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The Bush-41 Years: 1989-93

Module by: William Blanpied. E-mail the authorEdited By: Frederick Moody, Ben Allen

Unlike other countries, we have not developed coherent national science policies. Indeed, the very idea is abhorrent to many. Our free enterprise laissez-faire system has served us well during periods of expansion and growth, but in retrenchment the development of more formal science and technology policies seems essential if we are to preserve the best aspects of our system.

—D. Allan Bromley, 1982

I will upgrade the President’s science advisor to Assistant to the President and make him an active member of the Economic Policy Council and our national security planning processes. And I will create a President’s Council of Science and Technology Advisors, composed of leading scientists, engineers and distinguished executives from the private sector.

—George H.W. Bush, October 1988

During the 1988 presidential campaign, Vice President George H.W. Bush had a science adviser: D. Allan Bromley, Professor of Physics at Yale and a charter member of the White House Science Council.1 Upon his election, Bush nominated Bromley as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the OSTP.2 The Senate unanimously confirmed him in the latter position on August 4; confirmation was not required for the former.

Bromley brought a significant roster of accomplishments along with him. Soon after arriving as associate professor of physics at Yale in 1960, he managed to obtain federal funding for a state of the art tandem Van de Graff particle accelerator, with construction of the facility itself funded by the university. While at Yale, he made many advances in nuclear physics, and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1988. He was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Reviving the Substance of the OSTP Act of 1976

During the Carter and Reagan administrations, Congress had expressed increasing frustration with the failure of either president to implement significant features of the OSTP Act.

Figure 1: President George H. W. Bush and D. Allan Bromley in the Oval Office, May 1991. Courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection.
Figure 1 (graphics1.jpg)

For example, although the Ford administration had created the Act’s mandated President’s Council on Science and Technology, the Carter administration never convened the PCST, nor did it ever fulfill its promise to conduct the congressionally mandated two-year survey of the federal government’s science and technology programs. By the end of the Reagan administration, the attitude of Congress towards OSTP ranged from indifference to open hostility.3 Bush’s pre-election pledge to reestablish a body comparable to the President’s Science Advisory Committee, created by Eisenhower and abolished by Nixon, seems to have reflected Bromley’s views about the inadequacy of the WHSC. Bromley clearly enjoyed his membership on the WHSC, but he believed that its membership was hampered in the formulation and implementation of a national science policy by its lack of direct access to the president. During his first discussions with Bush about joining the new administration, Bromley insisted on three conditions, which the president accepted:

  1. That he [Bromley] would have access to him [the president] whenever he needed it.
  2. That once he [Bromley] and the president had agreed on some action involving science and technology, that I would have his full support to make it happen.
  3. That the president would, for the first time, nominate all four of the OSTP Associate Directors provided for in PL 94-282. 4

The third of these conditions underlined Bromley’s largely unarticulated promise to recognize aspects of the OSTP Act that his three predecessors had ignored. That Act had provided for four OSTP Associate Directors, who had to be confirmed by the Senate. As science advisor to Carter, Frank Press had appointed only assistant directors who did not require confirmation. His two successors under Reagan followed his precedent.

Bromley seems to have had no problem with asking the president to nominate associate directors who would also be comfortable with congressional testimony. His first selections for those positions were J. Thomas Ratchford, Associate Director of AAAS and formerly a senior staff member on the House Science and Technology Committee, nominated as Associate Director for Policy and International Affairs; and James Wyngaarden, Director of the National Institutes of Health, nominated as Associate Director of Life Sciences.

Figure 2: President Bush speaking at the National Academy of Sciences, May 1991. Left to right: D. Allan Bromley, Frank Press, President of NAS, Bush, and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Bromley Collection.
Figure 2 (graphics2.jpg)

Bromley accompanied Ratchford and Wyngaarden to Capitol Hill to introduce them to the Senate Commerce, Science, Space and Technology Committee for what was expected to be their pro forma confirmation hearings. The confirmation portions of those hearings were, in fact, pro forma, but Bromley himself was subjected to a fifty-five–minute grilling by committee chair Albert Gore (D-TN) about the administration’s weak to non-existent activities on environmental issues, particularly global climate change. Bromley’s principle defense was that more research was required before a scientific consensus could be reached on the detailed nature of global change and the economic consequences of mitigation. According to one report, “The gentlemanly, silver-haired Bromley stood up to the Senators throughout the ordeal. But at times, he sounded foolish and even uninformed as he dutifully attempted to defend the administration’s weak environmental performance against vintage congressional bombast.”5

Two of the four associate directors resigned midway through the Bush administration. From early 1991 on, Donald A. Henderson, Dean of the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, served as Associate Director for Life Sciences. Eugene Wong replaced Phillips as Associate Director for Industrial Technology. Karl A. Erb, a former Yale colleague of Bromley’s who had served as Assistant Director of OSTP for Physical Sciences and Engineering since 1990, then replaced Wong as Associate Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering under the OSTP.

