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Science Policy Overview: What is it, How is it Made, and Why it is Important. Talk presented by Tobin Smith Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Association of American Universities American Meteorological Society 2009 Summer Policy Colloquium June 1, 2009.

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Science Policy Overview:

What is it, How is it Made, and

Why it is Important

Talk presented


Tobin Smith

Associate Vice President for Federal Relations

Association of American Universities

American Meteorological Society

2009 Summer Policy Colloquium

June 1, 2009

How Scientists and Engineers can Participate in the Washington Sausage Making Process and Why it is Important!

Navigating the Policy-Making Process:

A Guide to Cross-Cultural Communications

Talk presented


Tobin Smith

Associate Vice President for Federal Relations

Association of American Universities

American Meteorological Society

200 Summer Policy Colloquium

June 1, 2009

  • What is Science Policy?
  • What are its historical origins in the United States?
  • Who Makes Science Policy?
  • How is Science Policy Made?
  • Why Does it Matter?
World #1: The Political World“I double majored in history and English and then went to Harvard law. How about you?”
scientists and politicians do not speak the same languages
Scientists and Politicians Do NOT Speak the Same Languages

Michael Faraday, a pioneer in the field of electricity, was demonstrating the tremendous potential of his new invention the dynamo to the British Royal Society.

A young politician in the audience, William Gladstone, grew bored, finally saying:

i m sure this is all very interesting mr faraday but what on gods earth good is it
“I’m sure this is all very interesting, Mr. Faraday, but what on Gods Earth good is it?

Replied Faraday dryly,

“Someday you politicians will

be able to tax it.”

defining the cultural divide
Defining the Cultural Divide

ScientistsPoliticians/Policy makers

Numbers Words

Objective/Facts Subjective/Public Opinion

Hate to make promises Love to make promises

Quantitative Qualitative

Technical Political

Problem seekers Issue seekers

Ask why Ask why they should care

Money = research Money = getting re-elected

Think long term Think short term

Publicity avoiders Publicity hounds

Science page Front page

Specialists Generalists

many members of congress view science as a means to and end
Many Members of Congress View Science as a “Means to and End”

By Cartoonist Sidney Harris

American Scientist

what is science policy
What is “Science Policy”
  • “National science policy” refers to the set of federal rules, regulations, methods, practices, and guidelines under which scientific research is conducted.
  • It also refers to the dynamic, complex, and interactive processes and procedures—both inside and outside government—that influence and affect how these rules, regulations, methods, practices, and guidelines are devised and implemented.

-- Beyond Sputnik: National Science Policy in the 21st Century

Neal, Smith, McCormick, University of Michigan Press (2008)

what is science policy12
What is Science Policy?
  • “Policy for Science”
  • “Science for Policy”
  • Grey area in between
  • Constant interaction between the two, e.g. Global Climate Change
  • How does politics come into play?
  • What happens when policy makers don’t like what science tells them?
  • Remember that “science” in only one policy input
science and science policy the differences
Science and Science Policy: The Differences
  • ‘Science policy’ is very different from the conduct of science itself. While science is ideally value-free and objective, science policy is “concerned with the incentives and the environment for discovery and innovation; more mundanely, science policy deals with the effect of science and technology on society and considers how they can best serve the public. As such, it is highly visible, value-laden, and open to public debate.”*
  • The subjective nature of science policy often makes it impossible to prove whether a specific policy is "right" or "wrong.“ Moreover, the evaluation of science policy outcomes is often driven by ideology as opposed to provable facts. This has led many in the scientific community to shy away from engagement in the policy process. Ironically, the scientific voice has thus been absent from debates over major policies affecting the scientific community and its work.

* Phillip A. Griffiths, "Science and the Public Interest," The Bridge 23, no. 3 (Fall 1993): 4.

historical origins of u s science policy
Historical Origins of U.S. Science Policy

“Science, by itself, provides no panacea for individual, social, and economic ills. It can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of the team, whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.”

Science - The Endless Frontier, July 1945

historical considerations the bush kilgore debate
Historical Considerations:The Bush-Kilgore Debate

Issues in the Creation of the NSF

  • Merit vs. Geographical Diversity
  • Social Science Research
  • Who Appoints the NSF Director
  • Fundamental vs. Applied Industrial Research
how is public policy made
How is Public Policy Made?

“The processes by which public policies are formed are exceedingly complex. Agenda-setting, the development of alternatives and choices among those alternatives seem to be governed by different forces. Each of them is complicated by itself, and the relations among them add more complications. These processes are dynamic, fluid, and loosely joined.”

