White House Upgrades Industrial Technology Role

By Lepkowski, Wil | Research-Technology Management, May/June 2002 | Go to article overview

White House Upgrades Industrial Technology Role


Lepkowski, Wil, Research-Technology Management


News and Views of the Current

Research * Technology Management Scene

A Bush Administration approach to involve the industrial research community in the formation of science and technology policy for the next technological era appears to be quietly emerging in the White House through a body known as the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), a component of the White House science advisory apparatus.

Overseeing it is the President's science adviser John A. (Jack) Marburger who also directs the Office of Science and Technology Policy with its staff of about 40 as well as the interagency coordinating body known as the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Much will depend on how they will all work together and how well the industrial research community will respond.

New PCAST

But for the moment, the place that bears watching is the newly refurbished PCAST, which for most of its life concerned itself mainly with academic science issues. The key figure is the man who co-chairs PCAST with Marburger, E. Floyd Kvamme, a Republican activist and a partner at the Menlo Park, California, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Kvamme is also a friend of Bush and helped organize the information technology community for Bush's run for the Presidency. For a while he was touted as Bush's "technology czar." He is also a founder of Empower.org, a Washington, D.C., Internet-based think tank that promotes Republican ideals.

Though the PCAST effort is probably the major part of the plan, its success is also contingent on how well Marburger succeeds in his job as science adviser. Marburger, a Democrat, came a year late to the job. Bush turned to him after several earlier candidates backed away from the offer on hearing that the science adviser post would be downgraded to a lower ranking at the White House, from assistant to the President, the highest ranking, to simply director of OSTP. Marburger has said repeatedly that title makes no difference when it comes to organizing science and technology in the Administration. It is still too early to tell to what degree he is right.

Marburger was sworn in only on January 9 but really went to work right after the Senate confirmed him last Fall. That meant his time was taken up almost wholly with technical issues related to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. Assembling an OSTP staff was proceeding only slowly and Marburger had little time to devote to industrial R&D and its policies. But the industrial technology end of Marburger's domain had partially been taken care of with the appointment in March 2001 of Kvamme as PCAST co-chair. PCAST has been billed as the chief conduit for the industrial research community into the White House.

More than a handful of its members (see www.ostp.gov/PCAST/pcast.html) come from industry or the high-tech sector, and among four agendas chosen for study is a detailed update on the economic benefits of government R&D. Adding heft by his participation with Kvamme in public briefings on technology and the economy is the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, R. Glenn Hubbard.

Leverage Industrial Research

The presence of Kvamme, who lives and works in California, is hardly sufficient for carrying on a constant interplay with the fast-changing, highly competitive and globalized industrial R&D community. Government programs in R&D, which Marburger has the job of coordinating, have a powerful leveraging factor on industry's research priorities. The basic research coming out of federally supported R&D labs in academia in biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology help set the tone for new initiatives in corporate spending and supply the foreign and domestic people industry recruits for its labs.

The industrial community is open in saying that while its research dollars are triple those spent by the government (roughly $200 billion to $70 billion) little of what it spends goes into really basic research. …

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