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Virtually from the beginning of the history of the United States as an independent nation, enterprising individuals in theexecutive branch have recognized that a liberal approach to federal involvement in science for defense purposes could be used to justify broader non-defensefederal involvement. A classic example is President Thomas Jefferson’s national defense argument for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, positing that an overland route from the western boundary of the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase to thePacific Ocean was essential for both commercial and long-range defense considerations. Dupree, op. cit. , 24-29. Subsequent geographical, geological, botanical, and ethnographic surveys of the Western lands, along withcoastal surveys and oceanic and polar expeditions, were similarly justified.

The military also provided an initial safe haven for federal intrusion into astronomical observation, standard-setting,meteorology, medicine, public health, and—more recently—nuclear energy, computers, and solid-state electronics. Many scientific capabilities nurturedand legitimized in military departments were eventually spun off to civilian- oriented cabinet departments or new, independent agencies. Some examples: theCoast and Geodetic Survey (1878), Ibid., 203. the U.S. Geological Survey (1879), Ibid., 208-11. the Weather Bureau (1890), Ibid., 192. the National Bureau of Standards (1902), Ibid., 281. and the Public Health Service (1912). Ibid., 291. And the first federal organization to provide support for basic research inuniversities was the Office of Naval Research, by act of Congress in 1946.

Congress saw clear advantages to having non- military federal organizations responsible for scientific research. For onething, the arrangement gave Congress more oversight into the activities of the non-military bureaus.

Impacts of military crises

Generally, military considerations sparked by actual or potential crises have been responsible for repeated attempts tostrengthen institutional links between government and non-government science. The National Academy of Sciences was established during the Civil War andchartered to provide advice to the federal government when requested. Ibid., 263. However, until the late 1940s, such requests were rare. The National Research Council was established in an attemptto revitalize the NAS system during World War I. The National Research Council and its constituent bodies, the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, and theInstitute of Medicine, are chartered by the U.S. Congress to undertake studies at the request of executive branch agencies and congressional committees.Studies produced by panels convened by these bodies have a justifiably excellent record for maintaining their objectivity, despite their sponsor. Beginning inthe 1970s, the NAS began to acquire an endowment so that it could undertake studies on its own initiative. Members of NRC panels and those of its parentorganizations receive no honoraria for their participation. Precedents established by Vannevar Bush's World War II OSRD underlay much of thepostwar debate about the institutional details of U.S. science policy and the conceptual framework for a national science policy.

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Source:  OpenStax, A history of federal science policy from the new deal to the present. OpenStax CNX. Jun 26, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11210/1.2
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