Press Release

Chairman Boehlert’s Speech to SUNY Presidents on the Impact of Terrorism on R&D

By SpaceRef Editor
October 1, 2001
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) gave the following speech this afternoon before State University of New York (SUNY) campus presidents:

“It’s an honor to be with you this afternoon to open your conference.  And I think it’s especially important that we gather together in the wake of the events of September 11th.

 
“I’m sure that all of you, like me, are still reeling – emotionally and intellectually — from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  In every sense, from the personal to the national, it is hard to know exactly how to respond.  In some ways, the passage of time has only made what happened seem more unreal and bewildering.

 
“But I think it’s safe to say, that in the coming months, as in previous times of crisis, our nation will turn to its colleges and universities for help.  We look to our universities for leadership, for ideas, for information, for education and training, and, if worst comes to worst, for soldiers.

“In any event, universities and colleges are inherently implicated in our response to September 11th.  For while we say that the world changed on September 11th; it’s really our knowledge of the world, our sense of the world, not the world itself that changed on that fateful day. 

“After all, terrorists were at work before the 11th, the Taliban was in power before the 11th, our security vulnerabilities existed before the 11th; it’s our awareness of these and so many other aspects of life that is so different now.  Only the ways we put that new awareness and knowledge to use will change the actual world in the aftermath of the attacks. 

“And academia, as a leading generator, analyzer, repository and purveyor of human knowledge and insight, will necessarily have an impact on whether and how our world actually changes.  I hope and expect that academia, in general, and the SUNY system, in particular, are up to that task, which may require some new undertakings, but mostly will simply require more intensive and better-focused attention on existing efforts and greater engagement with the rest of American society.

“I don’t believe, for instance, that last month’s attacks signal a need for any fundamental change in the structure or nature of our academic institutions.  I’m thinking here, particularly, of the openness of our colleges and universities – openness to both ideas and people.  I’ve already seen some articles in The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education raising the specter of new restrictions on student visas, although I haven’t heard much talk of this yet in the Congress. 

“Obviously, the United States has to screen all visa applicants more thoroughly and needs to keep better track of those who enter our country, and, in particular, to crack down on those with expired visas.  But we must not imperil the openness of our universities, which are magnets for students around the world, many of whom choose to settle in the United States.  Foreign students who remain here are absolutely critical elements of our science and technology workforce, and those who return home often increase the goodwill toward the U.S. in their home countries. 

“Some people may view limiting visas as “erring on the side of caution,” but it’s just as easy to argue that “caution” argues for openness, given how much we rely on students who come here from overseas.

“Indeed, I believe we need to look critically at every proposal to curtail the general openness and freedom of American society in the wake of September 11.  As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I know that changes are needed, to be sure, but those changes need to be targeted and limited.

“So, fundamental changes in the nature of academia are probably unwarranted, but what about changes in the research and development agenda?  Do we need to redirect government or academic R&D in the wake of the attacks?

“Along with the scientific community, the House Science Committee, which I chair, has just begun to analyze that question.  I know that the National Academy of Sciences and numerous other entities in Washington and around the country are also looking at how the scientific community should respond to the attacks, and we should be careful about rushing to conclusions.

“But my basic view is that, while there are a few areas that need additional focus, the general thrust of R&D need not change.  Let me focus, first, though, on the areas in which research has probably been inadequate.

“First among these appears to be computer security.  While the terrorists involved in the September 11th events did not engage in cyber attacks – indeed they made full use of the intact Internet in carrying out the everyday activities, like airline ticket purchases, on which their plot depended – our general vulnerability to terrorism should make us look again at our ability to protect the computer systems on which we all increasingly rely.

“What the experts tell us is that we have a long way to go to make our systems secure.  And one reason for that, they say, is that computer security research, particularly on security for civilian systems, is an inadequately funded backwater in academia, government and industry.  The computer science resources that attract the best computer scientists and engineers are simply elsewhere.  That situation has been exacerbated by battles between security agencies, on the one hand, particularly the secretive National Security Agency, and civilian R&D agencies, over who should be funding what kinds of research.

“The Science Committee will hold a hearing, tentatively scheduled for October 10, to explore these issues more fully.  Our conclusions will be reflected in the Information Technology bill we were already drafting, which will authorize and improve coordination of computer science programs across the federal R&D agencies. 

“The federal government must also put additional resources into improving the technical capabilities of our law enforcement agencies.  We need research that will enable us to gather better intelligence to foil terrorist plots and other crimes before they are implemented.  I’m quite familiar with this work because some of it is going on at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) lab, which is working with the Air Force’s Rome Lab, at the former Griffiss Air Force Base in my district.  The NIJ center was doing a great deal of work with the Secret Service and FBI offices that were located in the World Trade Center complex.  Their building – number seven – was among those that collapsed, but thankfully, everyone got out safely.

“(By the way, when I was in New York City last week to tour “Ground Zero,” we were told that access to the Building Seven area is being strictly limited and that all the materials from Building Seven – metal, paper, concrete -are being kept separate from the rest of the Trade Center debris at the Fresh Kill landfill for security reasons.)

“There are probably some narrower areas of research that need more attention, as well.  For example, the Science Committee is working on a bill to authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to fund research to assess and improve the security of drinking water systems.  This is an idea that came to us from the water utilities, and the sewage authorities are interested in similar research on their facilities.

“Unlike the other areas I’ve discussed, none of this is likely to be particularly fundamental or basic research, but it’s still vitally important, and universities will no doubt have a role to play in it.

“Other research projects may emerge as we scrutinize what happened in New York and Washington.  We plan to hold a hearing later in October to examine what research is needed to better protect our physical infrastructure – buildings, power plants, the electric grid, etc. 