Bridge Building

During the months between his nomination and Senate confirmation, the science press reported on its first impressions of Bromley. In a July interview, he informed a reporter for Science that he intended to make more vigorous use of science and technology as tools for international diplomacy. Among the issues he expected to be asked to address at his forthcoming confirmation hearings, Bromley cited:

  • International competitiveness
  • The environment
  • The meaning of reduced East-West military tensions for defense R&D
  • Conflicts of interest
  • High technology
  • The “infamous” infrastructure.6

By his own count, Bromley testified more than forty-two times before various congressional committees during his years in Washington.7 His first meetings brought about more cordial future relations between OSTP and the key members and committees on which OSTP and the federal government’s principal science and technology agencies depended for support.

Bromley also discovered that attitudes toward the federal government among leaders of industry were at best neutral, and more often adversarial,8 so he organized meetings between leaders of key American companies and senior White House staff members, including John Sununu, the president’s chief of staff. (Unfortunately, these meetings generally resulted in demands for White House action on industry’s behalf rather than, as Sununu requested, the development of long-range, strategic plans that could help them adapt to future economic realities.

Figure 3: Left to right: James Wyngaarden, D. Allan Bromley, and J. Thomas (Tom) Ratchford. Wyngaarden and Ratchford were, respectively, OSTP Associate Directors for Science and for Policy and International Affairs. Courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Bromley Collection.
Figure 3 (graphics3.jpg)

Bromley also rebuilt productive relations with the U.S. science and engineering communities. He arranged to have Bush address the annual NAS meeting; Bush was the first president to do so since Kennedy.9

Probably the most effective of Bromley’s bridge-building activities involved the high-level, inner White House staff. As Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, he was the first presidential science advisor to participate in the president’s early morning White House senior staff meetings, although he was not a cabinet member. He was thus in a favorable position to establish good working relations with senior administration officials.

No doubt the most important of these officials was OMB Director Richard Darman. By establishing reasonable though never close working relations with the “prickly” Darman, Bromley got OSTP and OMB staff working together on the science and technology components of the president’s fiscal year 1991 budget submission.

In October 1989, only two months after his confirmation, a reporter for Science wrote about Bromley’s determination to revitalize the presidential science advisory system, starting with OSTP.10 “The President has really bent over backwards to be supportive,” Bromley stressed. Asked about his policy priorities, he put education at the top, noting that “in a great many cases, pre-college education has been literally perpetrating a fraud on the younger generation.” The global environment also ranked high on Bromley’s list of priorities, although he certainly could not have foreseen the grilling he would receive from Senator Gore on that topic two weeks later.

Revitalizing OSTP

When he arrived in Washington, Bromley discovered that the OSTP staff had only eleven members and a $1.5 million budget, down from fifty members and $4 million during the Carter years.11 Bromley moved quickly to recruit competent new OSTP staff. By the time he departed Washington in January 1993, the OSTP budget was $6.25 million and its staff numbered sixty-five. Bromley managed this turnaround in part because of the cordial relations he established with key members of Congress. Additionally, since he had abided by the substance of the Science Policy Act by recruiting four associate directors subject to confirmation by the Senate, prospective OSTP staff members at lower levels felt assured that they could make a difference. These staff members served as liaison to the principal federal research agencies, to other organizations within the Executive Office of the President—particularly the OMB—supported the activities of the newly constituted PCAST, and helped upgrade the status of the FCCSET, whose revitalization Bromley considered one of his principal achievements.

