Chapter 17





Senior Fellow, ITIF

Chapter 17

Managing Technology Policy at the White House

David M. Hart


The Clinton administration came into office with ambitious plans to restructure the nation’s technology policy. Its goals included the reallocation of R&D funds among federal agencies and missions; the transformation of the relationships among public, private, and non-profit institutions involved in the innovation process; and the rapid development of programs that were supposed to enhance the contribution of these institutions to economic growth. The Clinton-Gore technology policy was an integral part of the administration’s larger economic “investment” program, whose success or failure was expected to be a central determinant of the American people’s judgment of the administration at the polls.

These ambitions inevitably placed new demands on the White House for development and oversight of technology policy. This chapter’s purpose is to review how these functions have been handled during the first Clinton administration and to offer some suggestions for the future. The first section considers the broad motivations and pressures that have impelled presidents to expand their involvement in technology policy-making as the economy and the role of technology in it have evolved. The next section briefly describes the emergence over the past few decades of institutional capacities for managing technology policy in the Executive Office of the President, which set the stage for the Clinton administration’s efforts, discussed in the following section. It describes the initiatives of President Clinton and Vice President Gore and assesses their effects on the ability of the administration to meet the expectations it established during the 1992 campaign. The chapter concludes with recommendations that aim to refine the technology policy-making process, with particular focus on the National Economic Council, the National Science and Technology Council. and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.


(1) The President and the Challenge of Managing Technology Policy

The administration’s vision of technology policy reflected economic facts, political calculations, and managerial necessities. Technological innovation plays an important role in economic growth, as Michael Borrus and Jay Stowsky show in Chapter 2 of this volume; this role is expanding as the international economy becomes more closely integrated. However, the innovation process is not uniform over time or across economic sectors. The market provides powerful incentives for innovation at some times and in some sectors, but it can also fail to provide such incentives in a variety of different ways. A centralized “one size fits all” technology policy would constitute a poor response to the challenge posed by these economic facts.

However, designing and calibrating policies that can address each type of market failure in industrial innovation is no mean task. The pluralistic American system of government is to some extent well-suited to the job, since it encompasses a variety of federal and state agencies that have diverse competencies stemming from their various missions. Each agency’s skills and expertise might be drawn upon to address market failures specific to innovation processes in the particular industries or regions with which it is most familiar. The U.S. government has recorded quite a few technology policy successes in the past, allowing economically valuable ideas that might have otherwise been stifled to be reduced to practice and diffused. On the other hand, there have also been many occasions in which the public sector has wasted resources, misaligned incentives, or locked the national technical effort into “the hot pursuit of dead ends,” as Harvey Brooks puts it. The Clinton administration judged that the risk of market failure in technological innovation outweighed the risk of government failure. This judgment was, by necessity, largely political, since the conditions that determine each type of failure have not been (and perhaps cannot be) definitively established. The Clinton-Gore policy reflected a hope widely shared in the Democratic Party that technology might be an area in which faith in government economic activism could be restored.

This hope could not be fulfilled without careful management, as the administration recognized. The same pluralism that promises tailored policy solutions to particular barriers to innovation can also contribute to a variety of policy pathologies, including jurisdictional confusion, agency capture, and excessive bureaucratic autonomy. To be effective, the federal government must have a coordinated approach to the assessment of promising opportunities, the formulation of technology policy options, and decision-making. Once a policy has been authorized, responsibility for its implementation must be clearly assigned to the appropriate agency or agencies, multi-agency tasks allocated, and the policy evaluated in practice. These management tasks are the responsibility of the president. Congress plays an enormous role in technology policy and performs all of these functions to some extent but, because of its committee structure, it cannot do so as systematically nor take into account as broad a range of considerations as the president. The president has a longer time horizon than most members of Congress, and the office has the entire nation as its constituency. The incumbent is held responsible for the nation’s economic performance and has taken the lead role in economic policy formulation through most of the twentieth century.


