Last Monday’s address by the President at the National Academies goosed many in the scientific community – in a positive sense. It’s been true that many scientists expressed optimism at having someone in the White House who supported science, not paying heed to the significant financial support enjoyed by research agencies over the post-World War II period. That President Obama took the rare step of addressing the Academies while in office was taken as additional evidence that he would be such a President.
A closer look at the transcript of the address suggests that it is not the clean break from the past as some might think, but a continuation or expansion of efforts begun during the last Administration. For instance, the promises to make the research and experimentation tax credit permanent, as well as doubling the budgets of the NSF, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Deparmtent of Energy’s Office of Science, are all part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, introduced by President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union Address. The doubling of these budgets started after the passage of the America COMPETES Act, so the only new part of this promise is the tax credit. Even the creation of ARPA-E reflects part of the COMPETES Act. These are good policies, just not new policies, and not anything unique to the current President.