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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Policy Planning Staff > Secretary's Open Forum > Proceedings > 2001 - 2002

Science, Technology, Health and International Affairs

Jeff Bingaman, Senator, State of New Mexico
Washington, DC
March 14, 2001

Opening Remarks and Introduction by Alan Lang, Chairman of the Open Forum
Opening Remarks by Norman P. Neureiter, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State

Photo of Senator Jeff Bingaman Thank you very much for inviting me today. It is really an honor to be at the State Department as you begin your Open Forum Lecture Series. Before I begin, I need to thank a few people.

First, and most importantly, I want to thank Secretary of State Powell for underscoring the need for a broader dialogue with Members of Congress on ways to better integrate science, technology, and health into U.S. foreign policy. The Open Forum is an excellent way to accomplish this task, and I look forward working with him in the future.

Second, I would like to thank the Secretary’s Science and Technology Adviser, Norm Neureiter, for the very kind introduction and his intensive efforts to increase the visibility of Science, Technology, and Health (STH) issues. He has done an absolutely incredible job since he has come on board; he is a real asset to the State Department, and based on what I have seen so far, the best is yet to come from him.

Third, I would like to thank Alan Lang. He has done all the hard work behind the scenes to put the Open Forum together and was kind enough to think of me as someone who could contribute to the discussions. I want to acknowledge his efforts and thank him for his opening remarks.

I have been asked to come here today and talk about science, technology, and international affairs. I would like to make three primary points today in the short time I have, and then I will be happy to answer some questions.

First, we need to recognize that there have been significant changes in the international system and an expansion of the issues that we need to address to protect our national security interests.

Second, we need to recognize that the United States has not responded to these changes in a fashion that places a priority on science, technology, and health concerns, nor have we funneled adequate human and financial resources in this direction.

Finally, we need to recognize that we need to create a coherent and effective national strategy to address science, technology, and health concerns, and I believe there are several examples that currently exist that potentially can act as models for future action.

Let me begin my remarks by saying that I have been a strong proponent of science, technology, and health programs for many years, whether they be at the Department of State, the Department of Energy, or any of the U.S. Government agencies that contain core STH functions in their mission.

While many Senators have focused their attention in recent budgets on the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, I have asserted that the same treatment in the budget process should be accorded other agencies with core STH functions.

My argument for this position is straightforward. The current international environment -- the process of globalization, in particular -- represents a challenge for us unlike anything we have ever confronted before. You need only look at the front page of the paper everyday to understand what I am talking about, be it concerns related to mad cow disease, HIV/AIDS, ozone depletion, or the harmonization of standards. It goes across the spectrum of issue areas.

We can debate whether we are ultimately going to face the elimination of borders and the weakening of governments as a result of this change, but it is clear we are facing a variety of new and very significant factors: the flow of information, the integration of technologies, the liberalization and deregulation of economies, the free movement of people, the rise in power of nongovernmental organizations, the complexity of allegiances, and, in many cases, even the collapse of communities.

What we have in our world now, like it or not, is a complex matrix of values, interests, rules, organizations, and approaches, all of which must somehow be made compatible through negotiation. As we enter the 21st century, we live in an age of uncertainty, and we must establish a foreign policy framework that allows us to confront this uncertainty in a timely, coherent, and effective manner.

As most of you in the audience are aware, the State Department has created a strategic plan that contains 16 international affairs strategic goals. Norm Neureiter is fond of pointing out in his speeches that at least 13 out of the 16 of these strategic goals contain science, technology, and health components. Most of these goals would not previously have been considered essential to our national security interests and would likely have been secondary or tertiary in terms of policy priorities.

But this is no longer true. In my State of New Mexico, issues like water, health, migration, the environment, drugs, and economic development all have a significant impact on our individual welfare and are integrally related to community and regional stability. For New Mexicans, these are national security issues and just as important as any other issue we speak about when I go home.

I believe this represents an important change in the way we see the world. Seen from this perspective, one of our primary goals at this time should be to obtain and maintain the STH expertise and resources that will allow us to confront these strategic goals.

It means that when we talk about defending national security interests, we are talking about something other than obvious political adversaries like those that were apparent in the Cold War. We are talking about a fluid, multipolar environment where friends and allies are less defined and issues are less clear cut. We are talking about creating foreign policy goals that address a very different world than we were in before but with the same degree of commitment and urgency that was present during the Cold War.

