Science, technology, and medicine are an integral part of many
of the policy issues that came before the Congress during the
second session. The first Congressional Research Service Report
(CRS): Science, Technology,
and Medicine: Issues Facing the 105th Congress (September
9, 1998), provides an overview of several of these issues.
Two substantial topics are telecommunications and biotechnology.
The CRS Issue Brief, The
National Information Infrastructure: The Federal Role (September
10, 1998), discusses the Clinton Administrations plan to interconnect
industry, government, research, education, and each home with
advanced telecommunications networks and information resources
and technologies. The CRS report, Cloning:
Where Do We Go From Here? (April 23, 1998), reviews cloning
and the concern of the ethical and social implications of the
potential application of cloning to produce human beings.
Technology transfer is a process by which technology developed
in one organization, in one area, or for one purpose is applied
in another organization, in another area, or for another purpose.
The CRS Issue Brief, Technology
Transfer: Use of Federally Funded Research and Development (August
25, 1998) discusses the way for the results of the federal R&D
enterprise to be used to meet other national needs, including
the economic growth that flows from new commercialization in the
private sector; the government's requirements for products and
processes to operate effectively and efficiently; and the demand
for increased goods and services at the state and local level.
Science, technology, and medicine are an integral part of many of the policy issues that might come before the Congress this second session. This report provides an overview of several of these issues and identifies CRS reports that treat them in more depth.
Legislative action in certain areas will directly affect the progress of science, technology, and medicine. For FY1999, the administration requested a 3% increase for federal R& D funds. While congressional support ap-pears strong for more funding for R& D, appropriation action thus far shows that not all of the increases will be realized, although a real increase over FY1998 is likely. Principal beneficiaries of the increase will be the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.
Legislative implementation of the proposed settlement between several state attorneys-general and the tobacco industry is appears unlikely in this Congress. The Administration had requested that some of the funds collected from any settlement be used for R& D, but the demise of any settlement makes that improbable.
Growing use of encryption and its potential effects on law enforcement and national security activities is an important congressional issue. A critical question is government access to keys to read encrypted information. The "year 2000" computer problem is seeing increased congressional attention as concern grows that efforts by many federal agencies to solve the problem may be inadequate.
The use of a surcharge on customer long-distance phone bills to pay for access to the Internet by schools and libraries, called the E-rate, is generating a great deal of activity in Congress. The provision was part of telecommunications deregulation legislation enacted in 1996, and efforts are being made for its repeal or modification.
While the Kyoto conference treaty committing the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is unlikely to be submitted to the Senate this year, congressional review of the Administration's Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI) has been substantial. In particular, Congress is concerned that funding all of the CCTI provisions may commit to the Kyoto accords before the Senate has a chance to consider the treaty.
The future of the space station, in view of continued problems with Russian participation and growing costs, is being called into question, and the station's first launch has been delayed to November 1998. While congressional support remains strong, new estimates of significant cost overruns have prompted intense scrutiny of the program.
The slight decline in defense RDT& E requested for FY1999 has generated some debate about the adequacy of the technology base to support the nation's defense posture in the next century. Congressional action thus far has provided small increases above the request. DOE has requested a substantial increase in funds for nuclear weapons Stockpile Stewardship and Maintenance programs for FY1999. Most of the funds are being granted, but there is some concern that parts of the program are moving faster than justified.
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The Clinton Administration has developed a broad plan to interconnect industry, government, research, education, and each home with advanced telecommunications networks and information resources and technologies. Considered a key part of a larger vision to increase U.S. high technology, economic development, health care, and education, this is the National Information Infrastructure (NII). The NII may be viewed three ways: as a policy for national information infrastructure development; as federal programs to enhance and support this development; and a wide range of applications which demonstrate the tangible uses and benefits of the technologies. The policy has been articulated in a series of NII reports; the program is supported through major government R& D and grant efforts; the applications focus on a variety of applications in schools, libraries, hospitals, government, and businesses.
