Ronald Reagan's top `star wars' salesman departs: `President has made me obsolete'
George A. Keyworth II, science adviser to President Reagan and unflapple salesman for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), popularly known as ``star wars,'' can't seem to find enough nice things to say about his job. So why is he leaving it next week?Skip to next paragraph
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Dr. Keyworth flashes an easy grin at the question, though a momentary expression of fatigue that flickers across his face as he speaks seems to imply something. ``I've been here, I think, longer than anybody,'' he says in his corner office in the Old Executive Office Building overlooking the White House. Here, for the past 41/2 years, he has been the President's man for all things scientific. ``I think that's plenty long enough.''
At the very least, Keyworth has been in office long enough to play midwife to the most sweeping national research initiative since President Kennedy launched the Apollo space program. SDI has become the centerpiece of President Reagan's strategic legacy and a major bone of contention in arms talks with the Soviets. It has divided the American scientific community like no issue, perhaps, since the soul-searching that followed the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of World War II.
And with its billions of dollars in federal research contracts, SDI could leave a heavy imprint on the shape of many types of basic research in the US for years to come.
``It's by far the most important thing I've ever been associated with,'' Keyworth states.
It has also nearly overwhelmed any other considerations that might factor into Keyworth's general reputation as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
When he charged into office in June 1981, after heading the physics program at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the administration's spending freeze had halted a number of research projects in midstream.
Keyworth's stewardship at OSTP has been criticized on the grounds that the administration placed too much emphasis on physics and defense research at the expense of biology, agriculture, and the social sciences. Applied research -- shorter-term projects that hold the promise of commercial payoff -- was considered the province of private industry and often sheared from federal programs. Of the applied programs the administration left in place, two-thirds were somehow related to the military; it had been only one-third before. Many projects in the federal national laboratory system, particularly in energy research and the biomedical sciences, were decimated.
Yet Keyworth is credited by many for ensuring that basic science managed to survive and even flourish during the succeeding fiscal years. And federal funds for basic research, budgeted for $7.6 billion in fiscal 1986, is now at its highest level ever.
``It's been a remarkable performance,'' says William D. Carey, executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. ``[Keyworth] can be credited with seeing to the growth of national investment in fundamental science.''