I am convinced these goals can be achieved. But it means that we must establish and improve our ability to innovate, to cooperate, to monitor, and to analyze -- all of which depend upon a sufficient and preferably a substantial level of STH resources and expertise committed to sustaining our position as a world leader. The uncertainty we face in the changing international environment is inevitable; whether we are successful in confronting this uncertainty is a matter of choice.

So, ultimately, it comes down to a question of strategy. What should our strategy be to ensure that we attain those goals essential to the foreign policy interests of the United States?

As most of you know, the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have each published reports focusing on STH policy and the Department of State. These reports are important as they provide comprehensive analyses of our current STH capabilities as they relate to the ability of the United States to address 21st century foreign policy concerns.

For those of you who have read the reports, you know they do not paint a pretty picture. The underlying premise is that we have allowed our STH expertise and resources at the State Department to dwindle to the point that it finds it increasingly difficult to address the strategic goals defined in its own strategic plan. In an effort to alleviate the problem, they offer a series of specific recommendations, examples being:

  • A minimum level of STH literacy among FSOs, and the adoption of an organizational structure at State so it can meet its expanding STH responsibilities;
  • The creation of an STH Advisory Committee to the Secretary and the expansion of external experts actively involved in advising leadership on STH issues;
  • The assignment of at least 25 Science Advisers to embassies in countries where STH activities are of major interest and the rotation of individuals from other agencies and departments to advise on their areas of expertise.

I could go on here, but I am sure that most of you have read the reports. If not, you should. From the perspective of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), we need to start taking STH policy seriously and do so in a tangible way. We have waited too long and must begin to take the problem seriously.

I agree with this assessment. Let me elaborate a bit on these reports and emphasize some of the action items I think are imperative.

First, we need to increase resources to the principal agencies in the U.S. Government that are assigned the task of protecting our national security. And please understand that when I say national security, I mean national security broadly defined. Issues like export control, nuclear safety and nonproliferation, fuel and energy resources, infectious diseases, adequate and safe food and water supply, global warming, migration, drug trafficking, intellectual property rights -- all these and more define the new, 21st century international security environment. More importantly, they fall under the jurisdiction of agencies not frequently thought to have national security policy authority. Our perception of what national security means need to change, and our funding needs to change to reflect these concerns.

Second, we need to ensure that we provide funding to critical, enabling technologies that will have a significant impact on a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines, examples being advanced computing, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. We need to be aware that new transnational patterns of research and development potentially threaten our leadership in key technological areas, and that our inability to stay competitive will ultimately harm our national security interests, be they defined in traditional or untraditional terms.

Third, we need to leverage existing resources and expertise by creating seamless links of interaction between agencies that typically have not been altogether cooperative in the past. One frequently mentioned example is the new and creative arrangements that have been established between both the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the State Department. These arrangements allow the assignment of scientific and technical staff from NASA and NSF to overseas embassies or headquarter posts and provides the State Department with the expertise to hold discussions and conduct negotiations on important STH issues.

A couple of other examples are even more interesting.

The Cooperative Monitoring Center at Sandia National Laboratory, supported by and in cooperation with the Department of Energy, the State Department, and USAID, currently has four transboundary international water projects in South Asia, Central Asia, Northeast Asia, and the Caucasus. These projects are designed to create verifiable data and "shared-vision" frameworks between principals as a means to minimize conflict over water resources in strategic global areas. Of course, they are also designed to provide incentives to peace in the specific regions.

Sandia National Laboratory, supported by the Department of Energy and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and in cooperation with local partners, has been working to promote the appropriate and sustainable use of renewable energy technologies in Mexico. This project is designed to increase the feasibility of renewable energy systems and markets in Mexico; offset greenhouse gas emissions; and increase economic, social, and health standards. Needless to say, it will also assist Mexico in its efforts to develop.

Los Alamos National Laboratory, in cooperation with State Department and a range of other U.S. Government agencies, has a series of ongoing projects in environmental and energy sciences, participating with partners throughout the world in environmental data collection on the environment, global climate change, natural and hazardous material movement models, transportation and telecommunications systems, and oil and gas exploration.

