Politics may hurt technology policy

No matter who emerges as the next president, the new administration will

not have as much direct effect on the fate of federal science and technology

as Congress will, according to experts.

Looking at the almost even split in the upcoming Congress, "any projections

of policy-making become tentative at best," said Norm Ornstein, resident

scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

"We are in for an era of limited and incremental policy-making...and it

won't be rational."

Ornstein and Skip Stiles, former Democratic legislative director for

the House Science Committee, spoke Wednesday at a seminar sponsored by the

Washington Science Policy Alliance. The alliance is a coalition of institutions

including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Rand

Science and Technology Policy Institute and the Center for International

Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University.

Once all the election ballots are counted — and at least one science-minded

congressman is from the Florida district that includes the disputed Palm

Beach County ballots — Congress will start dealing with committee and subcommittee

leaders who can no longer serve because of the six-year term limits imposed

in 1994.

Science and technology issues require a certain amount of experience

and knowledge that will be diluted with the upcoming changes. "All of this

turmoil bodes ill for science and technology policy," Stiles said.

Even the money that agencies with science and technology missions are

sure to get — such as the promised doubling of the National Institutes of

Health's budget for research — will not be enough unless Congress funds

infrastructure improvements so that the agencies can deal with an increase

in grant money, Ornstein said. More money means more grant applications,

and agencies like NIH do not have the systems or personnel in place to handle

the influx.

Both men agreed on one technology policy area the federal government

needs to face immediately: increasing monetary assistance for localities

to upgrade their voting systems.

Security issues preclude Internet voting as the solution for many years

to come, Ornstein said. But other options are simpler and less expensive,

such as giving states money to provide voters with an electronic ballot

that will prompt them to confirm their choices or alert them if they chose

more than one candidate, Stiles said.

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