(1) The President and Technology Policy: A Brief History

Herbert Hoover was the first president to take a deep interest in the impact of technological innovation on economic growth and to explore the potential for a constructive federal role in the innovation process. As secretary of commerce from 1921 to 1928, Hoover began to build what he sometimes called an economic “general staff” that could, among other things, identify technologically backward industries and assist them in organizing cooperative research programs. As president, Hoover sponsored two expert committees that considered this set of issues, but their reports yielded little in the way of concrete policy recommendations, much less a framework for implementation.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt established a Science Advisory Board in 1933, but rejected its proposals to “put science to work” against the Depression. In his second term, Roosevelt established a rudimentary capacity within the White House to monitor technological developments and their effects: the science and technology committees of the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB). Like Hoover’s committees, the NRPB’s reports raised the visibility of key technology policy issues but did not advance or implement solutions. The NRPB never developed into the planning apparatus that Roosevelt’s reorganization plan for the executive branch envisioned; it was highly unpopular among Congressional conservatives, who finally killed it in 1943.

Two revolutions radically diminished the significance of technology policy planning with respect to economic growth during the 1940s. One was the military revolution of World War II, in which the nation’s scientific and technological capacities were fully mobilized for the first time. This mobilization owed much to the brilliant policy entrepreneurship of Vannevar Bush. With the full backing of the president, Bush devised innovative arrangements for engaging academic scientists and high-technology firms in the development of new weapons and instrumentalities of war. Along the way, he became the arbiter of all science and technology policy issues, including efforts to build up the government’s capacity to manage civilian technological development in the postwar period. Vice President Henry Wallace, for instance, hoped that the war emergency could be used to break up technological monopolies, to extend technical assistance to small manufacturers, and to justify direct investments in the development of new industries, such as synthetic rubber. But Bush opposed these efforts, and they therefore came to little. The second revolution was the Keynesian revolution, which identified fiscal and monetary causes and solutions for economic problems, and ignored microeconomic factors such as the pace and direction of technological innovation. Authority for macroeconomic policy in the executive branch rested in the Bureau of the Budget (BoB), which had inherited the remnants of the NRPB, and the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA), which was established in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) in 1946.

For much of the postwar period, economic policy meant macroeconomic policy; microeconomic policy, including civilian technology policy, was given short shrift. National security concerns dominated the federal technology agenda. Successive presidents developed management capacities in order to adjudicate technical disputes among the national security agencies and to formulate, legitimize, and promote new technological initiatives that they hoped would help to win the Cold War. These developments culminated in the appointment of a special assistant to the president for science and technology (a position which became known colloquially as the president’s science advisor) and a President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in 1957, and in the establishment of the Office of Science and Technology (OST) in the EOP in 1962. The authority of the science advisor, PSAC, and OST rose, and ultimately fell, primarily on the basis of their relationship with the president on national security issues, although they could and did get involved in other issues from time to time. Occasional efforts to focus federal technology policy on economic issues in the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s typically (although not always) ran into insuperable opposition from the BoB (renamed the Office of Management and Budget [OMB] in 1970), or from Congress.

President Richard Nixon abolished the White House special assistant post and PSAC and transferred OST’s duties to the National Science Foundation in 1973. Nixon wanted his scientific advisors to be loyal to the administration’s policy positions and was infuriated by public criticisms of the supersonic transport (SST) program and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty by some members of PSAC. The president’s reorganization of the science advisory apparatus prompted vigorous objections from the scientific community, a reaction that contributed to the establishment by statute of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in the EOP in 1976. Under President Jimmy Carter and his science advisor, Frank Press, OSTP began to take a more active interest in technology and the economy than had OST. Press, for instance, recommended the interagency policy review that produced two major packages of industrial innovation initiatives that President Carter submitted to Congress in 1979 and 1980.

President Ronald Reagan, by contrast, had little interest in this sort of microeconomic intervention. His economic revitalization program was built around broad tax cuts; technological dynamism was expected to flow from the incentives to private enterprise that this policy supplied. Reagan tapped a relatively obscure physicist from the defense laboratory system, George Keyworth, as science advisor. In keeping with Keyworth’s strengths and the president’s priorities, OSTP returned to the traditional emphasis on national security issues in the Reagan years.