-- John Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies

many different theories on the how policy is made
Many Different Theories on the How Policy is Made
  • Incrementalism – “The Science of Muddling Through”

- Charles Lindblom, 1959

  • Garbage Can Model – Policy outcomes result from a mix of problems, solutions, participants, and participant resources.

- Cohen, March and Olsen, 1972

  • Primeval Soup Model – Ideas float around within policy communities, or “specialists, with some floating eventually to the top of the soup for consideration.

- John Kingdon, 1995

many different political theories on how groups interact to make policy
Many Different Political Theories on how Groups Interact to Make Policy
  • “Whirlpools”or centers of activities focused on specific special interests and social problems

- Ernest S. Griffith

  • Iron Triangles - Subgovernments composed of Administrative Staff, Interest Group, and Congressional Committees

- Douglas Carter, 1964

the science policy web
The Science Policy Web

--“Beyond Sputnik: National Science Policy in the 21st Century”

Neal, Smith, McCormick, University of Michigan Press (2008)

the legislative process is complex and counterintuitive
The Legislative Process is Complex and Counterintuitive

“Understanding the process by which a bill becomes a law requires no astrophysics. But understanding the system by which a bill becomes a law requires about the same amount of patients as the study of this technical science.”

-- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to American Government

why is science policy even more difficult to understand
Why is Science Policy Even More Difficult to Understand?

Pluralist in Nature

- Supported by Multiple Agencies

12 Federal Departments & 18 Independent Agencies, Commissions and Boards

- Overseen and Funded by Multiple Congressional Committees


Human Subjects in Research; Energy Research; Nanotechnology.

Oceanographic research

9 federal agencies and 47 Congressional committees and subcommittees have oversight according to Adm. Watkins.

12 federal departments with science and technology responsibilities
12 Federal Departments with Science and Technology Responsibilities
  • Department of Agriculture,
  • Department of Commerce,
  • Department of Defense,
  • Department of Education,
  • Department of Energy,
  • Department of Health and Human Services,
  • Department of Homeland Security,
  • Department of Interior,
  • Department of Justice,
  • Department of State,
  • Department of Transportation,
  • Department of Veterans Affairs,
18 federal agencies commissions with science and technology responsibilities
18 Federal Agencies & Commissions with Science and Technology Responsibilities
  • Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency,
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
  • Federal Aviation Administration,
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation,
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC),
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA),
  • National Institute of Standards & Technology,
  • National Institutes of Health,
  • National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration,
  • National Science Foundation (NSF),
  • National Security Agency (NSA),
  • National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC),
  • National Telecommunications Information Administration,
  • National Transportation Safety Board,
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC),
  • Patent & Trademark Office,
  • Smithsonian Institution,
  • U.S. Geological Survey,
who makes science policy
Who Makes Science Policy?

• White House/President


- OSTP/The Science Advisor

• Congress

-- Members of Congress

-- Committee Staff

-- Personal Staff

-- Congressional Support Agencies

e.g. CRS, GAO, Leg. Council

• Federal Agencies


• The Courts and the Judicial Branch

• National Academies

• Scientific Societies

• Higher Education Associations

• Washington Think Tanks

-- Brookings, Rand, AES, Heritage Foundation

who are the major partners with the federal government in the carrying out u s science policy
Who are the major partners with the Federal Government in the carrying out U.S. Science Policy?
  • Universities
  • National Laboratories
  • Industry
  • The States
  • The Public
why is science policy even more difficult to understand30
Why is Science Policy Even More Difficult to Understand?

Made at Multiple Levels…

  • Presidential (e.g. Stem Cells)
  • Congressional, OMB & OSTP
  • Agency
  • Individual Program Officers
mechanisms used in making science policy the president executive branch offices
Mechanisms Used in Making Science Policy The President & Executive Branch Offices


  • Presidential Directives and Executive Orders
  • Appointments of Key Officials/Advisory Committees
  • Budget/Presidential Initiatives
  • Treaties
  • Veto Authority

Executive Branch Offices

  • OMB Circulars
  • Interagency Memos
mechanisms used in making science policy the congress
Mechanisms Used in Making Science Policy The Congress


  • Laws
  • Creation of new agencies and federal entities
  • Budget/Appropriations
  • Senate Approval of Presidential Appointments
  • Oversight
mechanisms used in making science policy federal agencies and the courts
Mechanisms Used in Making Science Policy Federal Agencies and the Courts

Federal Agencies

  • Agency Policy
  • Interpretation/Implementation/Enforcement of Laws
  • Rulemaking
  • Budget


