WASHINGTON _ The President's Committee of Advisors onScience and Technology held its inaugural meeting on Tuesday justacross the street from the White House. The committee wasconceived as a channel for private sector advice to the NationalScience and Technology Council (NSTC), an 11-month-old cabinet-level committee chaired by President Clinton.Its members have been charged with several tough tasks, includingrecommending appropriate levels of federal and private sectorinvestment in fundamental scientific research, improvingparticipation in and access to science and enhancing scienceeducation and public literacy. All this without significant funding fornew or existing programs.Co-chair Jack Gibbons told the 18 inductees that the Clintonadministration wants to build a new relationship between the publicand private sectors and to "continually elevate the role of science andtechnology in federal strategy." Gibbons, assistant to the Presidentfor science and technology and director of the Office of Science andTechnology Policy (OSTP), also noted, however, that theadministration's goal of reducing the deficit would make increasedspending difficult."We're faced with a nominal budget," Skip Johns, OSTP's associatedirector of technology, conceded to the committee members at themeeting. "Our challenge will be to keep investments in science andtechnology steady in the face of declines across the rest of thebudget. Usually, a new administration comes in and adds itspriorities onto existing budget commitments. We can't do that."According to Gibbons, the blueprint for the Clinton administration'sscience policy is a 31-page report issued last August called "Sciencein the National Interest." (See BioWorld Today, Aug. 5, p. 1.) Thereport pledged support for basic research, calling it the "venturecapital of the future," but proposed no concrete budget increases.In fact, federal support for basic research is barely ahead of inflation.For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which fundsmore than $11 billion worth of basic research each year through itsextramural and intramural programs, will see its budget increasefrom $10.9 billion in fiscal 1994 to $11.5 billion in fiscal 1995 (anincrease of 4.2 percent).M.R.C. Greenwood, OSTP's associate director for science, pointedout that the 1994 Nobel prize in medicine, which was awarded totwo scientists for discovering the role of G proteins, underscored theimportance of basic research. Both winners were funded in whole orpart by the NIH. One of the two scientists was Martin Rodbell, abiochemist who retired last May from the National Institute ofEnvironmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The other was AlfredGilman, a pharmacologist whose research has been supported byabout $6 million in NIH grants, according to The New York Times.Rodbell did his pioneering work on G proteins while at the NIH'sBethesda campus. He resigned from NIEHS last May because hisbudget, which was focused on undirected basic science research, hadbeen continually slashed. He called a press conference after theaward was announced and used the opportunity to criticize thegovernment's decreased funding of basic science. "The world ain't the same," said Rodbell. "Now everything istargeted, bottom line, how to make a buck. The attention of theCongress and the executive branch always has been toward the endgoal. They are not as willing to take a chance now on people like mein exploring the unknown."Nonetheless, Greenwood said that basic science spending was a"wise investment" in the future. "Basic science represents the mostsuccessful long-term relationship between government, academiaand industry," she told the committee members.The new committee will meet periodically to discuss issues andprovide policy analysis and advice to the NSTC. Gibbons co-chairsthe committee with John Young, former president and CEO ofHewlett-Packard Co. and a member of the board of directors of atleast two biotechnology companies, Affymetrix and ShamanPharmaceuticals Inc.Other members include: Norman Augustine, CEO of Martin MariettaCorp.; Francisco Ayala, professor of biological sciences andphilosophy from University of California (UC), Irvine; Murray Gell-Mann, professor emeritus of theoretical physics from the CaliforniaInstitute of Technology; David Hamburg, president of CarnegieCorp.; John Holdren, professor of energy from UC Berkeley; DianaMacArthur, CEO of Dynamac Corp.; Shirley Malcolm, head ofeducation and human resources at the American Association for theAdvancement of Science; Mario Molina, professor of environmentalsciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); PeterRaven, professor of botany from Washington University in St. Louis;Sally Ride, professor of physics (and former astronaut) from UC SanDiego; Judith Rodin, president of the University of Pennsylvania;Charles Sanders, CEO of Glaxo Inc.; Phillip Sharp, professor ofbiology at MIT (and a co-founder and board member of BiogenInc.); David Shaw, CEO of D.E. Shaw & Co. (a group oftechnology-oriented financial firms); Charles Vest, president of MIT;Virginia Weldon, senior vice president of public policy at MonsantoCo.; and Lilian Shiao-Yen Wu, researcher from IBM's Thomas J.Watson Research Center. n

-- Lisa Piercey Washington Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.