“In addition, the focus of some of our nation’s research may shift.  Existing research on identification techniques – especially biometrics:  the use of iris patterns or heartbeat patterns or other aspects of the human body to ensure that people are not using false identities – may get a higher priority.

“Research in the social sciences and the humanities, including research on the causes of terrorism and the reaction to it, will certainly be more relevant than ever.  Research that would help us prevent or respond to chemical, biological or nuclear attacks by terrorists will have renewed significance.

“But, as has been noted often, the September 11th attacks were not exactly high tech.  The terrorists turned the instruments of everyday American life against us.  We need careful analysis to piece together how the terrorists accomplished that, and, to the extent possible, to prevent its recurrence.  But that is, by and large, not the stuff of a wholly new federal or academic R&D agenda.

“So, I’d like to devote the remainder of my remarks to some things I’d like to see SUNY and the nation focus on that have not been directly affected by recent events, namely the bulk of our R&D and education programs.

“The good news is that federal R&D spending was doing pretty well in the Congressional appropriations process before September 11th, and that is unlikely to change as the process winds up – hopefully by the end of this month.  After all, fiscal 2002 begins today, and we have yet to complete action on a single spending bill.

“Here’s the picture for the National Science Foundation (NSF), for example.  The fiscal 2001 spending level was about $4.4 billion, and the President – misguidedly, I believe – recommended essentially level funding for 2002.  But the House provided more than $4.8 billion, and the Senate almost $4.7 billion.  Given that the White House and Congressional leaders have tentatively agreed to raise overall federal spending for 2002, I expect NSF to end up with a sizable spending increase for the new fiscal year. 

    

“I wholeheartedly support – and have pressed for – that result.  And my neighbor, Jim Walsh, who chairs the spending subcommittee that controls the NSF budget, deserves much of the credit.

“Federal increases like those should only bolster New York’s efforts to build up more centers of excellence in New York State.  Governor Pataki, Senator Bruno and Chancellor King have been on exactly the right path in looking for ways to bring together our state’s public and private universities and colleges with industry to create such research centers.

“That’s what our economic competitors are doing, with gusto.  And as our national economy falters, New York needs such centers more than ever.  In 1998, New York State ranked eighth among states in receipt of federal research and development funds – a respectable ranking to be sure, but hardly up to our potential, given our academic and industrial base.  In terms of dollars, New York received less than a quarter of what top-ranked California raked in.

“That’s got to change, and believe me our rivals are hardly resting on their laurels.  The State of California, for example, is planning to invest $400 million over four years in new multi-disciplinary Institutes for Science and Innovation located on University of California campuses.

“The entire New York State Congressional delegation is committed to ensuring that New York gets its fair share of federal funds.  But, when it comes to securing federal funds, you are the ones who truly hold the keys to success; our efforts can only be successful if we have well thought out, credible, high quality plans to advocate for before federal agencies and our Congressional colleagues.

“Among other things, those plans must ensure that our work to expand New York’s R&D enterprise only strengthens the educational mission of our colleges and universities.  

“None of the R&D we conduct on security or anything else will matter, in the long-run, unless it helps train students in new fields.  None of our R&D goals will be met, in the long run, unless we do a better job of preparing teachers and producing more capable students in science and math. 

“So allow me to close by just focusing for a moment or two on education — the academic issue closest to my heart.

“Recent events have done nothing to deter the President and the Congress from carrying out their commitment to improve American education, particularly pre-college education in all fields.  Ongoing negotiations are continuing to settle on increased funding levels for education programs and to enact a major rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Congress should be able to pass that legislation by the end of October, and that should gradually result in better-prepared students arriving on your campuses.

“Progress is also being made on H.R. 1858, a bill targeted specifically at improving pre-college science and math education.  That bill would create new NSF programs to encourage institutions of higher education and businesses to devote more of their energy and resources to improving pre-college science and math education.  The bill would also create new federal scholarships to encourage top science, math and engineering majors to become science and math teachers.

“This is a bill that I introduced, but it builds on proposals from President Bush and Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  It passed the House without opposition, and is garnering bipartisan support in the Senate, where it has been introduced by Senator Jay Rockefeller. 

“Moreover, money for two programs in the bill – partnerships between universities and colleges, businesses and school districts; and the scholarship program I mentioned – are already included in the House spending bill for NSF.  So we’re on our way to seeing these programs implemented. 

   

“I would hope to see SUNY campuses participate actively in these programs once they’re in place.  Our institutions of higher education must redouble their efforts to improve science and math education at the K-12 level.  And that’s a project in which the full range of SUNY institutions – community colleges, four-year colleges, and university centers — all have a role, regardless of whether they have education departments.

“I should note that Senator Lieberman and I also plan to introduce a bill to put more federal resources into improving science, math and engineering education at the undergraduate level.  In fact, we had a press conference on the bill scheduled for September 11.  We will probably reschedule it for later this month.

“So, the events of September 11th have forced us to alter our agenda in ways large and small.  But fundamentally, our nation’s R&D and education needs remain pretty much what they were before the attacks, and, for now, at least, the resources available to meet those needs remain about the same, as well.

 

“What we need to do now is to draw on, and to shore up, the strengths of our major institutions, such as SUNY – not just to prevent future attacks, but to ensure that our nation remains a beacon of freedom and openness and opportunity and innovation and prosperity.  Those traits may make our nation a more appealing target for terrorists, but they’re also what makes it worth defending.  Thank you.”     

 

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Jeff Donald ([email protected])

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SpaceRef staff editor.