  • Interpretation of the Laws
  • Constitutionality
the federal budget where does the money go and why should you care
The Federal Budget:Where Does the Money Go? And Why Should You Care?
  • It's a LOT of money, and it used to be yours
    • The federal government spends $2.0 trillion a year, a fifth of the U.S. economy
  • You can't do POLICY in Washington without MONEY
    • Money makes policies possible, and lack of money prevents policies from happening
    • In these balanced-budget times, every policy decision has to be considered in the context of its effect on the budget
  • The budget takes up a lot of time and effort on Capitol Hill
    • Agencies and Congress spend an extraordinary amount of time every year on the budget
    • The budget has an annual cycle that affects nearly every decision in Washington; this year, it may be the only major thing that gets done
  • The federal budget determines the health of U.S. science and engineering research and education
    • The federal government spends over $110 billion a year on R&D
    • The federal government funds 60 percent of all university R&D, and also supports fellowships, scholarships, student loans, and other aid
    • R&D funding decisions are part of the budget process; this is where priorities are set for the federal investment

Source: Kei Koizumi, AAAS

the federal budget process
The Federal Budget Process

-- Beyond Sputnik: National Science Policy in the 21st Century, Neal, Smith, McCormick, University of Michigan Press (2008)

Prepared by Brad Nolen

keep in mind that regulations often impact science as much or more than the laws congress passes
Keep in mind that regulations often impact science as much or more than the laws Congress passes.
steps involved in rule making
Steps Involved in Rule Making
  • Proposed Rule is Drafted
  • Internal Government Review of Proposed Rule
  • Publication of Proposed Rule
  • Comment Period
  • Public Inspection of Comments
  • Analysis of Comments
  • Publication of Final Rule
understanding the process
Understanding the Process

The key to understanding the legislative and policy making process lies in realizing that you will never truly understand it…

…but you can learn how to navigate through it!

Widder and Smith, 2005

navigation tips
Navigation Tips:
  • All politics truly are local!
  • Build a relationship

-- of trust

-- that is mutually beneficial

  • Speak their language, not yours…
  • …but don’t pretend to be a native
  • Know when to talk
  • Translators can help you get your message across
Why Does Science Policy Matter?

Why Should More Scientists Get Involved?

What Can Scientists Learn from Politicians?

Why Effective Communication with the New Congress and New Administration Critical for the Scientific Community
  • Tight budgets mean obtaining adequate and sustained funding for key science agencies and programs will be difficult.

Don’t be fooled into thinking the large $$$s in the Economic Recovery Package are normal.

  • Questions will be asked concerning if past funding for science has been well spent and what has resulted from it.
  • A new Congress and Administration with new staff, new members, new committee chairs and new agency leaders means the need for education about science is great.
  • Defense, Defense, Defense - not only against Congressional actions but also to prevent regulations that can harm scientists’ ability to conduct science.
  • To help shape better public policy by providing scientific and technical input.
few members of congress come from science engineering backgrounds
Few Members of Congress come from Science & Engineering Backgrounds
  • Less than 5 percent have backgrounds in science and engineering.
  • According to CRS, there are three chemists, three physicists, a biomedical engineer, and a microbiologist among the 535 members of Congress.
  • Only 22 Members of the House and Senate have PhDs.
  • 11 have engineering degrees and 13 hold medical degrees.
  • 237 Members of Congress have law degrees.
scientists and engineers need to have a strong voice in washington
Scientists and Engineers Need to Have a Strong Voice in Washington
  • Many researchers do not like to communicate.
  • Many don’t have time to communicate.
  • When scientists and engineers do communicate, they are often not very effective.

-- Cultural divide

-- Entitlement mentality

-- Are often misunderstood

what can scientists learn from politicians
What Can Scientists Learn From Politicians?
  • You have to talk to be heard
  • Relationships outside your immediate peer group can be beneficial to you
  • Words matter
    • Avoid jargon
    • Don’t use acronyms
    • Shorter can be better
  • Accessibility, visibility and accountability matter
concluding thoughts on how to be effective in washington
Concluding Thoughts on how to be effective in Washington
  • Remember to say “thank you.”
  • Don’t pit one area of science against another.
  • Don’t politicize science.
  • Don’t be complacent!

