The Bush Record on Science

From downgrading of the position of science adviser, to tepid support for scientific funding and opportunities, to distorting scientific advice and findings, the Bush administration has pioneered a less-than ethical approach to scientific policymaking that will harm our nation for years to come.

  1. Downgrading the Position of Science Advisor
  2. Cutting the Research & Development Budget
  3. No Vision for Science
  4. Compromising Scientific Integrity in Policy Making
  5. Conclusion: Science & Technology Left Behind

1. Downgrading The Position of Science Adviser

Early in his tenure, President Bush signaled his disdain for science and scientific advice through his tardy appointment of a science adviser. Every Presidential science adviser in history had been named within the first four months of the new Administration. Bill Clinton thought the position significant enough to name Jack Gibbons five days after his inauguration, and Gibbons was confirmed by the Senate in the second week of the Clinton presidency. Bush's science advisor John Marburger-one of the last appointees named-was not nominated until June 26, 2001, more than five months into the Administration. By the time the Senate confirmed Marburger on October 23, 2001 -the new Administration had already settled into an intractable course on a wide range of scientific matters, including stem cell research, missile defense, global warming, and arsenic in drinking water. The science adviser wasn't the only scientific position which was ignored in the new Administration. Bush did not appoint new heads of FDA and NIH for 20 months and 14 months, respectively.

The delay in appointing a new science adviser is attributable not only to the Bush administration's lack of respect for scientific evidence, but also to the fact that it was openly downgrading the position. Under George H.W. Bush, Allan Bromley was classified as an "assistant" to the President. Both of Bill Clinton's science advisers were assistants to the President, as well as members of the National Security Council and the Domestic Policy Council, and they regularly attended Cabinet meetings. Dr. Marburger routinely participates in none of these activities, his title has been downgraded to "special assistant," he reports to a mid-level political appointee in the West Wing, his assistant directors were cut from 4 to 2.

2. The Bush Fiscal Year 2005 Budget Doesn't Support Critical R&D Funding

President Bush contends that the fiscal year 2005 research and development budget request is very robust, considering the fiscal pressures under which the Federal government is operating. The fact of the matter is that the fiscal year 2005 budget submission for R&D (excluding weapons development) is the most anemic R&D budget submitted to the Congress by any President in the past 20 years. It is an R&D budget unsuited to the challenges of the time. This fact has not escaped members of the President's own party. For two years running, Sherry Boehlert, the Republican Chairman of the House Science Committee, has called the President's budget for R&D "disappointing" and on February 2, 2004, he said:

"The budget chapter on R&D [in the FY 2005 budget] includes the quotation that 'Science is a horse. Don't worship it. Feed it.' The budget does not reflect that advice. After a few years of spending at the levels proposed in this budget, science would be an emaciated, old, grey mare, unable to produce any new ideas or young scientists."

The Request for Science Funding is Flat - The Administration brags about a 5% increase for R&D spending in 2005, but fails to mention that the increase is largely targeted for weapons development. The most representative measure of R&D funding, and the measure which best captures the economic and broader societal benefits of R&D funding, is the concept of the "Federal S&T budget" (FST), develop by the National Academy of Sciences. FST includes civilian R&D and defense R&D, but not weapons development. Page 61 of the "Analytical Perspectives" document, from the Administration's own package of FY 2005 budget documents, actually shows a decrease of 0.4 percent in proposed FST funding. This is the first time that any President has requested a decrease in the FST since it has been tracked. Further, government-wide funding for basic research would increase by only 0.6% and funding for applied research by only 0.5% - both well below the rate of inflation.

The President's Analysis Uses Highly Selective or Inaccurate Numbers - The Administration claims that R&D as a percent of discretionary spending is relatively high in historic terms, but the elevated levels are due to weapons development, not science. Eighty-seven percent of the R&D funding increase between 2001 and 2005 resulted from increases in weapons development and the completion of the NIH budget doubling that the Congress committed to in the late 1990s. Seventy-two percent of the proposed increases in 2005 over FY 2004 levels result from increments in weapons research in DOD and the fraction grows a bit to 75% if we include new increases proposed for the new Department of Homeland Security. A key measure of society's commitment to innovation - Federal R&D as a percentage of GDP - is near a 50-year low of 0.7 percent. Funding for the physical sciences as a percentage of GDP also continues to plummet, as each year of the Bush administration has added to the 35% cut in the physical sciences over the past 25 years.

