Jimmy Carter photo

Interview in the "Chemical and Engineering News" Journal

October 18, 1976

Q. What level of research and development funding would your administration recommend? How would it be divided among defense, space, and civilian sectors? Should national R. & D. funding be linked to some percentage of gross national product? And what is an appropriate balance of federal funding for basic research, applied research, and development?

Governor Carter. The federal budget for research and development should not be reduced, but is unlikely to be expanded dramatically because of resource constraints. Nevertheless, there is a great opportunity to rebalance expenditures in such a way as to stabilize the long-term commitment to the basic research foundations on which all technology rests, to increase the priority given to research in fields likely to be of long-term economic importance, and to give proper attention to environmental, health, and other civil concerns, including applied research important in global problems. This can be done at the expense of some development and demonstration programs and other direct federal operations that should better be carried out with private funds.

The level of national research and development effort, public and private, should be growing with the economy. In recent years it has in fact been falling, as economic growth has sagged and the federal government's research and development strategy has fallen into disarray. This trend must be reversed. But it is wrong to tie research and development expenditures to a fixed fraction of any macroeconomic indicator, for research and development is a microeconomic activity. It is a means to an end, and the level of investment follows the ability of organizations to use it effectively. Thus, at the national level attention must be given to creating the conditions that encourage high-risk, high-payoff industrial.activity, and that motivate both public and private sector institutions to do the research that will best protect the long-term future of the country.

Q. What specific areas of research and development would your administration emphasize? Deemphasize? And how would you rank in priority research and development efforts needed to solve national problems such as energy, environment, and health?

Governor Carter. As indicated above, research and development emphasis is of two kinds: policies and incentives for private research and development and direct investment by the federal government. The federal government should use both approaches to providing a stronger economy and national capability to manage risks, protect the environment, and accomplish the other needed goals. In some areas of federal research and development investment the problem is not inadequate funds, but poorly managed programs. Internal priority shifts are necessary.

There are a number of areas in which specific research and development efforts need strengthening. Examples include earthquake prediction, arms control research, and research to provide a more quantitative basis for determining risk to human health and well-being from substances and environments (such as noise) of many types. In many areas of federal regulatory activity, there are lacking the kind of hard quantitative data on the basis of which to make sound regulatory policy.

A few areas of science and technology need a new commitment of national attention. One example is the scientific basis for the enhancement and improvement of nutritional quality of food supplies for all the world's people. Here the primary need is to share what we know. In defense and space research and development we must insure that our efforts are of very high quality and sustain the levels of technical leadership that are essential.

Q. What programs or policies would your administration recommend to insure continuity of funding for science and technology to prevent peaks and valleys in technical training and employment as well as a sustained real growth in the nation's science and technology effort? Should such programs be different for the industrial and academic communities?

Governor Carter. Rapid fluctuations in demand for research and development are particularly difficult to accommodate. Such fluctuations are wasteful of a priceless national human resource. On the industrial side the essential requirement is a stable economy with low unemployment. Research and development is a risk investment, and is made when companies have confidence in the future. Incentives for private investment in research and development should emphasize the power of research and development to permit innovation. When a business downturn occurs, countercyclical encouragement to innovation can help provide the basis for long-term strength in the economy.

In academic research, fluctuations in support result from the impact of economic cycles on government revenues, and thus on resources for public investment, and changes in the program content of federal agencies funding research. Since the federal government has direct or indirect responsibilities in both areas, federal leadership is needed to stabilize the research base in universities. The director of OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] must work with OMB [Office of Management and Budget] to insure that the aggregate impact of all federal research and development programs is well managed.

Q. Should the US. have a coherent overall science and technology policy? Should there be a Cabinet-level Department of Science and Technology, in addition to the new White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to provide centralized funding and management of the federal end of the national research and development effort? Or is the existing federal science apparatus adequate?

Governor Carter. Certainly, the U.S. Government should have a coherent overall science and technology policy. The lack of a mechanism for generating such a policy in the past 4 years has sown waste and confusion across the national scientific scene.

The question is, "How much pulling together of technical agency activities is desirable?" The mission-oriented agencies should certainly continue to operate laboratories and fund or cost-share research and development outside government as the prudent, efficient, and responsible way to carry out their missions. Such technical programs should not be separated from their end purposes and drawn together.

It also may be desirable to give more central authority and resources to agencies concerned with the health and vigor of the national scientific and technological enterprise. Finally, there are some glaring weaknesses in the present structure, for example in the ability of the federal agencies to contribute to the civil economy, or to carry out commitments that derive from foreign policy.

Q. In what ways do you see the federal government able to play a role in technological innovation? Further, what role, in terms of tax incentives, patent policy, and the like, should the federal government play in relation to research and development in private industry?

Governor Carter. First, the federal government should set a good example, by using its own purchasing power to encourage innovative products and services that can increase the efficiency of government. The small program on Experimental Technology Incentives (ETIP) in the National Bureau of Standards has demonstrated the power of this approach.

Next, attention must be given to the special circumstance surrounding the most fertile ground for innovation, the small technologically oriented firm financed with venture capital. It has been over a decade since the "Charpie Report" looked into this question, and still many of its recommendations lie unimplemented. The area should be looked at again to see what must be done in the present business and technology climate.