U.S. Science Policy in

the 21st Century

by Homer A. Neal, Tobin L. Smith & Jennifer B. McCormick

University of Michigan Press, Expected July 2008

useful web sites resources
Useful Web Sites/Resources
  • AAAS --
  • AAU --
  • AIP Government Affairs --
  • Thomas --
  • Working With Congress, By Bill Wells
likely challenges for science policy in the future
Likely Challenges for Science Policy in the Future
  • Will the Public Continue to Support Science?
  • Merging of old scientific disciplines into new ones
  • Blurring of roles of traditional partners in science policy
  • Increasing intellectual property challenges
  • Increasing involvement of the courts in science policy
  • Better metrics by which to measure success needed
  • Globalization and the question of “who is us?”
  • Balancing homeland security and scientific needs
  • Growing politicization of science
  • Growing tension between science and religion
  • Increased attention to legal, ethical, and social implications
  • How do we attract more U.S. students to science?
  • Balance in funding across scientific disciplines
members of congress with science backgrounds
Members of Congress with Science Backgrounds
  • Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
  • Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ)
  • William Foster (D-IL)
  • Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD)
  • John Olver (D-MA)

“Too many voters have not made the connection between science and prosperity. Scientists need to tell the story. It’s a good story. It has to be told and it has to be sold. Tell the story with data, tell it with anecdotes and tell it often.”

~ Neal Lane, Ph.D. Former White House Science Advisor

what can politicians learn from scientists
What Can Politicians Learn from Scientists

“Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind”

--Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784

“The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

--Henry Ford

what can politicians learn from scientists cont
What Can Politicians Learn from Scientists Cont.
  • There is value in knowledge
  • Sometimes the correct solution is driven by asking the right questions
  • Not every problem has an easy and quick answer
  • Think not only for today but for tomorrow
  • Good science is essential to good policymaking

Executive Office of the President (EXOP)

White House Office

(Homeland Security Council, Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, Freedom Corps)

Office of

Management & Budget


Office of the

Vice President


Foreign Intelligence

Advisory Board

US Trade Representative


National Security Council


Domestic Policy Council

Nat’l Economic Council

Nat’l AIDS Policy

Office of


Council of

Environmental Quality


Office of National Drug Control Policy

Primarily career staff

Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP)

Council of

Economic Advisors


Primarily political staff

Mix of detailees, career, political


Dep. Assoc Dir.Technology

Conf. Assistant



Asst. Dir.

Life Sci.

Asst. Dir.


Asst. Dir.


Asst. Dir.

Ed/Soc Sci

Asst. Dir.

Home & Natl Sec.

Asst. Dir.Space & Aero

Ass DirTelecom & IT

Asst. DirTechnology

Sr Policy


Sr Policy


Sr Policy


Dep. Ass. DirHome & Natl Sec

Sr Policy


Sr Policy


Sr Policy






Policy Analyst




Assoc. Director for Technology

Assoc. Director for Science

Chief of Staff& General Counsel

Dep. Assoc Dir.Science

Intl AffairsCoordinator

Ass.Dir. Budget & Admin.

Ass. to Director Legislative Affairs

PCAST Exec.Dir & Counsel

Conf. Assistant


Ass. to Director Communications


Exec Secretary

Admin Assist




Budget Policy


Admin Assist


Admin Operations


Admin Operations




National Security Programs

  • State/USAI
  • Economic Affairs
  • C4 & Intelligence
  • Ops & Support
  • Force Structure & Investment
  • VA & Defense Health


Office of Federal Financial Management (OFFM)

Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP)

Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs (OIRA)


Natural Resource Programs

Human Resource


General Government


  • Energy
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General Counsel

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Resource Management Offices (RMOs)




Natural Resource Programs

National Security Programs

Human Resource


General Government















Office of Management & Budget


Resource Management Offices (RMOs)

federal budget timeline
Federal Budget Timeline
  • Early fallAgencies send initial budget requests to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
  • NovemberOMB reviews, modifies, and sends back to agencies.
  • DecemberAgencies make final appeals to OMB.
  • JanuaryOMB resolves appeals and assembles the final budget request.
  • February to MarchPresident submits budget request to Congress.Administration and agency officials testify in support of the budget request.Appropriations subcommittees (House and Senate) hold hearings with agency heads and outside public witnesses.

Taken from the American Mathematical Society, See:

federal budget timeline cont
Federal Budget Timeline Cont.
  • MayHouse and Senate adopt budget resolutions prepared by Budget Committees.Appropriations Committees (House and Senate) make 302(b) allocations.
  • JuneHouse Appropriations Subcommittees prepare appropriations bills.Senate Appropriations Subcommittees revise the House-passed bills.
  • July-AugustHouse passes spending bills; Senate passes revised bills.
  • SeptemberHouse-Senate conference committees resolve differences and agree on final versions of spending bills.President signs or vetoes final bills.
  • October 1Beginning of fiscal year:Congress passes continuing resolutions to maintain funding for any agencies affected by appropriations bills that have not been passed and signed by the beginning of the fiscal year.

Taken from the American Mathematical Society, See: