From the Hill


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Marburger confirmed as science advisor; OSTP moves questioned

New science advisor John H. Marburger III, confirmed by the Senate on October 23, has taken steps that have increased anxiety among some members of the science community about the Bush administration’s interest in science.

Marburger, who will be director of the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) but who will not have the position of assistant to the president as previous advisors did, said he would eliminate two of OSTP’s four associate directors. The environment and national security positions will be incorporated into either the science or technology directorates.

Science policy experts said that with the new war on terrorism, Marburger should be forging ties between the scientific and national security communities. In addition, dropping the environment directorate, they said, reinforces the view that the administration has little interest in issues such as climate change.

Some members of the science community are also concerned about the nomination of Richard Russell, currently OSTP chief of staff and a former staff member of the House Science Committee, to serve as chief of the technology directorate. Unlike most of his predecessors, Russell does not have an advanced science degree or extensive industry experience.

“This is not an academic appointment, and dealing with academic aspects of technology is only part of what we do,” said Marburger, according to a report in the November 2, 2001, Science. In the same article, Marburger, formerly the director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, rejected speculation that the White House dictated the changes at OSTP. In addition to Russell, Kathie Olsen, science advisor at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has been nominated to head the science directorate.

In testimony at his October 9 confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Marburger highlighted the economic and national security challenges facing the United States and provided insights into how these challenges could affect the scientific community. He opened his remarks by reinforcing the importance of science and technology (S&T), stating that it has “provided us with increased security, better health, and greater economic opportunity and will continue to do so for many generations to come.” However, he said, “We must make important choices together, because we have neither unlimited resources nor a monopoly of the world’s scientific talent. While I believe that we should seek to excel in all scientific disciplines, we must still choose among the multitudes of possible research programs. We must decide which ones to launch, encourage, and enhance and which ones to modify, reevaluate, or redirect in keeping with our national needs and capabilities.”

Marburger outlined “grand challenges” in four areas: national security, environment, health care, and education. He noted that S&T could assist in developing innovative technologies and vaccines as well as traditional weapons for U.S. soldiers. He said that scientific advances hold promise for the “creation of a sustainable future in which our environmental health, our economic prosperity, and our quality of life are mutually reinforcing.” And he pointed out that genetic medicine offers the “greatest hope” but also raises important ethical, legal, and social implications. Although the United States should pursue the latest technologies, he said, we should also be sure to “incorporate our oldest and most cherished human values.” Marburger also noted that achieving diversity in the S&T workforce presents a “formidable challenge.”

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) praised Marburger’s scientific and administrative experience. “No one can spend time around Jack Marburger without being impressed, ” he said. “He is thoughtful, articulate, and straightforward–traits all too rare around this town.” He noted the important role that the science advisor would play to “marshal our public and private research resources in service of the effort to protect our citizens and prosecute the war against terrorism.”

Indeed, Marburger’s first test in the realm of science policy will be how well he incorporates scientific research and education into terrorism-related programs. He was immediately tapped to work with the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, part of the new Homeland Security Council, to address the issue of monitoring nonimmigrant student visitors and using innovative technologies to enforce immigration policies.

Colleges drop opposition to more tracking of foreign students

In the wake of reports that one or more of the terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks entered the United States on student visas, the academic community has reversed its staunch opposition to electronic tracking of foreign students at U.S. colleges. Universities are now emphasizing that their objections apply only to the fee structure associated with the new system, not the system as a whole.

Nevertheless, because of the importance of attracting international students to study in the United States and because of a controversial moratorium on student visas briefly proposed by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), concerns about the issue remain.

Currently, colleges and universities are required to keep track of information such as program end date, field of study, credits completed per semester, and student employment. Schools must provide this information to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) upon request, but the system is paper-based, meaning that requiring frequent reports of such information would generate a huge quantity of paperwork.

Feinstein has strongly criticized the current system. “Today, there is little scrutiny given to those who claim to be foreign students seeking to study in the United States,” she said in a September 27 press release. “In fact, the foreign student visa program is one of the most unregulated and exploited visa categories.”

Education groups dispute this claim, arguing that the existing tracking requirements, scant as they may be, still place foreign students among the most scrutinized groups of temporary visa holders. They point out that, according to INS statistics, only 1.8 percent, or 567,000, of the 31 million nonimmigrant visas issued in fiscal 1999 were issued to students.

The electronic tracking system under development by the INS is called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Mandated by the 1996 immigration law, the system’s implementation has lagged behind schedule because of a lack of funds. Congress intended the system to be supported by fees collected from visiting students, but a fee structure has yet to be worked out.

INS first proposed a fee structure in 1999 that would have required colleges and universities to collect a $95 fee from each foreign student. But university officials objected to this proposal on the grounds that it imposed an undue burden. They particularly criticized INS for proposing to collect fees before the tracking system was operational in order to cover the system’s development costs. The INS then proposed a fee collection system requiring students to pay directly before entering the country, but this proposal raised new questions about students’ ability to pay.

Several proposals have been made on the Hill to hasten the implementation of SEVIS. The antiterrorism USA-Patriot Act, signed into law on October 26, authorizes the INS to spend $36.8 million on the system through the end of 2002. With this money in hand, the INS would not have to collect student fees to pay for the system’s development, although fees would still be necessary to cover maintenance costs. The antiterrorism act also expands SEVIS to include students at flight, language, and vocational schools.

Although Feinstein has dropped her idea for a moratorium on student visas and says she is now confident that the education community will cooperate with implementation of SEVIS, Reps. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) are not so sure. They have introduced a bill (H.R. 3221) that would impose a nine-month moratorium on student visas.

Several other legislative proposals are in the works. One is a bill (S. 1627) authored by Feinstein and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that would require implementation of SEVIS by January 1, 2003; require the State Department to impose an application fee on anyone applying for a student visa in order to fund SEVIS; require quarterly reports to be filed by any university hosting foreign students; and prohibit anyone from terrorist-supporting states such as Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Libya from obtaining a student visa.

A border security bill (S. 1618, H.R. 3205) proposed by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) includes sections that would expand data collection and reporting requirements under SEVIS and mandate periodic reviews by the INS of institutions certified to host foreign students.

Another bill (S. 1518, H.R. 3077), offered by Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.), would expand SEVIS to include information on any dependent family members accompanying a student.

The White House has also taken an interest in the issue. The newly created Homeland Security Council’s Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force has as one of its main goals a “thorough review of student visa policies.” The task force has been asked to “institute tighter controls and ensure that student visas are being issued appropriately.” A goal of the program is to prohibit the education and training of foreign nationals “who would use their training to harm the United States and its allies.”

President appoints science and technology advisors

On December 12, President Bush named the members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which has the job of providing the president and the Office of Science and Techology Policy with independent expert guidance on science and technology issues. Although PCAST has not been particularly influential in federal policy, appointment does carry prestige, and the choice of members provides some indication of the president’s priorities and interests.

In comparison with recent PCAST rosters, President Bush’s council is drawn more heavily from business, particularly the information technology sector, than from the laboratory. Even the university representatives are almost all administrators rather than researchers. In fact, Arizona State University plant biologist Charles J. Arntzen is the only fulltime lab scientist.

The full PCAST roster is:

  • Charles J. Arntzen, chairman, department of plant biology, Arizona State University.
  • Norman R. Augustine, former chairman and chief executive officer, Lockheed Martin Corporation.
  • Carol Bartz, chairman and chief executive officer, Autodesk Inc.
  • M. Kathleen Behrens, managing director, Robertson Stephens & Company.
  • Eric Bloch, corporate research-and-development management consultant, Washington Advisory Group, and former National Science Foundation director.
  • Stephen B. Burke, president, Comcast Cable Communications.
  • Gerald W. Clough, president, Georgia Institute of Technology.
  • Michael S. Dell, chairman and chief executive officer, Dell Computer Corporation.
  • Raul J. Fernandez, chief executive officer, Dimension Data of North America.
  • Marye Anne Fox, chancellor, North Carolina State University.
  • Martha Gilliland, chancellor, University of Missouri at Kansas City.
  • Ralph Gomory, president, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
  • Bernadine P. Healy, former president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross and former director of the National Institutes of Health.
  • Robert J. Herbold, executive vice president, Microsoft Corporation.
  • Barbara Kilberg, president, Northern Virginia Technology Council.
  • E. Floyd Kvamme, partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
  • John H. Marburger III, director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • Walter E. Massey, president, Morehouse College, and former National Science Foundation director.
  • Gordon E. Moore, chairman emeritus, Intel Corporation.
  • E. Kenneth Nwabueze, chief executive officer, SageMetrics.
  • Steven G. Papermaster, chairman, Powershift Group.
  • Luis M. Proenza, president, University of Akron.
  • George Scalise, president, Semiconductor Industry Association.
  • Charles M. Vest, president, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“From the Hill” is prepared by the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (www.aaas.org/spp) in Washington, D.C., and is based on articles from the center’s bulletin Science & Technology in Congress.

Cite this Article

"From the Hill." Issues in Science and Technology 18, no. 2 (Winter 2002).