The creation of a Department of Science and Technology, an idea that has been kicking around Washington in one form or another for at least 20 years, is about to gather some political momentum. The push will come from the President's Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, which decided at a meeting on 6 December to make establishment of the new department one of its chief recommendations when it reports to President Reagan next month. The idea is also being enthusiastically championed within the White House by George A. Keyworth, II, Reagan's science adviser.
There are many roadblocks to be overcome before the recommendation becomes reality, not the least of which is uncertainty over the immediate future of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which Keyworth heads (see story on page 1399). OSTP would be the focus for drafting a detailed proposal if Reagan endorses the recommendation. But whatever its fate, the commission's recommendation is sure to spark a major debate on the federal government's arrangements for supporting science and technology.
The commission, a body consisting mostly of chief executive officers of major corporations, will not specify in its recommendation exactly what should be included in the department. But Keyworth, who was a member of the commission, says it discussed inclusion of virtually all the federal government's civilian R&D agencies. The R&D programs of the Department of Defense would be off limits, as would those of the Department of Agriculture and those tied directly to department missions or regulatory activities. Just about everything else would be fair game.
If the idea goes forward, the proposed department could thus include the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, much of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the...