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National research and development expenditures

In 1967, total R&D expenditures were estimated at $23.3 billion (or $97.7 billion in 2000 constant, inflation-adjusted dollars), with private industry accounting for $8.1 billion (34.9 percent) of the total, the federal government $14.6 billion (62.9 percent of the total), colleges and universities $.2 billion (0.9 percent of the total), and other sources—including non-profit organizations—contributing the balance. The PSAC-recommended space program accounted for a large portion of the increase in spending.

Nineteen sixty-five marked a little-recognized turning point in national R&D expenditures. During that year, federal R&D expenditures were approximately 51 percent of the national total, with expenditures by private industry approximately 25 percent. Thereafter, federal R&D expenditure would decline relative to those of industry.

The early johnson years

By 1967, it was becoming clear that the presidential science advisory system no longer enjoyed the same level of influence with President Lyndon Johnson that it had during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. What was not clear then (and is still a matter of debate) is whether the system’s eclipse was a temporary phenomenon due primarily to the personality and operating style of the president, or whether it was symptomatic of deeper structural problems. One obvious reason for PSAC’s earlier influence was the compatibility between Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had chosen their science advisors themselves. In contrast, Princeton Chemistry Professor Donald Hornig, who became science advisor to Johnson in 1964, had never met the president prior to his appointment. Hornig had been a member of PSAC since 1960 and was invited by Kennedy to become his new science advisor one week before Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson confirmed that invitation in January 1964. Hornig, according to his own recollections, never became close to the president, even though he served as his science advisor through 1968. Hornig, op. cit.

PSAC did manage to maintain its continuity after Johnson became president. Sixteen Kennedy appointees served into the Johnson years; among them, four were reappointed by Johnson. Of the thirty-three who served on PSAC during the Johnson years, twenty were physical scientists (twelve of them physicists), four were engineers, four represented biology and medicine, and the remainder were scattered among other disciplines. In February 1968, Herbert Simon, an economist, became the first social scientist to be appointed to PSAC.

Hornig’s recollections of his tenure as science advisor are notable for their wit and candor. Hornig, op. cit . Although he was never close to the president or fully accepted by his praetorian guard, his OST became fully operational during the Johnson administration. At its peak, OST employed twenty full-time professionals, and retained over two hundred part-time consultants. Despite (or perhaps because of) its impressive staff capabilities, the focus of the science advisory system changed under Johnson. During the last two years of the Kennedy administration, PSAC issued several reports concerned with national defense issues. From 1964 through 1968, it issued twelve reports, none concerned with defense. (Hornig, however, recalls that many PSAC contributions never went to the president or were part of formal reports. Rather, they were transmitted informally to Department of Defense officials.)

Certainly, PSAC anticipated many non-defense–related science-policy debates to come. In 1963, barely a year after publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring , PSAC issued a report on The Use of Pesticides . Of the twelve public reports it issued during the Johnson and first Nixon administrations, four were devoted to environmental problems. But it is questionable if either president took these reports seriously, or ever even saw them.

Although Hornig had little direct access to the president, OST had a considerable influence on government through informal contacts with executive agencies at the staff level, through presidential messages to the Congress, and through R&D budgets. If presidential access was denied to PSAC and the science advisor, access by OST staff to other units of the EoP and to the pertinent line agencies seems to have been better under Johnson than even during the golden years of the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.

Hornig has lamented that during his tenure the OST staff was often more concerned with establishing and nurturing contacts in the EoP and throughout the executive branch in their own specialties than in supporting the broad-gauged, PSAC-based system whose original intent was to provide policy for issues on the presidential agenda. From a different perspective, OST was beginning to master the art of dealing within the federal bureaucracy, even as the science advisor and PSAC were losing influence on the president. An intriguing though largely unanswered (or even unasked) question concerns the extent to which the interests of PSAC and the OST staff began diverging during the Johnson years. Also rarely asked is the question of whether the U.S. science community had come to equate special access to the president with a coherent national science policy.

Questions & Answers

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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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