Speech focuses on policies for science and technology

David Hyland

When it comes to science and technology expenditures, the country’s money is not well spent, asserts a University applied economics professor who has studied the issue for 20 years.
University Regents’ Professor Vernon Ruttan will outline how the government can revise its spending methods during a speech at 3:30 p.m. today in the Physics Building. Among his suggestions will be the establishment of a national policy on science and technology which could determine how resources are allocated.
“The United States doesn’t have a coherent science and technology policy,” Ruttan said. “One can add up the budget of the various agencies that do science and technology, but that doesn’t add up to a policy. There’s no system of deciding what the priorities are.”
Whether it’s contributions to the space station, the applications of atomic energy or improvements in agriculture, Ruttan said, there is no guiding vision.
Sandra Archibald, an associate professor in the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs agrees with Ruttan’s evaluation.
“We don’t have a purposeful political mechanism or policy mechanism for saying `We are going to spend X amount of our budget on research,'” she said.
Ruttan said although there is a national science advisor’s office in the executive branch, it enjoys little power. He said the government should create a joint committee in Congress on science and technology, similar to one dealing with economic issues.
Steven Crouch, associate dean in the Institute of Technology, said the current National Sciences Foundation arrangement is sufficient.
When the foundation doles out grant money it goes toward areas of priority research, Crouch said. In this respect, it is exercising a national policy.
“Within that agency, they have a way of allocating resources,” Archibald said of the National Sciences Foundation. “But there’s no larger means politically, of allocating money.”
Setting up a joint committee, as Ruttan advocates, would be a more effective approach, she added.
Even so, Crouch said the University should set its own policy. Although in the current arrangement the government does exercise some influence in the giving of grants, most decision making rests with universities and individual researchers.
A federal, centralized policy could disrupt this balance.
But to Ruttan, combined decision making is not a necessarily a bad idea.
On the University level, Ruttan said the dual appointment of the vice president for research and dean for the Graduate School was a step in the right direction in concentrating decision making.
“They should make it clear, the person who fills that position should be concerned not with running the University’s research program but concerned with University policy and influencing national policy,” Ruttan said. “We need somebody who will speak to the Federal government, who will participate in the dialogues on the national level about science and technology policy.”
Archibald suggested student input be weighed heavily.
“They’re the ones thinking of the next newest idea,” she said.