WASHINGTON-William Graham, confirmed Oct. 1 as presidential science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, faces a scientific community skeptical of his ability to affect science policy but hopeful he can represent their interests before the administration.
He assumed office in the White House the following day shortly after 3 p.m. The voice vote in the Senate ended a nine-month search for a successor to George Keyworth II, who left the administration Jan. 1 to form a consulting company. John McTague and Richard Johnson served successively as acting directors in the interim.
Graham, 49, is an electrical engineer from southern California who was named deputy administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration six weeks before the Challenger accident in January. He served as acting administrator until James Fletcher was appointed last spring.
"He took steps to restore stability to this agency in very trying times," said Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.). "He has both the academic and real-world experience that will serve him well as science adviser to the president."
"He has an enormous task ahead and a lot of strikes against him," said Robert Park of the American Physical Society. "He certainly doesn't have the stature in the science community of his predecessors, but he appears to have the president's ear. I wish him the best of luck."
Graham's appointment comes in the midst of a continuing debate about the science adviser's role. Should he be the president's man, or science's-and can he be free to state his own convictions publicly?
In a June 1 letter in The New York Times, Joshua Lederberg, president of The Rockefeller University, said "Above all is the authentic need for a president to have advisers whose discretion andconfidence can be trusted, however deeply they may disagree with him."
"We're happy to see somebody appointed after the long wait," said Philip Speser of the National Coalition for Science and Technology, "but we're concerned that the function of the office has become one of being a cheerleader for the administration rather than a way for the views of the scientific community to reach the president."
Graham faces a range of issues in the coming months as science adviser, including space funding, AIDS research, toxic waste and other environmental issues, the fate of the superconducting supercollider, and the level of federal support for training, equipment and facilities. Several observers pointed to the fate of the Strategic Defense Initiative and the upcoming campaign to obtain a much larger budget for basic research, led by National Science Foundation Director Erich Bloch, as issues that will test Graham's commitment to science and his influence within the administration.
But being an effective science adviser means more than winning a popularity contest among the scientific community, noted Hugh Loweth, recently retired as deputy associate director for science and energy at the Office of Management and Budget. "To be effective," he said, "you need to play the game in a complex setting."
In testimony during his confirmation hearing last month, Graham strongly backed the administration stance on such issues as the Strategic Defense Initiative, the role of the private sector in supporting applied research and the scientific infrastructure, and the necessity of tighter budgets for all federal agencies. He did not state his views on the shrunken staff of the science policy office, the fate of the superconducting supercollider, legislation to encourage the transfer of technology from federal labs, and the relative needs of the several agencies that conduct scientific re search.
Despite the unanimity shown on the Senate floor, Sens. Albert Gore (D-Tenn.), Ernest Hollings (D S.C.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) cast negative votes during an executive session of the Senate Commerce Committee.