Bush Administration's Dubious Milestone
On May 19, historians and science policy buffs quietly observed the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's appointment of George Keyworth II as the White House Science Adviser. That anniversary is notable primarily because it was the slowest appointment of a Science Adviser by any President in history. Bill Clinton, for instance, appointed John Gibbons a mere four days after his inauguration. Yesterday, George W. Bush eclipsed the Reagan record. More than four months into his administration, President Bush has yet to nominate a science adviser.
Congressman Joe Baca (D-CA), a two-term Member of the Science Committee, observed: "The President has sent the very clear signal that he does not value objective scientific input in developing his position on the most controversial decisions of his young Administration, like ballistic missile defense, a national energy plan, global climate change, or arsenic in drinking water. All of these matters involve substantial technical complexity, and a prominent scientist should have had a voice at the table when they were resolved. Bill Clinton's two science advisors were given that responsibility as valued participants in meetings of the President's cabinet. However experienced President Bush's cabinet may be, useful technical advice can only come from a credible source, not from lawyers, oilmen, and political operatives."
Baca continued, "Now that the President has de-valued the position, it will be doubly difficult to find a competent candidate to accept the job. His science adviser will clearly have little authority in the policy process and will have to defend a basic set of policies over which he or she exerted no influence. The White House position on many of these issues runs counter to the consensus within the scientific community. It's a no-win situation for whatever unfortunate person accepts the task."
One of the candidates for the post was Dr. Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor of North Carolina State University and a science adviser to George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas. A May 15 New York Times story quotes a Federal official on the reason for Dr. Fox's lack of interest in the post: "There were too many restrictions … they were saying, 'Hey, be in the President's office, but don't do anything'."