From where I sit, these projects offer promising models because each agency involved brings to the table its own particular expertise, all committed to a collective goal. They are leveraging their individual assets -- intellectual, organizational, financial, and otherwise -- to attain results that solve the problems at hand. In the truest sense of the phrase, the collaborative whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ultimately, this is what I feel we should be aiming for down the road -- synergistic relationships in STH that pull together diverse interests and leverage scarce resources internal and external to the U.S. Government, all designed to enhance our ability to pursue our national interests in the changing international environment.

Let me conclude with the following comments. I believe the State Department and its employees stand at the global nexus of ideas and information, of cultures and communities, and, in the final analysis, of peace and war in the international system. After all is said and done, it is your job to sort the complexity, make it comprehensible, and make it actionable in the national interest. It is a unique and important job, and you rightly have an immense amount of pride in the task you undertake daily.

Because of this imperative, I believe you need cutting edge scientific and technical tools and expertise available to you to accomplish your mission. From what I have heard, Secretary Powell has made an initial commitment to get you on the right track by emphasizing the importance of a cutting-edge information technology system. For those of you working with decade-old and nonsecure computers, I am sure this is no small thing.

Furthermore, having an excellent S&T Adviser in the person of Norm Neureiter certainly will assist in the task at hand, and I am pleased to see that he is moving full-speed to raise the awareness of the STH and foreign policy issue, both within the Department and in the STH community at large.

This is a good start, but it is only a start. I believe much remains to be done. We need to get back to where we should be.

If you look at the NRC and the AAAS reports, nearly all of the recommendations for the State Department remain unimplemented, and it is unclear at this point whether they are even being seriously considered. Furthermore, the NRC and AAAS reports focused specifically on the State Department. I have no doubt that similar problems could be found in other agencies within the U.S. Government, with similar recommendations on improvements in their capacity to handle STH concerns. The fact that the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which plays a prominent role in this area, remains in transition limbo raises some serious questions about our commitment to STH concerns. This has to change.

So let me end today with the following offer. I am here to begin a dialogue between Congress and those agencies with core STH functions, the goal being to formulate, articulate, and then implement policies that address the new international environment that I have referred to previously. I think it is time to recognize the significant ways that STH issues are now part of our national security concerns, and, as such, should be an essential component of our foreign policy priorities. I know we have a long way to go, but I am prepared to work with you to address the dramatic changes that are occurring.

I look forward to the question and answer period and any comments you may have at that time.

Thank you. [Applause]

Question-and-Answer Segment

Mr. Lang: Senator Bingaman, on behalf of the Open Forum, I'd like to thank you for that superb presentation; please give him another round of applause. [Applause]

At this point, I would like to open the floor to brief comments and questions.

While you collect your thoughts, I would like to begin this segment of the program by posing the first question.

Senator, you've cited concerns about the Administration's current budget for science, technology, and health activities. As the ranking member on the Energy Committee, and in light of your commitment to addressing a broad range of issues related to science, technology, and health, I'd like to ask you to elaborate on that comment.

Senator Bingaman: I have not seen the detail of the President's budget. I think we will finally see that in early April. As I'm sure you are all aware, it hasn't slowed us down in considering tax cuts. Apparently, we're not going to wait to see what the budget looks like. From what I've seen, there are anticipated substantial cuts in research and development, alternative fuels, nonproliferation, and the science and technology budgets of several U.S. Government agencies. At the Department of Energy, there may be a 3% reduction. Other estimates suggest that it may be as high as 6%. And that would be at a time where you would see a fairly substantial increase in the funding for the stockpile stewardship program which would, of course, mean that the other areas -- the nonweapons related areas -- would take a more severe cut. Clearly, this is a problem, and something we will need to address as the President and the Congress negotiate a budget down the road.

Q: I'm a Medical Officer in the United States Public Health Service and an entering Foreign Service Officer. A central theme in your talk is the need for [science, technology, and health] expertise in the United States Foreign Service, either drawn from other agencies or developed within its own ranks. I have found that no mechanism within the archaic rules of the Foreign Service or the Civil Service accommodates such expertise. In other words, I am facing the prospect of entering the system like any other Foreign Service Officer, despite my advanced qualifications in health. Excuse me for making the issue personal, but I think as long as you don't have the mechanisms for attracting such people so that [government service is] barely competitive with opportunities outside of government, it's going to be an uphill struggle. Are we likely to see any efforts by Members of Congress to address that aspect of the Foreign Service/Civil Service system?

Senator Bingaman: Clearly, there needs to be recognition of people's qualifications and expertise in the personnel system. This is something that was discussed in both the NRC and AAAS reports. I am not aware of any action in Congress to address this issue, but it is an issue that can be effectively addressed within the State Department if they choose to do so.

