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Unprecedented advice to the new President.

Unprecedented advice to the new President

"Global environmental change may well be the most pressing international issue of the next century," research leaders told George Bush last week. Calling this "quintessentially an issue for leadership at the level of heads of state," they provided Bush with a series of recommendations to help identify immediate and realistic policies to temper the pace of environmental change fostered by processes such as fossil-fuel combustion, deforestation and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) use.

Prepared by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, these recommendations appear in one of four "white papers" delivered to Bush advisers before his inauguration. Volunteering advice to a President-elect "is unprecedented for us," noted National Academy of Sciences President Frank Press. But "that is a sign of the time," he added, because never have so many crucial issues confronting a President depended to such a degree on science and technology.

Focusing on space, AIDS, global environmental change and the role of the White House science adviser, these papers offer gently critical advice to the incoming President.

The recommendations on the civil space program, for example, support the development of President Reagan's $30 billion space station - but only if the White House can justify it as essential to some clearly articulated research goal, such as purposeful, long-term manned space flight. To date, a serious commitment to such a goal has not made. And, the academies point out, some would argue that such a commitment should not be made at this time--"particularly because a manned program would require a large commitment of U.S. scientific and technological resources, substantial government funding in quest of returns that are largely intangible, and political support that may not be forthcoming."

The academies also advise streamlining the roles of several NASA field laboratories to avoid overlapping research responsibilities, and transferring the management of these labs to private contractors wherever feasible. Finally, to ensure that funds for a stable research program at NASA are not eroded by the costly and escalating needs of special mission initiatives -- such as building a space station or a return visit to the moon--the academies ask Bush to make it clear that he has a firm commitment to a base research program as well as large, expensive programs.

The AIDS paper also makes some strong recommendations, such as protecting HIV-infected persons from discrimination -- if necessary, by congressional fiat; developing a comprehensive plan for financing the astronomical costs of treating those who become infected; and ensuring that HIV-testing and other AIDS-monitoring measures are used "only when their purposes are clear and their results productive."

More vague are the recommendations on the environment and the science adviser's role. For example, at a press briefing last week, National Academy of Engineering President Robert M. White described the need for a complete phaseout of CFC use and a much-reduced reliance on fossil fuels. The paper presented to the Bush team, however, offers no timetable for the CFC phaseout. Nor does it offer goals or a timetable for a fossil-fuel phasedown.

Recommendations about the science adviser's role are broad indeed. Generally, they argue for "enhancing" the function -- and presidential access -- of the science adviser, appointing him or her quickly and accepting only someone of recognized stature. In addition, the academies would have the President's science adviser work more closely with the Office of Management and Budget and other White house staff to see that national policies are translated into coordinated endeavors throughout the federal government. This point was described more fully in a related report the academies issued last month (SN: 12/24&31/88, p.407).

The academies are by no means the only science and technology organizations seeking to influence Bush. Early in November, for example, more than 30 environmental groups collaborated on a "blueprint for the environment," which they issued to Bush soon after his election victory. This coalition's more than 700 recommendations include a renewed call to elevate the Environmental Protection Agency to the cabinet level and the suggested development of a national "least cost" energy plan (SN: 5/7/88, p.296) emphasizing use of renewable resources and efficiency-enhancing technologies. Also in November, the General Accounting Office presented the Bush team with a more sweeping series of "transition" papers, including ones on energy, the environment and agriculture. These rather short -- and highly critical -- reports focused on problems that this watchdog agency of the Congress identified while investigating the activities and management of major federal agencies.
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Title Annotation:white papers offered on science policy
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 14, 1989
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