The Budget Does Not Deal with the Challenge of Job Creation - The single best government program to provide immediate help to U.S. manufacturers - the Manufacturing Extension Partnership - is severely slashed. The Advanced Technology Program is eliminated. Technology transfer programs at NASA and DOE are cut, and there are no new ideas or initiatives for moving Federal technologies into the private sector, especially small businesses.

The President Takes Credit for Congressional Actions from Prior Years - When it appears to strengthen their case, the Administration brags about increases in various R&D accounts over the past four years, without distinguishing in any way between the President's requests and subsequent Congressional action. In fact, the Administration's R&D priorities have remained virtually unchanged since it submitted its first R&D budget in early 2001 (well before the 9-11 terrorist attacks). Those priorities have been: funding weapons development at the Defense Department: signing on to the rock-solid Congressional commitment to complete the doubling of the NIH budget in FY 2002-03; and increasing homeland security R&D in 2004-2005. All other Federal R&D programs have fared very badly in the President's four budget submissions, but have been rescued year after year by Congressional action. By citing four-year trends, rather than the weak FY 2005 budget submission numbers, the Administration tries to leave the impression that it alone is responsible for R&D increases.

The Administration Hasn't Followed Through On Their Commitments - Two years ago, the President signed an authorization bill doubling National Science Foundation (NSF) funding over five years. The requests for NSF since the signing ceremony have been anemic - they might produce a doubling in about 25 years. In another failed commitment, only weeks after Secretary of Energy Abraham gave a well-received speech at the National Press Club touting DOE's long-term plan for construction of new scientific facilities, funding for DOE facilities was cut severely in the budget submission. Also, given how critical DOD basic and applied research funding is to a number of important fields (math, computing, materials, engineering), DOD officials have supported the idea of targeting a significant increase - up to 3 percent of the DOD budget - for R&D. In the FY 2005 budget request, defense S&T is cut by 16%. Finally, the President signed a bill last year authorizing greatly expanded funding at NSF and NIST for cyber-security R&D and training - a critical element in any strategy to deal with terrorist threats. The FY 2005 budget contains no new funding for this initiative.

3. The Bush Administration Has No Vision for R&D Funding

For four years, the Bush administration has treated the funding of research and development with less care than would hope for more from a country whose future in inextricably tied to technical advances. Except for the obvious, post-2001 addition of homeland security R&D, the Bush administration has not thoughtfully established cross-cutting initiatives in science and technology that can contribute to new challenges and broad societal goals, like the aging of the population or the creation of new jobs and new industries. In fact, the Bush administration has explicitly used its R&D program as means to other ends, such as providing cover for delaying real action on critical societal problems. The hydrogen R&D program is fine investment in technology development in its own right, but it will have no impact on fossil fuel consumption for at least 20 years. The Bush administration has pointed to the potential promise of hydrogen technology as a reason for not dealing more aggressively with our increasingly inefficient vehicle fleet and our growing dependence on foreign sources of oil and gas. Similarly, the billions spent on climate change research may produce good science. In spite of this, the Administration, in the face of every serious scientific assessment performed over the past decade, refuses to engage meaningfully in discussions of global warming. And the enactment of a Congressional initiative on cyber-security R&D is a small fig leaf over the Administration's abject failure to prod federal as well as private interests to deal with cyber-security seriously.

Although un-aroused by the actual discoveries of science, the Administration does seem to get excited about the management of science, and the President's Office of Management & Budget (OMB) has made an attempt to establish some principles for judging research investment. It is entirely understandable that a budget office faced with tough decisions about priorities within a research community wishes to establish a way of judging the merit of various proposals. The criteria proposed by OMB are eminently reasonable: research should be relevant, of high quality, and deliver what was promised. The problem, of course, comes in applying these criteria to actual budget decisions. Too often, these criteria are being used to advanced industry agendas and delay meaningful action on global warming or the regulation of pollution in our water and air.