Another area requiring attention is federal patent policy which all too often either reduces the incentive of private investors to attempt to exploit the results of federal research and development commercial markets, or simply prevents the firms with the most technical capability from wishing to participate in federal programs. Finally, tax, trade, and antitrust policy must be managed so they encourage research and development and innovation.

Q. Should a sort of science court be set up to adjudicate scientific and technological issues? Further, what should (should not) be the role of the federal government in the setting up and perpetuation of such an apparatus?

Governor Carter. If by science court we mean competent institutions that make objective evaluations of scientific evidence, uncertainty and risk, undertaken in the open for public view, I would support the idea.

There is a clear need for better and more public policy determinations and the development of institutions for making the basis of such determinations clear.

Q. Should individual chemical companies or other corporate entities be permitted under the antitrust statutes to cooperate and coordinate their research and development programs in the solving of national problems such as energy or environment?

Governor Carter. This would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis. In nonproprietary research, if cooperation is necessary and would have a beneficial effect on competition, I would consider it However, in no case would I approve of this approach if it had the effect of eliminating or decreasing competition in the private sector.

Q. What role do you see US. research and development playing in solutions to US. balance-of-trade problems? Should there be close government control over export and licensing of US. science and technology, in general, and in sensitive areas such as nuclear equipment and technology, in particular?

Governor Carter. U.S. foreign trade performance is, above all, a measure of the internal strength of the U.S. economy in comparison with the economies of our main trading partners. In this comparison the figures since 1968 are serious cause for concern. U.S. improvements in productivity lag behind the rates in Japan and many European countries. The percentage of the work force engaged in research and development continues to rise in those countries; it has been declining in the United States since 1969.

More and more frequently we have seen major inroads by foreign competitors in areas of traditional strength in the United States. (But the right policy for the United States is not to copy the policies of foreign governments, but is to take steps to strengthen the competitiveness of the domestic U.S. economy.) This strength is greatest in the areas of most rapid technical progress. Agriculture, civil aviation, and computers are all examples.

There are circumstances, especially in technology of military significance and in critical materials areas, in which a government policy concerning exports and imports is justified. Our government should react with appropriate firmness to other governments that intervene to our disadvantage. What we should do is adopt those domestic policies—in education, science, economic policy—that are most likely to keep U.S. industry ahead, and give careful attention to the dislocation of the labor force that accompanies rapid technological change.

Q. There is a growing feeling that some of the current legislation and regulations to implement enacted legislation aimed at curbing pollution, safeguarding the environment, and so forth, is either too heavy-handed or cast in such broad terms as to be either meaningless or too subject to arbitrary interpretation. What is your view?

Governor Carter. There is no doubt that a few federal regulatory programs produce few real benefits to the public while exacting a cost to the economy. However, properly managed and structured, regulation not only should meet its purpose of protecting the public interests but also provide incentives to innovation.

Too often the rules are hard to interpret, government policy is too unpredictable and unstable, compliance is indifferently enforced. The most serious shortcoming of regulation is that it often fails to relate the social and economic costs of the goals to objective measures of benefit. Indeed, often the reduction of risk in one area is achieved at the expense of enhanced risk in another. Improvements in the regulatory process would come from reorganization. Above all, more objective scientific fact determination is needed, so policies can be soundly based.

Q. What views do you have on reform of the US. patent system, particularly as it affects individual inventors or wider licensing of US. technology? Are existing federal programs to transfer technology developed at government expense to private industry or other sectors of the economy adequate? What further efforts in this area might you propose? And how would your administration view exclusive licensing to industry of federally owned patents? Should there be some form of compensation to the government and should government-employed inventors of such licensed technology receive some form of compensation?

Governor Carter. I realize that the present U.S. patent system has some severe difficulties in regard to inventors, users, and recipients of technology. I have not yet made a detailed study of the system, but I plan to do so in the near future. Until that time, I would like to withhold any judgment on this matter.

Your suggestion on private licensing of government-owned patents is provocative. If it can be determined that such a system would encourage and increase competition in the private sector, I would be willing to consider it. I would have to study the matter of consideration for government-employed inventors from a personnel management perspective.

Q. How do you view the current level of effort in the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to regulate toxic chemicals? Should the effort be increased and, if so, in what fashion?

Governor Carter. We must do more to guarantee each and every American the right to a safe and healthy place of work. More than 600 toxic chemicals are introduced into our workplace annually. There are currently more than 13,000 already listed. Nearly 100,000 working people die each year from occupational illnesses and accidents. More than 17,000 disabling injuries have occurred in our nation's mines. This terrible toll cannot be tolerated.

I believe the basic concept behind OSHA is excellent. We should continue to clarify and expand the state role in the implementation of health and safety. OSHA must be strengthened to ensure that those who earn their living by personal labor can work in safe and healthy environments.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 should cover all employees and be enforced as intended when the law was enacted. However, early and periodic review of the Act's provisions should be made to ensure that they are reasonable and workable. I would look favorably on developing means to provide technical assistance and information to employers to encourage compliance with the Act.

The control of occupational hazards can save many workers each year who die prematurely because they are exposed to toxic chemicals, dust, pesticides, unsafe machinery, and other dangerous conditions. Nationwide efforts in this area should continue until our working citizens are safe in their jobs.

Jimmy Carter, Interview in the "Chemical and Engineering News" Journal Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347554