Q: I am an orthopedic surgeon and I've been a physician to the State Department for the past 20 years. I would like to applaud you for your support of science, technology, and health. And I'd like to speak on the latter issue of health. The health system of the United States is imploding. Funding to medical schools is declining, care in hospitals is deteriorating, and Senator Frist understands this well and I've spoken with him about these concerns. My concern is that if the health of the United States deteriorates, the security of the United States deteriorates, and that of the world as well. The world looks to the United States for its leadership not only in diplomacy and military affairs but also in terms of health care. Today medical schools are losing funding, Georgetown University lost $62 million in funding last year on top of a reduction of $40 million from the preceding year. I've worked full-time there and in private practice. I implore you to address the many health care issues facing our nation and to put the "care" back into health care. [It shouldn't be] a political issue. It's neither a Democratic nor a Republican issue. It's a humanitarian issue.

Senator Bingaman: Let me comment on those points. I agree with you that there is a meltdown or implosion of the health care system in the United States. And it is particularly evident in my State. Much of it relates to funding and federal reimbursement of Medicare. Cuts in Medicare were excessive when Congress passed the balanced budget amendment in 1997. Although we subsequently added small amounts back, there is still a major shortfall between what is needed and what we are providing. In my view, this is an essential part of what we ought to be debating as we talk about a potential tax cut, because much of the surplus we are getting ready to deal with in terms of a tax cut stems from excessive reductions in health care. If we are going to restore health care funding, the size of the surplus may be substantially less than the current projections.

Q: I'm with the World Affairs Council of Washington, DC. I was surprised to read today that President Bush has decided against reductions in carbon dioxide emissions despite the fact that all the science I know of points to these emissions as the number one problem associated with global warming. The United States must be a leader in reducing these emissions because it is also the largest producer of these emissions. What can we do as citizens to address this issue?

Senator Bingaman: I don't know what to tell you to do. I agree with you that we need to have a sober discussion in government about steps we can take now to deal with global climate change. In Congress we have put this off year after year after year and debated whether the U.S. should be part of the Kyoto Protocol. The truth is that there are a great many things that we should be doing in the United States regardless of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions. Most of these actions relate to the transportation sector, not the sector that the President's decision pertains to -- power plants -- but that's part of it. I don't know exactly what to tell you except to urge leaders in both parties to give priority to these issues. A few weeks ago, I met with a group from the mining industry. I said that we've got to tackle these issues together, quit fighting, and find consensus on some concrete steps we can take to deal with global climate change. I think they were surprised that I raised the subject. If we raise these concerns more frequently we will increase the likelihood of making meaningful progress on issues related to climate change.

Q: My question pertains to our ability to compete with other countries in the fields of science, technology, and health and it relates directly to science and math education as well as technology. I know that these concerns have been discussed in the context of the plan proposed by President Bush. Where do you see support for reform efforts in science education?

Senator Bingaman: As you may recall, in 1989 all 50 of our nation's governors met with President George Herbert Walker Bush in Charlottesville, Virginia; at the first and only education summit in our nation's history, they adopted goals for the country, one of which was make the United States first in the world in science and math education by the year 2000. Unfortunately, that goal was not achieved. It was a good goal. We have a modest proposal in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that we reported out of committee last week. It would authorize funding in the amount of $500 million to underwrite the cost of training teachers in the existing work force in math and science summer institutes. This action is a step in the right direction. Frankly, our problem is going to be getting the funds appropriated to do that. As all of you who deal with Congress know, the reality is that we have two parallel tracks: we authorize things, and then we appropriate money to pay for the things we authorize. That's the theory of how the place works. And sometimes it works that way. [Laughter] We have authorized a great deal more for education spending in that Elementary and Secondary Education Act than President Bush has requested that we spend or that we are likely to spend. Accordingly, our challenge will involve committing resources to this Act in the appropriations bill, and I hope that we will do so.

Q: My work involves helping Russian doctors deal with serious illness. I want to ask you about the comment referring to health as a national security issue and the concept of our nation's efforts to help Russian physicians deal with health threats to their fellow citizens. Many regard the stabilization of Russia's health care system, society, and government as a U.S. national security issue. Our program deals specifically with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and tuberculosis (TB). The contagious nature of TB has significant implications for other countries, including the U.S., because of travel. But these other diseases are of critical importance, too, because they kill more than 50 % of the people.

