Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Charles M. Herzfeld

First of all, I’ d like to thank the university for inviting me to participate in this; it’s a great honor and pleasure. I’ve watched a good many of these efforts on C-SPAN, and I’m glad to finally participate in one. I think it’s a very elegant way of documenting an administration seen through several quite distinct prisms, and that’s always fun and instructive.

I’m going to make some general comments, then mention some big science and technology issues at the DOD [Department of Defense], talk about some successes we had, and mention a few problems where things were difficult. First of all, I’d like to say that I consider the Bush administration a high point in rational and serious attention to national problems, with a high-profile S&T [science and technology] approach and a very strong and effective science and technology advisor, Allan Bromley. It is rare in my experience with Washington, which goes back almost fifty years, to see such a careful and measured approach to these matters as we had during the Bush administration. That was not necessarily a good sales thing—it didn’t get a lot of votes—but it was done by careful, professional people with the good of the country uppermost in their minds. And I think it was just very exciting to be associated with that effort.

My discussion will be a bit impressionistic. One of the speakers is going to show data, which worries me a bit, because I don’t know where that will leave some of the things I’m going to say. Let me first talk about the big S&T issues at the Defense Department while I was there. One of my biggest jobs was to defend research as the basic engine for progress, both military and other. There are a lot of people who just didn’t get it, they still don’t get it, and want to say, “Oh, well, research is a discretionary expense. We can just not do research, and who’ll know? Who’ll tell? Who can tell?” Well, I think that’s just dead wrong, and I spent a lot of time trying to explain that point.

Another big challenge was trying to improve the quality of Department of Defense science and technology. There was a time in the last fifty years when the Defense Department, right after World War II, sponsored and paid for most of the basic research in the country, and certainly the best research in the country. We’re far gone from then, and the DOD plays only a modest role in the funding and the directing of research, the quality of the DOD part has slipped, and that’s much more important even than the size having gone down. And so we tried to improve that. We also tried to improve the utilization of science and technology in the DOD. There was, and still is, a lot of technology lying around that people don’t know about, and when they try to build things, the only one who remembers is the contractor, and the contractor puts his own spin on that and the country is the loser.

An interesting matter that I was involved in, and that was really quite important and fits in with the conference’s themes very well, was this: As chairman of the

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