AS the newly appointed science adviser to President Bush, Yale University physicist D. Allan Bromley faces one of the toughest assignments a presidential assistant has tackled. He must penetrate the barriers between federal agencies and between separately funded projects in an era when major scientific programs cut across established lines of authority and existing budget categories, according to outgoing science adviser William R. Graham.
Dr. Graham explained that this now is the only way the administration and Congress can plan and carry out an effective strategy to make the most of the federal government's investment in scientific research.
It's a Washington clich'e to call the problem of penetrating those traditional barriers ``nearly intractable.'' Previous science advisers, including Graham, have had minimal success in trying to solve it.
This is in spite of the fact that Congress created the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology 13 years ago to promote an interagency perspective. Its 14 members include the heads of the scientifically relevant federal agencies. Yet, speaking as the most recent council chairman, Graham said, ``We still have a long way to go.''
As an example of what needs to be done, Graham cited the research program on global climate change which the coordinating council has under review. This $200 million program cuts across seven agencies. The best way to deal with it is to consider the program as a whole rather than taking it bit by bit in terms of disconnected agency projects and their budgets.
The National Academy of Sciences has recommended that the entire federal research-and-development budget be subjected to this kind of cross-agency analysis. Both Congress and the administration have acknowledged the need to do this. They are looking to the new science adviser to provide the leadership to carry out this difficult task.
Thus, as Graham prepared to hand over his office to his successor, he said that ``building crossties between federal departments'' will be ``one of the major challenges of the next four years.''
Graham outlined this challenge shortly before the public announcement of Dr. Bromley's appointment last Thursday. It was part of his keynote address to the 14th annual colloquium on science and technology policy held in Washington by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The need for the new comprehensive view of science programs was a major theme of the colloquium.
For example, Sen. Pete Domenici (R) of New Mexico, ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on the Budget, explained that the federal science effort is at present authorized and funded in an incoherent fashion.
Agencies with science programs, or parts of science programs, are lumped together with nonscience agencies in several different committee jurisdictions. Each of the appropriations committees has a given pot of money to allocate among the agencies that it oversees.
This means that a worthwhile science program may have to compete with a worthwhile social program for funding. NASA's budget requests, for example, are weighed against those of the Veterans Administration.
Congress should be arguing among science programs within a pot of money devoted to science, Senator Domenici said. He explained that, as a step toward that goal, his budget committee has a commitment from the Bush administration that the Office of Management and Budget and the new science adviser will break out science funding as a coherent budget and send it along as an appendix to the total federal budget.
This kind of discussion will be familiar to Bromley. He has been involved with United States science policy for several decades. He has served on many government committees, including the Reagan administration White House Science Council. As the new science adviser, however, he will have to exert unprecedented leadership to produce the degree of policy and budget coherence that is now being demanded.
In doing this, Bromley will have more clout within the administration than did his predecessor. His post has been raised to the status of an assistant to the President. This is a high sub-Cabinet position equal to the level of the national security adviser. He will attend Cabinet and National Security Council sessions. His friendship with President Bush should help ease his access to the Oval Office.
Even so, building crossties between turf-conscious agencies will be a tough political mission.