[Another member of the audience:] The idea of working with other countries to address common challenges, particularly an area as important as the former Soviet Union, seems important to us, and we are collaborating with the American College of Physicians who supply volunteer physicians to carry out educational activities. We think this is a good program and it's funded largely through private sources. This concept is fully consistent with efforts to understand the national security implications of health issues.

Senator Bingaman: I agree. I think that the Russian health care delivery system is in terrible shape. The life expectancy of men in Russia is, what, 57 years of age?

[Response:] That's correct, sir.

Senator Bingaman: A great challenge exists there. I think it is to our benefit, as you say, to help Russia deal with that in order to stabilize the situation in that country to the extent that we can. We have the expertise. It's a question of making it available. I compliment you on what you are doing, and I think it would be a useful thing for our government to support.

Q: Some U.S.Government agencies face budget reductions while others stand to receive significant increases. Research conducted by some agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, in chemistry, physics, and other fields, is often instrumental to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in carrying out its work. So what is the basis for deciding whether to reduce funding for one agency while increasing that of another, especially when research funding in one agency is often critical to the success of other agencies?

Senator Bingaman: The honest answer is that it is not a very rational process. The process of determining where the money ultimately goes often seems unclear. I think there are certain agencies that find favor whether with previous Congresses, administrations, or current leaders. The National Institutes of Health is the most obvious example where we have increased funding each year. At the same time, we have cut funding for many of the other science-related activities of the federal government. Some of that may relate to fact that Members of Congress hear frequently from their constituents about health-related issues. Perhaps NIH has done a better job of marketing itself to the public and its stakeholders than other agencies. That's not a justification, merely a possible explanation. But to address your question a different way, I am concerned about sufficient levels of funding being directed toward agencies like the NSF. We need to keep the levels up, as it leads to higher levels of innovation.

Q: I'd like to follow up on that question and look at it in a slightly different way. How can we educate the Congress and help our nation's leaders understand the need for a balanced portfolio in science? I'll give you one example. The most impressive advance in medical science, from my perspective as a former medical school professor, is probably the Human Genome Project, which may shift treatment-prioritized medicine into preventive medicine and thereby change the course of health care throughout the rest of this century. That project came about because of tremendous advances in computer science, chemistry, and mathematics, mathematical algorithms that ultimately decoded the genome. All of those basic sciences were crucial in bringing about these events. How do we help members of Congress make these connections?

Senator Bingaman: Looking ahead, I think one of our greatest needs in Congress is to have staff members who are scientifically and technically trained. Only through fellowships and details have Members of Congress been able to draw up our limited in-house capabilities and expertise in these areas. Most full-time congressional staff do not have backgrounds in science and technical fields. In addition, we need to be sure that private industry emphasizes the point that basic science contributes to the economic welfare of the nation as a whole. Representatives from private industry lobby Congress on issues of critical importance to them, and this issue should be part of that lobbying effort.

Finally, in terms of overall priorities, I think the semi-conductor industry, which Norm referred to, has made the case that we need to maintain high funding levels for some of the areas of scientific research that don't receive the attention they merit. They have been very vocal about issues that are fundamental to the health of all science and technology, and that is a model that others should use. In Congress, we tend to fund those things that we believe will be popular with our constituents and sometimes give insufficient attention to other important areas. This has to change. But we need your help to do that.

Presentation of the Open Forum's Distinguished Public Service Award

Mr. Lang: Senator Bingaman's laudable contributions to national and international affairs affirm the notion that public policy can and should be an instrument for improving the lives of ordinary people. On policies ranging from education, energy, health, and technology, Senator Bingaman's effective leadership has made -- and is making -- an enormous difference in our daily lives.

Finally, as I think about Senator Bingaman's contributions, particularly in such areas as science, technology, health, and international affairs, I am reminded of an observation by Albert Einstein: "Not everything that can be counted counts," he said. "[A]nd not everything that counts, can be counted." Thanks to Senator Bingaman and others, we are getting a better handle on counting and managing vital resources and gaining a sharper focus on their science, technology, and health components. As we seek to shape a more prosperous and secure future, these resources really count. Senator, thank you so much for your leadership on these issues.

Senator Bingaman: Alan, thank you. Thank you all very much.


Released on April 2, 2001

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