Eisenhower and "My Scientists." (President Dwight David Eisenhower's Science Policies)

By Hoxie, R. Gordon | National Forum, Fall 1990 | Go to article overview
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Eisenhower and "My Scientists." (President Dwight David Eisenhower's Science Policies)

Hoxie, R. Gordon, National Forum


Time was the American people, sans historians and political scientists, "liked Ike." Now, at the centennial of Dwight David Eisenhower's birth, scholars have joined in liking Ike. A part of their liking him is their recent appreciation of the fact that Eisenhower was the principal architect of the modern institutional presidency. This includes the White House Chief of Staff, the Assistant for National Security Affairs, the Assistant for Legislative Affairs, the Staff Secretariat, agencies and departments ranging from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Federal Aviation Administration, the Small Business Administration, the United States Information Agency, and the White House science advisory system. Among all these initiatives, that of bringing in 1957 a science advisory system into the White House with the creation of the Office of Special Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) ranks high in significance. Further, it is the one that has experienced decline, at times bordering on atrophy, since the Eisenhower Presidency.

As early as 1950, that scientific and technological system, which Eisenhower created, had been recommended by William T. Golden, a New York City investment banker, who, over time, has contributed most productively to the advancement of a science and technology advisory system for the Presidency. However, when Golden presented it in 1950, President Truman viewed the proposal at arm's length. An ardent defender of presidential prerogatives, Truman had long been leery of advisory positions and systems for the President. He had opposed the 1946 congressional initiative creating the Council of Economic Advisers that the following year established the National Security Council (often referred to as "Forrestal's revenge" for Truman's acquiescence in the creation of the Department of the Air Force). Truman rejected Golden's proposal for a full time "Scientific Adviser to the President" and a President's " Science Advisory Committee." Instead, he accepted Golden's alternate suggestion for a Scientific Advisory Committee in the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM-SAC).

Eisenhower, at the beginning of his own presidency in 1953, inherited a dormant ODM Science Advisory Committee. The initial catalyst in bringing the Science Advisory Committee to the fore was Eisenhower's 1954 request for a "study of the country's technological capabilities to meet some of its current problems." Dr. James R. Killian, Jr., President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, headed this Technological Capabilities Panel. The Killian panel's report, fully considered in 1955 by the National Security Council, recognized the Soviet challenge in missile development and led to the programs for the successful Thor, Jupiter, and Polaris missiles. The intelligence section of the report encouraged both the U-2 high-altitude airplane surveillance program and the subsequent reconnaissance satellites.

During the 1955-57 period, both the Soviets and the United States had been working on orbiting satellite programs. Eisenhower's Secretary of Defense, Charles Erwin (Engine Charlie) Wilson, former General Motors Chairman, had described the proposed launching of a satellite vehicle as a "scientific boondoggle." Threatened with the closing of the Vanguard program, Eisenhower had responded with doubling its program from six to twelve. Wilson was on his way out. However, it was the Soviets who, on 4 October 1957, launched the first manmade satellite, Sputnik 1. The result was consternation approaching hysteria throughout the United States, inflamed by media and political pronouncements that the Soviets had taken command of space.

In the week following the Sputnik launching, Eisenhower named a dynamic, new Secretary of Defense, Neil H. McElroy. He also conferred with his old friend from his years as Columbia University's President (1948-52), Isador Rabi, then serving as Chairman of the ODM Science Advisory Committee.

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