Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 23  |  Friday, February 25, 2000  |  Number 4
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

URA Council of Presidents Meets in D.C.

by April Burke

Rita Colwell Neither a foot of snow, nor government closures, nor traffic tie-ups, nor even the President's State of the Union address could dampen the atmosphere of the 2000 Council of Presidents meeting in Washington, D.C. on January 27th. With about 100 representatives of the member institutions of Universities Research Association in attendance, the annual meeting, which provides universities with a status report on URA's activities, offered both internal reports and frank discussion with key government officials.

U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee chairman, James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), began the meeting with a summary of last year's accomplishments by the Science Committee. That summary included the House Science Report prepared by Congressman Vern Ehlers (R-MI), one of two physicists in the U.S. House of Representatives (FermiNews [date]). That report put the Congress on record supporting basic science, improving math and science education, and urging extension of the research and development tax credit. Sensenbrenner said he welcomes the emphasis on basic research, calling it "the intellectual engine for future technological advances."

Then Sensenbrenner shared some of his concerns for the nation, such as problems with U.S. education and the country's reliance on foreign workers.

"This issue is becoming extremely acute," Sensenbrenner said, pointing out that foreign nationals attending our higher education institutions are going back home because there are high tech jobs available in their countries.

"Those of us who support science know it is risky," Sensenbrenner continued, referring to the support of the Science Committee in response to undeserved criticism of experiments that do not result in breakthroughs. Sensenbrenner stressed that the Science Committee has passed authorization bills for science agencies with realistic funding levels. He explained to the Council that authorization levels must be realistic in order for the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate to take the levels seriously.

Sensenbrenner closed with the familiar call for researchers to go out into the public to show how life is better due to basic research investments in past decades.

After financial status reports, the Council heard from National Science Foundation Director Rita Colwell. Colwell began with expressions of enthusiasm for the upcoming Presidential budget request for FY 2001 for NSF. She called the budget request "a shot in the arm for R&D." With a $3 billion increase for the President's 21st Century Research Fund, including $675 million for NSF, the Administration is expressing its serious support for federally funded basic research. She urged the Council members to treat the budget request as a "hunting license" to make the increase a reality. Colwell explained several initiatives in the President's budget request, including Information Technology, Biocomplexity, Nanotechnology and Understanding the Nature of Learning.

 Joe B. Wyatt(left) Chair of the URA Board of Trustees, and Fermilab Director Ken Stansfield approve as House Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner speaks Following Colwell, URA President Fred Bernthal introduced new members of URA, including John LaTourette, President of Northern Illinois University. Bernthal also acknowledged key government officials in attendance, including Peter Rosen and John O'Fallon of DOE and Marv Goldberg of NSF. In addition, Bernthal announced that URA and Battelle will jointly sponsor a Capitol Hill reception in May, 2000.

The next government speaker was Hans Mark, Director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Department of Defense. Mark spoke about key areas of research supported by the Defense Department and answered questions about DOD priorities.

In the afternoon, Fermilab Deputy Director Ken Stanfield gave a realistic review of Fermilab's budget and the prospects for scientific discovery in Run II. He was followed by Ernie Moniz, Under Secretary at DOE, who spoke frankly to the Council.

Moniz reiterated that URA and Fermilab have a good history. He stressed that last year was a tough one for DOE, because of Congressional action on security at DOE facilities. He said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the DOE has the ability to address security concerns such as computer access. He reassured the Council of his commitment to the continued exemption of Tier 3 laboratories, such as Fermilab and SLAC, which perform no classified research.

Moniz urged the audience to resist overreaction to the security policies. "These policies are in the early stages" he said, and have not been tested internally. Tier 3 labs should be treated as academic institutions on security issues, Moniz said.

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