MIT Takes a Lead Role in Washington
To The Faculty Newsletter:
As Director of MIT’s Washington office, I was pleased to see your September-October editorial lamenting the limited public discussion of science and technology in this year’s Presidential campaign. Since I help foster MIT’s extensive interactions with Congress and key federal agencies, I am intensely aware of the national political forces that affect science policy, so I certainly share your concern.
With a new administration in Washington, however, the US science and engineering communities have a rare opening to make the broader case for investing in basic research – and I thought you would be pleased to know that MIT has been taking a leading role. A few examples:
- Through this election season, MIT repeatedly briefed both Presidential campaigns on critical science policy issues and R&D funding needs. Many ideas we provided became part of the detailed science and technology positions posted by both campaigns. In fact, while the two candidates differ in important respects on these issues (see Science, Vol. 321, Sept. 26, 2008, pp. 1762-63), both have paid them more attention than have previous Presidential contenders, a development that stems in part from outreach efforts from MIT faculty, researchers and administrators, in alliance with other universities, businesses, and science organizations. More detail on candidate positions is available here: http://www.sciencedebate2008.com/www/index.php?id=42 and http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/issues/FactSheetScience.pdf
- Given its profound ramifications for the economy, climate change, and national security, energy must be a top U.S. priority. On the energy question alone, over the past 18 months MIT has provided 21 faculty witnesses at key Congressional hearings – far more than any other university. A number of these appearances accompanied the publication of landmark MIT studies on the future of coal and geothermal energy, reports that shaped important legislation this Congress and are framing the broader public debate. More MIT energy reports are planned this year.
- President Hockfield is becoming the most prominent university voice in Washington, using a number of different tools to bring innovation and R&D to the national agenda. For example, she co-chairs two separate efforts designed to guide the priorities of the new administration, one with the American Association of Universities (AAU) and one with the Council on Competitiveness, the country’s leading joint business and university policy group. In June, she met with Senator Obama and participated in a two-hour non-partisan panel discussion on innovation policy with him (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z7_A-rkOjA&feature=user). And last month, she testified before the House, led a National Press Club press conference, and wrote a Washington Post op-ed, all backing major increases in R&D; she will do a follow-on National Press Club press conference on Nov. 12th.
- In June, MIT invited both candidates to campus to discuss science and technology issues, including energy and the innovation economy. While neither accepted (Massachusetts, as we know, is not a battleground state), this contact helped open the door for the October 6 on-campus debate on energy policy, featuring senior campaign officials and co-sponsored by the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) and the MIT Energy Club.
In addition to these higher profile efforts, many faculty members have quietly advised the campaigns in a range of policy areas. While MIT’s faculty and administrators certainly recognize how critical federal support will be for the future of American science and technology, you are absolutely right that these issues demand much more focus from the science and engineering communities writ large. I know that MIT leaders are focused on engaging these groups in this broader effort, and I welcome specific suggestions fro m your readers for additional steps we should pursue.