President George Bush appointed a science advisor, D. Allan Bromley, who was more inclined to take the initiative in civilian technology policy than Keyworth or William Graham (who had followed Keyworth in the post). Bromley established an Industrial Technology Division of OSTP for the first time. He also revived the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology (FCCSET), composed of representatives of the major science and technology agencies. Bromley’s FCCSET devised the “crosscut” process, in which the Council identified program areas of interest to several agencies, developed interagency coordinating structures for them, and recommended budget increases. Crosscut program areas included high performance computing and communication, advanced materials, biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing, among others. However, most of President Bush’s senior advisors, particularly Richard Darman, the director of OMB, were far less enthusiastic about these initiatives and far more powerful than Bromley. Darman and his colleagues agreed that technological innovation was critical for economic growth, but they bridled at pressure from the Democratic majority in Congress to identify and target “critical technologies,” a term that Bromley endorsed. To the extent that Bromley succeeded in getting the FCCSET technology crosscuts included in the administration’s budgets, the senior White House staff considered them to be preemptive concessions to Congressional Democrats, rather than true expressions of administration policy. A similar dynamic enveloped Bromley’s attempt to issue a formal technology policy. A document entitled “U.S. Technology Policy” came forth from OSTP, but its influence was modest.


(1) The First Clinton Administration’s Ambitions

Governor Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign issue strategy was famously summarized as “it’s the economy, stupid.” The Democratic candidate accused the Bush administration of apathy and inactivity across a wide economic policy front. Drawing heavily on ideas that had already been advanced in Congress, including many that were championed by Senator Al Gore, the Clinton-Gore campaign added technology policy to its national economic strategy in September, 1992. The campaign statement said: “America can compete and win, but only if we have a positive vision guiding our economic policies. Leadership in developing and commercializing new technologies is critical to regaining industrial leadership.” After the election, the campaign promises were refined into an official policy document, titled “Technology for America’s Economic Growth: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength” and issued by the new president and vice president just a month after their inauguration.

The Clinton-Gore policy proposed major shifts in the composition of federal research and development (R&D) spending, most notably by raising the share of civilian and dual-use R&D spending to 50 percent of the total. Among the favored programs were the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, which was to drop the word “Defense” from its name and become ARPA), the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a variety of computing and communications projects comprising much of the “national information infrastructure” (NII) initiative, and SEMATECH. (These programs are discussed in more detail in chapters 6, 7, 10, 13 and 15 of this volume.) The policy also promised a range of non-spending initiatives, in such areas as taxation, antitrust, trade, education, and environmental and safety regulation, to speed the pace of technological innovation.

To carry out these plans, “Technology for America’s Economic Growth” proposed “major changes in the way we manage our efforts … to ensure the highest possible return on our investments and to ensure that tax, regulatory and other efforts reinforce instead of frustrate our work.” One institution that the policy aimed to take advantage of was the National Economic Council (NEC). Established at the very outset of the administration, the NEC would, its designers hoped, ultimately rival the National Security Council (NSC) in stature. Composed of Cabinet and ranking White House officials and chaired by the president, the NEC had a mandate to integrate international and domestic economic policy issues, coordinate policy development, set the economic agenda for the president, and ensure that his decisions were carried out. Like the NSC, the NEC was managed by an assistant to the president who had wide authority and direct access. Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs was appointed to this position in December 1992. The “charter” of the NEC, an executive order issued on January 25, 1993, explicitly included technology policy in its jurisdiction, a domain that was affirmed in “Technology for America’s Economic Growth.” The NEC staff comprised some twenty professionals (the NSC, by contrast, had well over 100), hired primarily for their political and policy process management skills.

The new administration also promised to “reinvigorate” OSTP. President Clinton appointed a science advisor, John H. Gibbons, four months earlier in his administration than Bush had appointed Bromley. Gibbons’ appointment “shattered tradition” (according to the Washington Post), because he had spent the previous decade in Washington, directing the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), rather than in a research university, national laboratory, or corporate R&D operation. Gibbons was seen as more politically savvy, for better or worse, than his predecessors. He was closely linked to the vice president, who was assigned overall responsibility for directing science and technology policy. The new science advisor retained the basic organizational structure and staffing pattern for OSTP that Bromley had established, including designating one of OSTP’s four divisions to focus on technology. It was widely assumed that this division’s duties would absorb much of Gibbons’ attention.

“Technology for America’s Economic Growth” stated that FCCSET would be “strengthened.” In November 1993, after a major investment of political capital by the science advisor, FCCSET was officially upgraded to become the new National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The NSTC paralleled the NEC and NSC in form as well as in its initials; it was composed of Cabinet officers and agency heads, chaired by the president, managed by an assistant to the president (Gibbons), and authorized to formulate Presidential Review Directives (PRDs) and Presidential Decision Directives (PDDs). Gibbons pictured the newly-established Council as a “virtual agency.” Its work was to be done mainly by nine subcabinet interagency committees, which were co-chaired and supported by OSTP and agency personnel. The Technology Division of OSTP was given responsibility for four of these committees, which covered civilian industrial technology, education and training R&D, information and communication R&D, and transportation R&D. Given the tight fiscal environment, the most significant implicit goal of the NSTC was to settle interagency disputes over R&D spending before they reached OMB in the normal budget process. As Associate Director of OSTP for Technology Lionel Johns put it in late 1994, “NSTC is inventing new ways of establishing R&D priorities.”

