Tech office closing in on leader


The Bush administration is one step closer to a leader for the government's science and technology research and development, just as officials are looking at how technology can help in the fight against terrorism.

As the nominee for director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Marburger will oversee and evaluate research programs across government.

The programs focused on science and technology to help respond to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are today the most important aspect of that arena, Marburger testified Oct. 9 at his confirmation hearing. A key focus for OSTP must be to make sure that research and development funds are efficiently used, Marburger told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee's Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.

"Science and technology are already playing an important role in that response" to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in areas such as surveillance and detection, he said. "Coordination and evaluation of the programs being proposed are increasingly important."

The entire Senate must still confirm Marburger, but the leadership of OSTP must be in place to "make sure that the left hand and the right hand are having a conversation," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the subcommittee's chairman.

Wyden pointed out that a General Accounting Office report released just after the attacks said there is an extreme lack of coordination among the agencies when it comes to counterterrorism research and development. In one case, GAO found the U.S. Coast Guard and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency were doing almost identical research to detect biological agents, and since neither knew about the other, they were unable to share information.

Many other programs under way relate directly to the mission of the new Office of Homeland Security, and OSTP will be keeping close track of their management to ensure that such duplication of effort does not occur in the future, Marburger said.

"It is necessary to look again at these programs from this new point of view," he said. "In this critical time, increasing communication between agencies is absolutely necessary."

Other members of Congress are also concerned about the level of research into cybersecurity technologies, including Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), who introduced Marburger at the confirmation hearing. Earlier this month Boehlert, as chairman of the House Science Committee, called on the government to work closely with academia and industry on advancing the "inadequate" level of research.

And OSTP will also be working closely with industry to identify areas where the private sector can help respond to emergencies, Marburger said. This cooperation will occur on a high level through the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group originally established in 1990 and that President Bush renewed at the beginning of October. The PCAST is made up of top executives from industry and academia, and is co-chaired by the director of OSTP.


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