Anyone concerned about the state of technology R&D, education and the future of U.S. innovation has an ally in Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). Wolf is chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce, which means he has budget oversight for the National Science Foundation (NSF). I don’t know a lot about Wolf, but in the last few weeks he has emerged as a strong voice in favor of just the sort of things we like to talk about here.
On April 12, Wolf, along with Reps. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), introduced a bill that would pay the interest on student loans for math, science and engineering graduates who agree to work in their respective fields for at least five years. In a speech announcing the bill he said:
America’s dominance in science and innovation is slipping. We are facing today a critical shortage of science and engineering students in the United States. Unfortunately, there is little public awareness of this trend or its implications for jobs, industry or national security in America’s future. We need to make sure we have people who can fill these science and engineering positions.
Roll Call’s Morton M. Kondracke was at the speech. He talked to Wolf and some of the other VIPs in attendance, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and wrote about it in yesterday’s edition (paid subscription required; thanks to Computing Research Policy Blog for noticing this story first). Kondracke said:
Wolf also favors holding a blue-ribbon national conference on technology, trade and manufacturing where leaders of industry would highlight the danger to U.S. leadership. He wants to triple funding for federal basic-science programs over a period of years.
And he says the United States should establish a rich prize—of as much as $1 billion—for the solution to major scientific problems such as the discovery of an alternative to fossil fuels.
Wolf told me in an interview, rather diplomatically, that “I personally believe that [the Bush administration is] underfunding science. Not purposefully. I think we have a deficit problem, and previous administrations have underfunded it also.”
Gingrich is less diplomatic. “I am totally puzzled by what they’ve done with the basic-research budget,” he told me. “As a national security conservative and as a world trade-economic competition conservative, I cannot imagine how they could have come up with this budget.”
He continued: “There’s no point in arguing with them internally. They’re going to do what they are going to do. But I think if this Congress does not substantially raise the research budget, we are unilaterally disarming from the standpoint of international competition.”
I’m scheduled to talk with someone who helps set technology policy for the administration early next week. I have a lot of questions in mind, but since the comments you all leave are often more thoughtful than the posts I write, I figured I should ask you for ideas. So, given the chance to interview an administration official about U.S. technology policy, what would you ask?