OMB retained its broad-ranging influence in the new administration. The budget struggles that characterized the Bush years had, if anything, enhanced OMB’s power. Its authority stretched far beyond the budget, officially encompassing proposed legislation, regulations, and Congressional testimony by administration officials, and actually encompassing just about anything. OMB’s professional staff, which does not turn over with the change of administrations, has a deep knowledge of federal programs; as the EOP’s main institutional memory, OMB had informational as well as structural advantages over other EOP organizations, particularly at the start of the new administration. Leon Panetta, whom Clinton appointed to direct OMB, had no particular interest in technology policy, but his organization was sure to be involved in it.

By contrast Laura Tyson, Clinton’s choice as chair of the CEA, had (like her predecessor, Michael Boskin) a long-standing interest in the linkages between technology, public policy, and economic growth. Although Tyson frequently acted as an advocate for the administration’s technology program, the institutional responsibilities and modus operandi of CEA were not slated to change, limiting Tyson’s engagement in technology policy.

The entire process of reorganizing the technology policy-making apparatus was affected by the president’s promise to reduce the White House staff by 25 percent. This reduction, depending on how it was defined and implemented, had two potential effects. One possibility was that the White House would be less capable of making and overseeing technology policy. Another was that it would be forced to rely more heavily on the operating agencies for this work. In the latter case, much of the work would fall to the Technology Administration in the Department of Commerce, which was headed up by Undersecretary for Technology Mary Good. In this job, Good was responsible for implementing some of the main programmatic elements of the Clinton-Gore policy, including ATP and MEP, and could draw upon a forty-person Office of Technology Policy (OTP). In the NSTC framework, Good co-chaired the Committee on Civilian Industrial Technology with Johns.

With this set of management and coordination bodies in place, the new administration appeared to have undertaken a reform of the technology policy process as extensive as its reform of the content of that policy. Its larger commitments to economic growth and the specific campaign promises on technology policy’s role in economic growth motivated these undertakings. The new institutional framework, however, was never fully utilized, nor, in my view, was it likely to have worked well if it had been fully utilized. Some of its components, on the other hand, seem to have been successful experiments that deserve to be carried on.


(1) The First Clinton Administration: A Tentative Assessment

Although the president abandoned much of his ambitious investment agenda in 1993 in order to bring down the deficit and interest rates, he was, like most presidents, careful to follow through (or at least to attempt to follow through) on most of his specific campaign promises. In the first two years of the Clinton administration, programs like ATP, TRP, MEP, and the information infrastructure-related programs did experience the large budget increases that had been proposed in February 1993. The president went to the mat for his technology policy in the conflict with the Republican Congress over the budget in the winter of 1995–96. Perhaps the biggest unkept promise was equalizing the ratio of federal non-defense (including dual-use) and defense R&D spending; after moving toward 50:50 through fiscal 1996, it slipped back to favor defense as the Republicans exerted their legislative authority. Overall, though, given the stringency of the discretionary budget, R&D spending did relatively well in the first term in the eyes of observers on both sides of the political aisle.

The process by which the campaign promises were redeemed and by which new initiatives in civilian technology policy were developed as the initial agenda items were completed was, however, far from the model outlined at the outset of the administration. By all accounts, the chaotic nature of policy-making in the Clinton White House has not been confined to technology policy. This “adhocracy” (to borrow a term from Roger Porter) reflected the president’s decision-making style, the unusually turbulent politics of the 104th Congress and, perhaps, the self-inflicted wound of White House staff cuts. Vice President Gore, to whom technology policy was delegated, might have preferred a more structured decision-making process but, if so, he was swept up in the tide. On a few initiatives with which the vice president was personally affiliated, such as the NII and the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), his office played an integral role in all phases of the policy process. More typically, however, its participation was sporadic.