Congressional interest in this issue similarly has been strong. Some congressional leaders have expressed their own vision of the future and the role information technologies will play. The 104th Congress addressed part of this issue by passing the Telecommunications Deregulation Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-104). This law contains a wide range of provisions which may affect who develops the information infrastructure of the 21st century. Congress also appropriates money for federal programs, and has reviewed current federal information technology and infrastructure programs.Policymakers in the 105th Congress will likely continue the approach taken by the 104th Congress, questioning the role of the federal government in development of the NII. In 1995 and 1996 the NII policy debate was set by the Clinton Administration, particularly by Vice President Gore. However, many policymakers in the 105th Congress may contend that continued federal support of the NII is at odds with their attempts to reduce the size and scope of a wide range of federal technology programs. The congressional debate over the NII for FY1999 reflects these differing viewpoints.
Support for national information infrastructure policy, programs, and applications is premised on the belief that they will promote the development of commercially viable services, improve the competitive advantage of the United States, and serve the public interest. The current federal debate lies in determining what strategies will best achieve these goals. The question of the government's role raises a general policy issue of how and to what extent government should generally involve itself in support for high technology research projects and commercialization of technology. The also revolves around the extent to which NII development should be left to the private sector; what tangible benefits will accrue to American workers and consumers; and how much government involvement is needed to boost U.S. industry, create jobs, and ensure a leading edge in world markets.
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News in February 1997 that scientists in Scotland had succeeded in cloning an adult sheep ignited a worldwide debate. Of concern are the ethical and social implications of the potential application of cloning to produce human beings. The announcement marked the first time that researchers were able to produce an exact genetic replica of an animal adult. Scientists identify a number of potential medical and agricultural applications for this technique. Within hours of the February 24 news, President Clinton asked his National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) to initiate a complete review of the ethical and social issues related to cloning and report back within 90 days. On March 4, 1997, the President sent a memorandum to the heads of all executive departments and agencies making it "absolutely clear that no federal funds will be used for human cloning." He also urged the private sector to adopt a voluntary ban on the cloning of humans until the NBAC completed its evaluation.
Bills were introduced in the 105th Congress that would ban federally supported human cloning research (S. 368 and H.R. 922), or human cloning altogether, H.R. 923. One, H.R. 922, was reported to the House (amended), H.Rept. 105-239, but received no floor action. Hearings on cloning were held in both chambers. The NBAC presented its report in June, recommending -- among other things -- that federal legislation be enacted to prohibit anyone from attempting to create a child through cloning. The President sent up to Congress legislation (the "Cloning and Prohibition Act of 1997") reflecting the NBAC recommendations; however, it was not introduced in the first session. News reports on January 7, 1998, disclosed that a Chicago scientist, Dr. Richard Seed, intended to clone a human being and that he already had 8 volunteers who were willing to be cloned. Since then, 6 more cloning prohibition bills have been introduced: S. 1574, H.R. 3133, S. 1599, S. 1601, S. 1602, and S. 1611. On February 11, 1998, efforts to call up S. 1601 for consideration in the Senate failed (by a vote of 42-54).
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In FY1997, it is estimated that the government will have spent approximately one third of the $74 billion federal R& D budget for intramural research and development to meet mission requirements in over 700 government laboratories (including Federally Funded Research and Development Centers). It is argued that this has generated technology and expertise which may have applications beyond the immediate goals or intent of federally funded R& D. Technology transfer is a process by which technology developed in one organization, in one area, or for one purpose is applied in another organization, in another area, or for another purpose. It is a way for the results of the federal R& D enterprise to be used to meet other national needs, including the economic growth that flows from new commercialization in the private sector; the government's requirements for products and processes to operate effectively and efficiently; and the demand for increased goods and services at the state and local level.
Congress has established a system to facilitate the transfer of technology to the private sector and to state and local governments. Despite this, use of federal R& D results has remained meager although there has been a significant increase in private sector interest and activities over the past several years. Critics argue that working with the agencies and laboratories continues to be difficult and time-consuming. Proponents of the current effort assert that while the laboratories are open to interested parties, the industrial community is making little effort to use them. The Clinton Administration has made expanded use of the federal laboratories and industry-government cooperation integral parts of its articulated technology policy. State governments are increasingly involved in the process. At issue is whether additional legislative initiatives are necessary to encourage increased technology transfer or if the responsibility to use the available resources now rests with the private sector.
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