and defense contractors.

Under his direction, a Task Force of the full Committee in 1984 undertook a massive two-year study of national science policy. A draft of the Task Force report is due by the end of the year. At press time, Fuqua was preparing a final version of a "chairman's statement" that will accompany the report.

A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Fuqua took a B.S. in agricultural economics from the University of Florida in 1957 and served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1958 to 1962. On May 15 he received the National Science Foundation's Distinguished Public Service Award for "his unwavering support for basic research and education. " He was interviewed October 29 by Tabitha M. Powledge, editor of THE SCIENTIST.

Q: You've been in Congress almost a quarter of a century, and for much of that time you've been an extremely influential figure in science. Erich Bloch calls you a "true friend of research," for example. Are you pleased with the results of your patronage?

FUQUA: I don't think you are ever totally pleased with everything you do. I do feel the satisfaction of accomplishment, but there are still alot of things to be done, such as improvement of the research infrastructure in universities, more graduate students, and strengthening of overall science education in the elementary and secondary schools.

Modest as it has been, in the last few years we have had a general increase in the bud-gets for basic science, where most other domestic programs have been in a mode of retrenchment. Science and defense have been the two things that have received increases. That doesn't mean that there's enough money, but at least it hasn't gone backward like some of the other domestic programs.

We've also created some new programs that are of particular importance. The  supercomputer program was initiated by our Committee, and we also modified the direction of NSF to include engineering. And even in NASA, we've seen the space shuttle come into being despite the setback we had this year. I still think that it's a fine addition to our space program.


Q: Some people have said that the report of the Task Force that you have been heading for the past couple of years, which is due out at the end of this year, is the most ambitious attempt to lay the foundation for new directions in science policy since the famous. postwar Vannevar Bush report. In addition, you are issuing your own chairman's report. What are some of your recommendations?

FUQUA: I'm making some 60 recommendations based on my own observations of Task Force hearings and the reports we received from our more than 200 witnesses. It includes my own feelings about things. But it generally tracks the Task Force agenda. I thought, since I was not going to be a member of Congress in the next session, that I should make some public rendering of my own thoughts and observations. They are not intended to reflect the Committee or the Task Force; they're mine.

Q: Do you expect that some of the things that you're saying in your report will differ from those in the Task Force report?

FUQUA: They could. I don't know what the Task Force will recommend. I may personally feel more strongly about some things than the Task Force would. For instance, and this is my own observation, I've been very disappointed in science education and how the National Science Foundation has administered it. When the Department of Education was created, I fought very hard to keep science education at NSF. I thought that was the place for it to be. I have been very disappointed in the way that it has been treated at NSF. Maybe it should not compete in the framework of an agency that is dealing primarily with pure science. Maybe it should be put in the Department of Education so that it can be treated more justly than it has been. That is probably controversial. I'm a strong supporter of science education. I understand that there's a good possibility that they may have some increased funding for science education this year at NSF.

I also don't think we should proceed with the breeder reactor. We have ample opportunities for the use of coal, we have an abundant supply of uranium for at least 50 years, and we should make the nuclear program work. We don't really need the breeder at this time, although we may at some time in the future. The same with fusion; I'm not advocating that we stop basic research on fusion, but I don't really see fusion as viable for the next 50 years.
I also say that basic science is healthy and viable, and we do have viable universities that can carry out that research. But something must be done about the infrastructure of our institutions. It's getting to the point where the quality of science is going to be hampered by that infrastructure.


Q: What's your bet about how influential William Graham is going to be as an advocate for science, or for particular kinds of science?

FUQUA: I don't think that a science adviser to the President should necessarily be the advocate for science. A science adviser is like an economic adviser to the President. He has to say "Mr. President, in these areas we need more money for basic research because it is where our technology and productivity come from." But to pound the table and say "Mr. President, we've just got to have science above everything would make him totally ineffective within the circles that he has to work in. A science adviser to the President must be knowledgeable on issues that come before the President, whether it be matters of national security or the space station. The President ultimately makes up his own mind about it, but he has to have somebody there who can give him an objective viewpoint.

However, regardless of who you have as the science adviser, his advice to the President is only going to be as effective as the President wants it to be. Originally, Reagan's advisers told him not to have a science adviser. I made a personal appeal to the President to fill the slot with somebody. I didn't have any candidate, but I thought it was important to him. There were scientific issues that would come up that he had to deal with.

Bill Graham has the capacity to be a good science adviser. He's a good listener, and he knows where to get information. That office has a small staff and also is charged with trying to coordinate some science policy to make sure that we aren't going off the deep end in some areas. Not that he micro-manages the various agencies. I think it's a very important job. If I were president, I would look at the science adviser as one of my more important advisers. As we get more and more into technology, scientific issues come into play. If I had been at the meeting in Iceland, I would have wanted my science adviser sitting in the room with me. In the issues that they were talking about, it's very important that you have somebody who has the technical background to advise you. He doesn't have to tell you what to do.


Q: You're leaving Congress and going to work for the aerospace industry as a lobbyist. A lot of people think the U.S. space program is in a state of collapse. How do you feel about being an advocate for a group that seems in such disarray?

FUQUA: You're talking about NASA being in disarray?

Q: Well, NASA in particular, but what happens there has implications for the aerospace industry in general.

FUQUA: Anytime you have a highly visible disaster such as NASA had, it takes a while to get over it. But we've been through the Rogers Commission and they made recommendations, and our Committee went through this and made our recommendations. NASA is already implementing many of the Rogers Commission recommendations. They've made substantial changes in the personnel at the agency. I think NASA is getting its act together. NASA is seeking outside advice, the staff is trying to make recommendations to Dr. Fletcher about their intermediate-term goal for the next 15 or 20 years. He has some major decisions to make: the space station decision, personnel decisions, the CENTAUR decision, the re design of the 0 ring, the testing of the solid rocket booster, and putting together the space station in final form, which hasn't been completed yet, but they're moving on it. I think you'll see them back as a viable agency. Those who want to kick NASA- there was probably a time for that; they've been kicked. Now the time is for healing and trying to move on. They've stopped wringing their hands. They're looking to the future now.

Q: Presumably though, that history is going to increase the difficulty of the lobbyist's tasks, since there's some fence-mending still to do.

FUQUA: Well, I'll be president of the Aerospace Industries Association, not a lobbyist. They're not really involved in that.

Q: You don't expect to attempt to be influential in how the space program is received, and perceived and funded?

FUQUA: I'd do that whether I was working for the Association or not. But no, not for specific funding for various programs and projects. For example, with the space station, the NASA administration is pushing for that, and companies that will have contracts are pushing for that, but you won't see Aerospace Industries out pushing specifically for it. They will say, "We support the space program," but they're not pushing for a specific level of funding for the space station.


Q: With all your experience you probably have some pretty specific ideas about what the space program ought to be doing, both in the short and the long term.

FUQUA: The Paine commission outlined a very well-planned program for NASA, a roadmap for the future, an itinerary. We have to take that objective and place it against the budget constraints we have and how much money NASA may or may not receive, and see where we can go and how much is available. But the space station is already a fact. We have to look beyond the space station to a revisit to the Moon from the space station, and from the Moon to Mars-with people aboard. I'm not sure we'll be the first ones there, but we should pursue that. There are logical stepping stones along the way. The space station is not an end in itself, it's a building block.

Q: What do you say to those who argue that missions without people make more sense, not only from an economic point of view, but also from a public relations point of view since if something goes wrong, then at least lives are not lost?

FUQUA: We've had an unmanned-manned scientific fight going on for a long time, and I don't know that that will ever be resolved. Most of the time, we have had a balanced program. I don't think you'll ever satisfy Jim Van Alien. Jim feels very strongly about the science program, and very strongly against any kind of manned program. But I think we have proven that people can do things that a mission without people cannot do. We've spent more than a billion dollars on the Viking program to go to Mars. Fortunately, everything worked, but if it hadn't worked, we wouldn't have gotten any data back from it. It would be nice if we could take some of the samples of Mars and bring them back to Earth, and it would be good to look at more than one place on Mars. It's important that we send people there.


Q: Should scientists do more to try to influence the course of science policy?

FUQUA: Yes. Scientists are very intelligent people, very dedicated to their work and their fields of endeavor. But many times they fail to communicate to the public policymakers the importance of the things that they're involved in. Many of them un-derstand it themselves. They go to scientific meetings and professional societies and they talk among themselves and pat each other on the back and say "What a fine job we're doing," but that doesn't get to the opinion-makers and those who are formulating public policy.

There needs to be a better interface between the scientific community and the policymakers of the country-from editorial boards of newspapers and media people to community opinion-makers to elected public officials, whether it be the congressman or the state legislator. There's a tremendous amount of good will that could be created, and it's not lobbying. You're tooting your horn just like everybody is tooting their horns. Maybe scientists feel it's beneath their dignity, but it's not beneath a banker's dignity to tell you how important banking is, or a defense contractor, or a magazine publisher, or other people who feel as though their businesses are being threatened.

Scientists could do a beautiful job. In my experience taking congressmen out to the field, to National Laboratories or other facilities, to have those bright young people ex plain to them what they're doing, why they're doing it-I haven't seen one member of Congress yet who didn't come away in awe. The same thing can happen at the local level. You can invite your congressman to come out and look at the chemistry lab or the physics department and show him some experiments you're doing there.


Q: What about the pork-barrel problem? It doesn't seem terribly close to resolution, a! though there are a lot of proposals around for dealing with it. Is the pork-barrel problem really a problem, or is it all right for some big science facilities to be built outside the peer-review system?

FUQUA: I think you're going to have pork-barrel science projects until we do something about the infrastructure at various institutions. It's happened because there's tremendous pressure building up to correct that problem. Until we do something overall, you're going to continue to see research facilities funded through the pork-barrel process.

Q: But you'd prefer to see something more coordinated?

FUQUA: Yes, very much so. But until we address the fundamental issue, we're going to continue as we are.

Q: There are a number of proposals around for building exactly the kind of infrastructure you're talking about. Do you see any early hope for people getting together and figuring out some coordinated way of dealing with this?

FUQUA: Well I have a bill in, though of course it's dead now for this Congress. The bill takes 10 percent of the R&D budgets of the various agencies-NSF, DOD, Agriculture, DOE, NASA and EPA-and sets it aside. That money can be used for infra structure, on a 50-50 matching basis. The bill also reserves 15 percent of the total amount of government monies for distribution among the smaller and less prestigious schools. We haven't received the concurrence of all the various agencies. They have resisted that because they lose control of their money.

Q: You think something like this bill is eventually what people are going to compromise on?

FUQUA: I hope so. I hope we get something, whether it is that bill or not.

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