The NEC may plausibly be compared to the NSC, although it certainly never acquired the breadth of jurisdiction over economic policy issues that the NSC had over security issues. The president relied heavily on a process organized by the NEC in making the key decisions on the 1993 economic package, for instance, but the Council was largely shut out of the development of the president’s health care plan, despite the plan’s enormous economic and budgetary implications. The NEC principals, who meet regularly, have rarely, if ever, addressed civilian technology policy issues. Meetings convened by NEC deputies have effectively resolved some issues in this area, for instance, at the intersection of technology and trade policy. The NEC’s most important impacts on technology policy, however, have been the result of the sustained interest of a few members of its 20-person staff. These staff members act more as policy entrepreneurs than as convenors or “honest brokers” of agency interests, as the economic assistant and his or her (Tyson replaced Rubin in this job in 1995) deputies have sometimes been described. They have connections on Capitol Hill and to the political side of the White House, which assist them in devising strategy and gaining allies. They can also draw on the clout of their superiors at NEC. Backed by this authority, the NEC staff was able to exert some leverage on OMB and the operating agencies. Several of the first-term initiatives were spearheaded at this level. However, a few professionals, no matter how hard they work, can only do so much. As the need grew to conceive, develop, and execute new agenda items, beyond those inherited from the pre-Clinton Congress, the NEC’s lack of analytical capability and staff support became an increasingly severe constraint.

Early in the term, OSTP, too, seemed to be very influential in technology policy-making as it related to the economy. A report in Science claimed that Gibbons met with the president nearly every day. OSTP took the leading role in the establishment of the PNGV, the administration’s first major technology policy initiative, which involved negotiations at the very highest levels. But OSTP has not lived up to its early billings. Gibbons is not perceived to wield much clout in the White House. OSTP has focused much of its energy on the federal R&D budget, but its influence has been modest by most accounts. The guidance issued annually at the beginning of the budget process under the signature of the science advisor and the director of OMB is so general as to justify almost anything the agencies are doing. A great deal of OSTP staff time has been absorbed administering the NSTC committees, which have not generally been able to exert influence on the R&D budget commensurate with this effort. OSTP’s participation in reviews of agency budgets, which is largely at the discretion of OMB, has been more effective, and OSTP deserves a share of the credit for the good showing of the R&D accounts in the Clinton budget proposals, including its technology R&D programs. The complaints that OSTP has been less than vigilant on behalf of R&D spending, which sometimes issue from the research community, are not shared by those inside the policy process; if anything, OSTP’s views are sometimes discounted as those of a special pleader representing this community.

A critique more commonly offered by observers outside OSTP is that it lacks the entrepreneurial capabilities necessary to succeed in an “adhocracy.” It is not oriented enough toward problems that ought to be of pressing concern to the president; it has little feel for political strategy; and it lacks the ideas and clout to bring the relevant players to the table. To some extent, this critique misses OSTP’s unsung achievements, particularly in heading off (or trying to head off) the adoption of technically misconceived ideas. Avoiding mistakes is an essential goal of OSTP, but is as difficult to take credit for as avoiding budget cuts. However, given its weak structural position in the EOP and its feeble political constituency, OSTP’s effectiveness depends largely on its ability to work with more powerful organizations, such as the NEC and OMB. Despite some important successes operating in this mode, such as the NII and the educational technology initiatives, OSTP’s credibility with these important players seems to have declined precipitously over the first Clinton term.

Ironically, one major cause of this decline was the NSTC, which was supposed to enhance the authority of OSTP and the science advisor, but has not developed into a high-level policy-making body. Despite its grandiose claims, the NSTC does not merit serious comparison to the NEC or the NSC. It has met just once as a council of departmental secretaries and agency heads, a meeting that was scheduled at the last minute and which involved the president for only half an hour, according to news reports. The science advisor’s formal authority to draft Presidential Review Directives (PRDs) and Presidential Decision Directives (PDDs) on behalf of the NSTC has not been exercised very much, either, as Table 17-1 shows. Few of the PRDs or PDDs bear on technology policy as it relates to the economy, and even fewer pertain to major issues in this policy area.


(Table 17-1 about here)

Since top agency officials are rarely involved in the NSTC’s deliberations and the science advisor is unable to take its work directly to the president, the products of the nine NSTC subcabinet-level committees and its 60-odd working groups must be advanced through OMB, another policy council, or through informal persuasion of senior members of the administration. The committees got badly bogged down in the attempt to manage the federal R&D budget, which one insider labels a “$73 billion crosscut.” This effort ignored the reality of the budget process, in which each agency is reviewed by OMB in a separate “stovepipe.” OMB makes most of the decisions within the “stovepipes” and, unless special procedures are put in place, does not trade off the R&D programs of one agency against those of another. Although by some accounts OMB was initially enthusiastic about NSTC, it quickly became disillusioned by NSTC’s cumbersome style and its pretentious claims. Without OMB’s commitment and without an alternative channel to the top, the committees have largely been unable to make priorities and enforce them on the agencies. The NSTC committees’ strategic plans, which consume staff time and energy, lack bite, too. They seem to deserve the epithet of “strategic description” that one observer applied to them.

Despite this bureaucratic burden, which has reduced the level of agency participation in the NSTC process, some NSTC committees have become effective devices for organizing interagency discussion and policy coordination at the deputy level or below. This is an important achievement; mutual ignorance among agencies engaged in related tasks is still far too common. The NSTC Committee on Civilian Industrial Technology (CCIT), with Undersecretary Good in the lead, for instance, has overseen the implementation of PNGV (although it did not initiate or develop this program), an effort that involves seven departments and independent agencies as well as the NEC, OMB, OSTP, and the Office of the Vice President. The Committee on Information and Communication R&D (CIC) saw to conclusion the High Performance Computing and Communication (HPCC) initiative begun by FCCSET in the Bush administration and is now overseeing the Next Generation Internet initiative, which won scarce new dollars in the administration’s initial fiscal 1998 budget proposal. In transportation, the NSTC supported the vice president’s review of aviation safety and is now monitoring the implementation of its recommendations. As Table 17-1 shows, two of the four NSTC PRDs and five of its seven PDDs have related to space policy, in which it has been instrumental in brokering agreements between defense and civilian agencies. The NSTC rubric has also been used to reach out to constituencies concerned about science and technology policy, in order to gather input and marshal support for administration initiatives.

Overall, however, rather than mobilizing agency resources to develop and advance the president’s technology policy agenda, the NSTC often engendered confusion and blocked communication. The CIC, for instance, at least by one account, disrupted the functioning of the existing HPCC interagency process at first, although this problem was later rectified. Similarly, although the CCIT has carried out some significant tasks, it is not perceived (at least by some of its participants) as an effective means to advance their ideas. It is certainly true that agencies have parochial interests in their own programs and constituencies and will by their nature complain about the reception they receive in the White House. Nonetheless, the Clinton White House seems to have missed opportunities to take more effective advantage of the rest of the federal government’s technology policy-making apparatus.

The same criticism applies to advisory and analytical resources. OSTP’s two auxiliary organizations, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the Critical Technologies Institute (CTI), have largely been neglected. Clinton’s PCAST did not hold its first meeting until October 1994, and few resources have been devoted to it. Although PCAST has had some important achievements in other areas, such as the management of weapons-grade fissile material, it has been little involved in civilian technology policy. CTI, which was established by Congress in 1992 to serve as an institutional memory and analytical resource for OSTP, seems to have been absorbed, like NSTC, largely in attempting to manage the R&D budget. CTI, for example, developed the RADIUS database, the first comprehensive, real-time accounting system for all federal R&D projects, to this end. CTI has not been used as much for long-term policy analyses as its designers expected.


(1) The Second Term: Suggestions

The American people passed favorable judgment on President Clinton in November 1996. The White House has not, however, taken the president’s reelection as a signal simply to continue business as usual. The president has put together a new management team, and the new team has, in turn, begun to tinker with organizational structures within the EOP. Such tinkering cannot take the place of presidential discipline in decision-making nor can it substitute for good chemistry and trust among the key decision-makers around the president. Moreover, the pressures are so great and the range of issues and interests so varied and interrelated around the Oval Office that to attempt to specify precisely (much less legislate) the exact jurisdictional boundaries of the various organizations that serve the president would be foolhardy. Nonetheless, organizational changes may well enhance the capacity of the president to manage the nation’s technology policy effectively. I have three suggestions to this end: strengthening the connections between NSTC’s technology policy committees and the NEC, focusing the budget and oversight roles of these committees more tightly, and enhancing OSTP’s analytical and advisory capacities.


(2) NSTC and NEC: Stronger Connections

The NSTC has not and cannot become a strong policy council. Too much of the turf that might provide a claim on the time and energy of its principals is already staked out by the economic, security, and domestic councils and by OMB. The remaining issues on which NSTC might conceivably exercise jurisdiction in policy development are rarely important enough to merit presidential attention. If the science advisor were more entrepreneurially minded than Gibbons has been, one can easily imagine NSTC decisions leading to conflicts among the policy councils and end runs to the president. In a more structured White House, the NSTC would probably fragment the policy process unnecessarily. In the current setting, however, the NSTC may usefully generate an occasional PRD or PDD on issues that would otherwise slip through the cracks of the other policy councils.

The NSTC, then, is not the main channel for most technology policy issues that bear on economic growth. The NEC, as its “charter” holds, is the proper venue to consider policy options that aim at accelerating technological innovation and to evaluate them in the light of other approaches to economic policy. There may be tradeoffs between technology programs and other means of achieving prosperity that ought to be considered; there may also be complementarities, for instance, between trade policy and technology policy or between economic regulation (or deregulation) and technology policy, that ought to be taken advantage of. International economic relations increasingly involve technological issues, such as intellectual property and standards, and NEC has the mandate to blend international and domestic concerns, as the global market demands.

The NSTC and OSTP had some of their best moments in the first term when they fed into the NEC process, particularly in the area of information technology policy. The NEC connection brings technology policy initiatives to White House staff members who can mobilize political resources and helps make them credible to the Cabinet officers who will be asked to carry them out. This connection should be strengthened. Although the NEC does not have an institutionalized commitment to technology policy, the science advisor does have a seat on the council. He could act more assertively to claim this seat and direct the NSTC’s technology policy committees to orient their output to the NEC. Implementing the Carnegie Commission’s proposal of “double-hatting” the director of the OSTP Technology Division as a staff member of the NEC might facilitate this reorientation. OSTP staff would still be able to convene interagency committees under the NSTC label. With the science advisor speaking for it in the NEC process, the NSTC would operate more like the “virtual agency” that some claim it to be than it does now.

It is true that this structure politicizes technology policy-making. I believe this is inevitable. The NEC is a creature of the president, and if the president rejects technology policy, the NEC will ignore it. But this is equally true of the NSTC. It is probably impossible to institutionalize any particular economic policy option in the White House. We may hope that technology is now recognized to be so vital to economic growth that economic policy-makers will be unable to ignore it. Perhaps it is no accident that several of the recent CEA chairs have had an established professional interest in the economics of innovation.


(2) NSTC and OMB: Tighter Focus

Many in the science and technology policy community initially saw NSTC as a “glorified FCCSET,” with a primary focus on interagency program coordination and budgeting in support of OMB. In this role, NSTC has not worked as well as FCCSET, because it tried to do too much and spread its resources too thin. The NSTC’s efforts to manage the federal R&D budget as a whole were misguided. Its approach assumed that the decisions that were necessary would trade off one science and technology program against another. This assumption is flawed; R&D programs are traded off against other programs in the same agency or appropriations cluster, some of which may be R&D programs, but many of which are not. What is needed is a structure that compares scientific and technological approaches with other means of achieving particular ends. In the case of economic growth, technology policy should be compared or combined with deficit reduction, traditional infrastructure spending, export promotion, deregulation. and other economic policy mechanisms. The NEC might be able to do this, given its broad mandate. The NSTC can not.

Nonetheless, in a few priority areas, in which agency programs overlap or can be made more complementary, the White House needs something like the NSTC committees, convened by OSTP, to arbitrate and provide advice to OMB and the president. Although it has the power to make most of the relevant decisions, OMB lacks the technical sophistication to perform these budget and oversight functions as effectively as they ought to be performed. To be sure, this aspect of the NSTC committees’ work is likely to be less pleasant, in the fiscal environment for domestic discretionary programs that is expected in the second Clinton term, than it was in the first term. The committees should not be asked to do too much, perhaps no more than a couple of tasks at any one time. There is too little staff capacity and, more importantly, too few carrots to offer (and sticks to shake at) the agency participants. Nonetheless, despite the budget situation, there is still room for policy entrepreneurship on the margin, as suggested by the recent educational technology initiative, which aims to connect schools and libraries to the national information infrastructure and to give students and teachers training and tools to take advantage of it. Properly focused, the NSTC committees can be effective instruments for identifying and realizing opportunities for policy innovation.