Finally, there are some genuine lost opportunities. The budget gives the strong impression that the hydrogen research program can substitute for a balanced energy research program. Touting hydrogen as a solution to our energy problems is disingenuous. Most if not all of the projects funded in the hydrogen program deserve to be a part of a coherent energy policy. But the hydrogen research is funded by drastic cuts in other research that has equal if not greater merit. Funding for using waste materials and other biomass, for example, is cut by an amount equal to the increase for hydrogen even though biomass offers what may be the most cost effective source of renewable energy. Funding for many of the critical areas highlighted in the NIH roadmap released last year may not be available without cutting deeply into other research areas. This may make it difficult to pursue the multi-disciplinary projects needed to bring the tools of information science, materials, nanotechnology, and other disciplines to bear on biomedical problems. The breathtaking discoveries of astrophysics made possible by the NASA science budget are threatened by new manned projects that even the administration seems ambivalent about. Critical applied research needed for advances in manufacturing, construction, transportation, and other areas will be starved by the cuts in the Department of Commerce. The search for technologies that can combine productivity with an improved environment will be badly damaged by these cuts and the 8 percent cut in the EPA research budget. And there's no room for expanding research in improving the productivity and accessibility of learning in the face of repeated studies showing shocking underinvestment in the area.

4. Compromising Scientific Integrity in Policy Making

On February 18, 2004, 62 leading scientists - including 20 Nobel Laureates , 19 National Medal of Science winners, leading medical experts, former federal agency directors and university chairs and professors, issued a statement calling for regulatory and legislative action to restore scientific integrity to federal policymaking. According to the scientists, the Bush administration has regularly suppressed and distorted scientific analysis from federal agencies and undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels.

Excerpts from the scientists' statement follow:

"Successful applications of science have played a large part in the policies that have made the United States of America the world's most powerful nation and its citizens increasingly prosperous and healthy. Although scientific input to the government is rarely the only factor in public policy decisions, this input should always be weighed from an objective and impartial perspective to avoid perilous consequences. Indeed, this principle has long been adhered to by presidents and administrations of both parties in forming and implementing policies. The administration of George W. Bush has, however, disregarded this principle.

"When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions. This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government's own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.

"Across a broad range of policy areas, the administration has undermined the quality and independence of the scientific advisory system and the morale of the government's outstanding scientific personnel:

"Highly qualified scientists have been dropped from advisory committees dealing with childhood lead poisoning, environmental and reproductive health, and drug abuse, while individuals associated with or working for industries subject to regulation have been appointed to these bodies.

"Censorship and political oversight of government scientists is not restricted to the EPA, but has also occurred at the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Interior, when scientific findings are in conflict with the administration's policies or with the views of its political supporters.

"The administration is supporting revisions to the Endangered Species Act that would greatly constrain scientific input into the process of identifying endangered species and critical habitats for them protection.

"Existing scientific advisory committees to the Department of Energy on nuclear weapons, and to the State Department on arms control, have been disbanded.

"In making the invalid claim that Iraq had sought to acquire aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment centrifuges, the administration disregarded the contrary assessment by experts at the Livermore, Los Alamos, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

"The distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends must cease if the public is to be properly informed about issues central to its well-being, and the nation is to benefit fully from its heavy investment in scientific research and education."

Despite the Bush administration's attempts to discredit or dismiss their evidence, the charges of the 62 scientists stand un-rebutted. In fact, additional abuses of science and the scientific advisory process have piled up since the group's report in February, including:

"Dismissal of two members of the President's Bioethics Panel who disagreed with the White House positions on stem cells;

"FDA's rejection of a 23-4 recommendation from a scientific advisory panel regarding the release of the emergency contraceptive Plan B;

"Charges by top air quality modelers at EPA that their model output is regularly altered and misused by EPA political appointees;

"Subverting the Endangered Species Act by counting hatchery-raised salmon as if they were wild salmon.

Over the past 40 years, with the possible exception of arms control, the broad scientific community has been very reluctant to produce a consensus view on any divisive political issue. The community has typically unified across fields only when matters of direct interest to them have been involved, such as calls for increased support of R&D or university science. The Bush administration seems to be missing the significance of the current pleas for scientific integrity. For the scientific community, this call for reform is telling, perhaps even unique, and speaks to the great depth of concern that leading scientific thinkers feel toward the administration's ignorance, ideological rigidity, and misuse of science.

5. Conclusion: Science & Technology Left Behind

President George W. Bush's economic policies have severely harmed prospects for utilizing the Federal R&D portfolio as a tool for enhancing American economic competitiveness. Not surprisingly from a President who said during his campaign that "the jury is still out on evolution", this administration's politicization and misuse of science have made it increasingly difficult for science to play its rightful role in public policy making. This situation will not change until the American people elect a leader who respects the value and integrity of science more than the self-interest of his political allies and special interest backers.

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