Federal R&D Budgets

Bush’s budget requests for science- and technology- related agencies signaled from the outset that he was convinced of their importance to the nation. In a statement accompanying his first budget request for fiscal year 1990, which he delivered personally before a Joint Session of Congress, he laid out the following proposals:

  • Keeping on track to double the budget of the National Science Foundation by 1993;
  • Making permanent the tax credit for R&D;
  • Creating a new task force on competitiveness, to be chaired by the Vice President;
  • Funding for NASA and a strong space program: “We must have a manned space station; a vigorous, safe space shuttle program, and more commercial development in space”;
  • A new attitude about the environment: “We must protect the air we breathe. I will send to you shortly legislation for a new, more effective Clean Air Act.”12

The president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 1991 was the first whose science and technology components had been crafted in large measure by Bromley. For the first time in more than a decade, the budget included a far larger increase for civilian as opposed to military R&D. But, as Science noted, “big science” was the big winner in these proposals. The bulk of the proposed budget was to support six big science projects:

  1. The Strategic Defense Initiative;
  2. The Space Station;
  3. The Moon/Mars initiative;
  4. The Superconducting Super Collider;
  5. The National Aerospace Plane;
  6. The Human Genome Project.13

The inability of the federal budget simultaneously to support so many big science projects and the desirability of seeking international support for the civilian-oriented projects were soon to become major themes during Bromley’s tenure.

The fiscal year 1991 budget proposed a major increase for research on global climate change. The proposed budget for global change research exceeded $1 billion, with NASA’s Earth Observation System satellites as its centerpiece. However, for the first time, the Bromley-crafted R&D budget presented a cross-cutting proposal, with six agencies in addition to NASA receiving substantial support for global change-related research. Budget cross-cuts were to become a notable aspect of Bromley’s revitalization of FCCSET.

Working with Richard Darman, Bromley tried to fashion a series of coherent federal R&D budgets that would visibly manifest a coherent federal science policy. However, the congressional budget process, in which various different committees deal with budget requests from different R&D agencies, tends to frustrate attempts at coherence. Bromley lamented this “balkanization” of Congress.14 More than once, he and Darman suggested that joint hearings on the R&D budget be held before several House and, later, Senate appropriations committees. This request was granted only once: for hearings on administration proposals for mathematics and science education.15


Early during his administration, Bush asked Bromley to draw up a list of nominees for a new body that would be called the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), to distinguish it from the long-defunct PSAC.16 PCAST consisted of twelve members who did not require Senate confirmation. The members included six representatives from universities, four from industry, one from a nonprofit organization, and one from the Smithsonian Institution.17 There were engineers, two physicists, two chemists, two biologists, one ecologist, one physician, one mathematician, one geologist, and one economist. Only two were women.

Most PCAST reports were meant for the president and his senior advisors and were therefore not made public. However, in December 1992, Bush agreed to make public all PCAST reports completed during that year. These included:

  • Achieving the Promise of the Biosciences Revolution: the Role of the Federal Government;
  • High Performance Computing and Communications Report;
  • LEARNING to meet the Science and Technology Challenge;
  • Megaprojects in the Sciences;
  • Science, Technology, and National Security and the American Standard of Living; and
  • Renewing the Promise: Research-Intensive Universities and the Nation. 18

Bromley later regretted that a draft PCAST report on world population had never been forwarded to the president because of political contentiousness on the issue.


Bromley recognized that FCCSET needed to become an effective tool of governance if his goal of revitalizing the entire presidential science advisory system was to be realized.19 Accordingly, he insisted that the heads of the relevant federal organizations attend FCCSET meetings in person. In reasonably short order, the membership agreed upon a set of cross-agency initiatives for FCCSET to explore in depth:

  • Global Change;
  • High Performance Computers and Communications;
  • Advanced Materials Science and Processing;
  • Biotechnology;
  • Mathematics and Science Education;
  • Advanced Manufacturing.

FCCSET subcommittees were formed to explore these initiatives, several of which—starting with global change research in fiscal year 1991—resulted in cross-agency budget initiatives.

During a September 2000 panel discussion after he had returned to Yale, despite some skepticism, Bromley maintained that FCCSET had functioned effectively during his tenure. The one federal organization that had failed to take its FCCSET responsibilities seriously, according to Bromley, was the Department of State, quite probably because State lacked any significant budget for science and technology and therefore had no stake in any of the cross-agency budget proposals that FCCSET and its subcommittees initiated. The State Department’s failure to recognize what Bromley believed was the vital importance of science as a tool for international diplomacy may also have reflected a reluctance of other FCCSET members to follow his lead.20

Technology Policy

Bromley was by no means the first to note that the “T” in both the Office of Science and Technology and the Office of Science and Technology Policy was often a distant second to the “S.” In an effort at improvement, OSTP issued a statement in September 1990 that noted the building blocks of a new national technology policy:

  • a quality workforce that is educated, trained, and flexible in adapting to technological and competitive change;
  • a financial environment that is conducive to longer-term investment in technology;
  • the translation of technology into timely, cost-competitive, high- quality manufactured products;
  • an efficient technological infrastructure, especially in the transfer of information;
  • a legal and regulatory environment that provides stability for innovation and does not contain unnecessary barriers to private investments in R&D and domestic production.21

Despite intense criticism and opposition from some in the White House, Bromley received considerable support from key members of Congress. In 1991 Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Armed Services Appropriations Subcommittee, directed OSTP to establish a Critical Technologies Panel “drawn equally from the private sector and from within the federal government, that was charged with examining the critical technologies that had been prepared by the Department of Commerce, the Department of Defense, and various private organizations.”22

The list of critical technologies identified by the panel were materials, manufacturing, information and communications, biotechnology and life sciences, aeronautics, energy and environment.23

In 1992, Senator Bingaman introduced legislation creating a Critical Technologies Institute, providing resources and staffing that would “make possible the long-range strategic planning for implementing the critical technologies in the industrial sector.”

Science and International Relations

Like most senior physicists, Bromley had occasion to participate in frequent international conferences. As a measure of his standing with the international physics community, he served as president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) from 1984 through 1987.

Well aware of the importance of international scientific initiatives, Bromley helped create the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development (OECD) Megascience Forum (now known as the Global Science Forum). Every three to five years the OECD’s Committee on Science and Technology Policy (CSTP), which normally meets twice a year, holds a meeting at the ministerial level, bringing together the ministers of science from the twenty-four countries that were OECD members in 1992. Bromley proposed creation of the Megascience Forum, where leading scientists could convene to discuss large-scale scientific programs whose costs exceeded or at least strained the budget of any single nation.24 Bromley had hoped that the Forum would lead to international cost-sharing of expensive programs and facilities. While this hope never materialized, the Forum did provide a unique and useful venue for assessing the status of research in a number of big science fields, for developing probable scenarios for the future, and for coordinating national and regional activities.

National Innovation Systems

Bromley’s recollections of his Bush administration years contain not one mention of the word “innovation.”25 Well before the end of the Clinton administration, however, “innovation” would become a buzzword. During the 1980s, a handful of scholars had begun to investigate ways in which innovation originated, grew, and ultimately succeeded or failed. In 1993, the economists Richard R. Nelson and Nathan Rosenberg published their influential National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis, which argued that university and industrial research, and the federal agencies that supported university research, were not the only institutions required for successful international competitiveness.26 Nor was a robust scientific research system a necessary or adequate foundation for competitiveness. What was required, they argued, was a national innovation policy.

No single event in the Bush administration led to this scholarly interest in national innovation systems. Rather, it had been increasingly clear since the late 1970s that the so-called linear model expounded in Science—the Endless Frontier was inadequate. That model assumed something like a conveyer belt, from which the results of basic research were picked up and used by applied researchers who passed them on for engineering development of a useful process or product. However, while the Bush report may have tacitly assumed that such products would easily be commercialized or used for military purposes, it was clear that this did not happen automatically. Rather, there were other, heretofore neglected factors that had to be involved: e.g., the necessary capital to proceed from a pilot model to full-scale production, as well as marketing expenses. In short, research and development were insufficient. What was required was a broader innovation system that encompassed research and development, and more besides.

Although no single event in the first Bush administration triggered these academic studies, these innovation studies had a notable impact on the formulation of science policy beginning in the early days of the succeeding Clinton administration.

In addition to rejecting the implicit Bush linear model, Nelson and Rosenberg noted that a problem originating in industrial research often stimulated new basic research programs in universities. Moreover, they asserted, advances in commercial and military technology very often relied not on breakthroughs in research but rather on incremental gains. Since the days of the Wright Brothers, for example, advances in the aircraft industry often were based on incremental improvements gained through trial and error.

The study of innovation systems explores such questions as: How does technical advance proceed? What are the key processes? Who are the key actors? How does technical innovation translate into economic growth? Among the indispensable institutions in the United States are research universities, industrial research laboratories, and the principal federal agencies that conduct and support R&D. Beyond that, links between industrial research laboratories and company operating units are essential; this is why Bell Labs, IBM, and Xerox all broke up their autonomous research labs in the 1980s and melded them with their operating units. Similarly, scholars came to recognize that tax and regulatory authorities played as vital a role in innovation systems as did direct federal R&D support.

In addition to universities, industry and government, capital to move a promising idea to a stage where industry can afford the applied research and development required for commercialization is vital. To this end, the National Science Foundation created programs in the early 1990s for small businesses, providing funds for aspiring entrepreneurs to conduct “proof of concept” research that might lead large companies either to fund further research or to acquire the entrepreneurial firm.

Along the same lines, venture capital firms were identified as an important component of national innovation systems. Such firms support new companies during their early stages of development and provide vital financial and management experience. Almost unique to the United States, venture capital firms’ existence may be closely linked to the almost unique concept of risk in this country. An individual who fails in one business may raise the necessary funds to start another—business failure is not seen as moral failure in the United States.

Mowery and Rosenberg also identified the U.S. research university system as an essential element in the national innovation system.27 The American research university system is, by several measures, by far the best in the world. They also pointed to data demonstrating that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the United States develop more potentially innovative ideas than larger firms. They suggested that SMEs would continue to play a significant role in the U.S. national innovation system.28

Council on Competitiveness

The Council on Competitiveness (CoC) was created in 1986 during a time when the United States appeared to be lagging behind other nations—particularly Japan—in its ability to compete in a number of key industries. It consists of major company CEOs, labor leaders, university presidents, and the heads of the principal science and technology agencies of the federal government.

Even as the national innovation concept broadened the way research and development was conceived, so meetings of the Council on Competitiveness were considerably broader than conventional professional science society meetings, such as those of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. That is, CoC meetings involved other actors in the innovation process in addition to scientists and engineers.

Although established during the first Bush administration, the CoC did not become a recognized organization until well into the Clinton administration, during which it held three notable conferences. The first was held on February 24, 1997, at the University of California, San Diego, and was billed as “California and the Future of American Innovation.”29 California Governor Pete Wilson participated, as did John Gibbons, the first of Clinton’s two science advisors, NSF Director Neal Lane (later Clinton’s second science advisor), Congressman George Brown (D-CA), Steven Schiff (R-NM), and the heads of several universities and corporations.30 The two subsequent conferences took place in Atlanta on March 3 and in Indianapolis on April 1-2.


  1. Jeffrey Mervis, “Science and the Next President,” The Scientist (June 27, 1988).
  2. Bromley was the first science advisor to hold the title Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. Both of Clinton’s successive science advisors had that title, as does the science advisor to President Barack Obama.
  3. Bromley, op. cit., 39.
  4. Ibid, 17.
  5. “A Bad Day on Capitol Hill for Dr. D. Allan Bromley,” Science & Government Report XIX, No. 17 (Nov. 1, 1989), 1-5.
  6. Barbara J. Culliton, “Science Adviser Gets First Formal Look,” Science, 245 (July 21, 1989), 247- 48.
  7. Bromley, op. cit., 34.
  8. Ibid., 53.
  9. Ibid., 52-53.
  10. Barbara Culliton, “A Conversation with D. Allan Bromley,” Science 246 (October 13, 1989), 203-04.
  11. Bromley, op. cit., 40-41.
  12. “Text: ‘A Realistic Plan for Tackling’ Deficit,” Los Angels Times (Feb. 10, 1989), 20.
  13. Colin Norman, “Bush Budget Highlights,” Science 247 (Feb. 2, 1990), 517-19.
  14. Bromley, op. cit., 84, 87.
  15. Advancing Innovation, op. cit., 38.
  16. Ibid., 91-92.
  17. Ibid., 261-62.
  18. Ibid., 97-98.
  19. Bromley, op. cit., 61-62.
  20. Advancing Innovation, op. cit., 42.
  21. Bromley, op. cit., 128.
  22. Ibid., 131.
  23. Ibid., 265-66.
  24. Ibid., 211.
  25. Bromley, op. cit.
  26. Richard R. Nelson and Nathan Rosenberg, eds., National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  27. David C. Mowery and Nathan Rosenberg, “The U.S. National Innovation System,” from Richard R. Nelson and Nathan Rosenberg, eds., National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 29- 52.
  28. In their article in the Nelson-Rosenberg collection, Hiroyuki Odagiri and Akira Goto (op. cit.) ignore university-industry research cooperation as important to Japan’s national innovation system, citing the importance of universities only as a source of skilled manpower. Yet beginning in 1996, the Japanese government embarked on a series of five-year Science and Technology Basic Plans which, among other things, took measures to encourage university-industry research cooperation. In 2004, universities became autonomous organizations, largely unregulated by the government’s Ministry of Education—Monbukogausho, or MEXT—and permitted to compete on the basis of their own competitive niches.
  29. Jon Cohen, “U.S. Science Policy: All Start Group Prescribes Partnerships for R&D Woes,” Science (March 7, 1997), 1410-11.
  30. Ibid.

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