(2) OSTP: Enhanced Analytical and Advisory Capabilities

OSTP is in a structurally weak position in the White House. It gets clout either by having allies or by having unique knowledge. Yet quite powerful allies such as Vice President Gore have not accorded OSTP very much authority over the past twenty years. Like CEA, OSTP might more effectively “earn its way into the deliberations” (as one old science and technology policy hand put it) in both policy formulation and program oversight if it did more to cultivate its expertise.

The analogy between CEA and OSTP is imperfect: OSTP has management responsibilities that CEA lacks, and it cannot be quite as selective in choosing issues to focus on. Nonetheless, OSTP ought to aim to match CEA’s reputation as an office that can convince the president to say “no” to ideas that its analysis reveals to be misguided. (In fact, the science advisor, PSAC, and OST once had such a reputation with respect to the defense agencies in the late 1950s and early 1960s.) It might be advisable for OSTP to conduct technical evaluations that have the potential to torpedo significant R&D programs. A technically-based negative appraisal of one or more such programs would help to bolster OSTP’s credibility in the budget process and counteract the impression that it is merely the representative of the research community. On the other hand, through its close contact with the cutting edge of science and technology, OSTP has in the past had and can still have particular value as an “early warning system” for policy problem identification.

There are several sources of expertise that OSTP might draw upon. One is a staff that is freed up from some of the administrative burdens now laid on it by the NSTC. OSTP might also attempt to emulate, with scientists and engineers, CEA’s practice of recruiting the top young academic economists in the country to spend a year or two in residence. Such an early socialization into science and technology policy would be very valuable in building a corps of contributors in this area over the long term. The science advisor would have to make a concerted effort to get such a rotation accepted by the young researchers’ academic advisors; a stint at OSTP might eventually be seen as a sign of distinction (as a stint at CEA is for economists), rather than time wasted “away from the bench.” At more senior levels, of course, it is crucial that OSTP have political knowledge and skills that these young hotshots are unlikely to have.

A second potential source of expertise is PCAST. The resuscitation of PCAST, begun in the last two years of the first term, could fruitfully be extended to technology policy. PCAST provides a mechanism to secure selective input from the private sector at a level higher than that secured by the agencies in their management of technology programs. Such advice might provide both helpful perspectives and political clout, although this advisory process would have to be managed with special care, given the strictures of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and the controversy over White House fund-raising practices. The president’s recent request that PCAST help to review and evaluate the federal technology partnership programs is a step in the right direction, but it must be backed up with more resources than PCAST has received thus far in this administration.

The Critical Technologies Institute is a third possibility for enhancing OSTP’s analytical capabilities. Rather than supporting the White House’s management of the federal R&D budget, CTI could be tasked with longer-range analyses, which OSTP cannot conduct given the day-to-day demands of the EOP. The measurement and evaluation issues mentioned by Adam Jaffe in Chapter 3 are potential subjects of such work. CTI can also access expertise outside government without the constraints of FACA. Similar analytical work might be commissioned from the Office of Technology Policy in the Department of Commerce, which aims to track the nation’s entire industrial technology base, and from the National Science Board, which has the mandate to oversee the nation’s entire scientific program. Although such analyses would probably be perceived as biased within the White House, this perception might be reduced over time with careful management.

Of course, expertise will not by itself win invitations to meetings or open doors. It must be wielded with savvy and with the authority that comes from having direct access to the president. If OSTP hires a chief of staff, as the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government recently recommended, the science advisor will be freed up from administrative duties to become more entrepreneurial and exercise those skills that the Clinton White House demands.


(1) Conclusion

The formal organizational structures of the EOP are, by all accounts, less important to effective policy-making than the capabilities and intentions of the people who work within (or around) them. However, a poor organizational scheme can present obstacles to even the most talented and best-intentioned of appointees. The suggestions that I have made attempt to create opportunities where there are now obstacles, within the overall constraints of the president’s style. The integration of technology policy with economic policy is not an easy task, and continued organizational evolution on the basis of lessons learned seems to me necessary, defensible, and appropriate.



I am particularly grateful to those interviewed for this paper for their time and cooperation, including in many cases extensive comments on drafts. My co-authors in this volume also provided comments, as did Michael Boskin, David Robinson, and Eugene Skolnikoff. Harvey Brooks’ comments were, as always, especially helpful. Jeff Livingston and the Competitiveness Policy Council provided research support.