The Science Accomplishments of President George W. Bush

Letter to the Editor / by John Marburger /

In an editorial posted on October 29, the editors of Seed magazine endorsed the candidacy of Barack Obama, now our president-elect. The editorial is astoundingly inaccurate in its portrayal of President Bush’s policies, attitudes, and record of accomplishment in science. The positions of the president-elect, as described in the editorial, are remarkably similar to those of President Bush. Here are some facts, with links and references to presidential and White House documents the editors and readers of Seed should know about.

Emphasis on basic research
The centerpiece of the president’s American Competitiveness Initiative is a commitment to double funding for key basic research programs that drive innovation and economic competitiveness ($50 billion investment over 10 years). In his 2006 State of the Union address he said: “I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America’s most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.”

Congress did not provide the requested funding, but the president continued to push for it, reiterating its importance in his 2008 State of the Union: “To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on Earth.”

ACI summary and policy documents:

2006 and 2008 State of the Union speeches:

Strengthening tax policy to spur R&D
For many years, President Bush has called for making the research and development tax credit permanent and modernizing it, a commitment of approximately $55 billion over five years. From his 2006 State of the Union speech: “I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit — to encourage bolder private-sector initiatives in technology. With more research in both the public and private sectors, we will improve our quality of life — and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.”

Encouraging the careers of young scientists who pursue innovative lines of thinking
Encouraging early-career scientists and graduate student research is a priority area of emphasis within the budgets of ACI research agencies, particularly at the National Science Foundation. The 2009 NSF budget request includes:

  • $182 million, an eight-percent increase, for NSF’s most prestigious award program in support of the early career-development activities of those faculty members likely to become the academic leaders of the future.
  • $125 million, a 30-percent increase, for the NSF-wide graduate research fellowship program, which recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students who are expected to significantly contribute to research, teaching, and future innovations in science and engineering.
  • $62 million, a six-percent increase, to support active and meaningful research participation by undergraduate students in NSF-funded research.


The Administration has also supported the NIH Pioneer program, and the president has made time to meet personally with the winners of the annual Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers.

A comprehensive plan to reinvigorate math and science education
In addition to the president’s No Child Left Behind legislation (which included as a key element establishment of math and science assessments), the ACI included a comprehensive package of programs aimed at strengthening K-12 math and science education by: enhancing our understanding of how students learn and applying that knowledge to train highly qualified teachers, develop effective curricular materials, and improve student learning.

In his 2006 State of the Union, President Bush said: “Third, we need to encourage children to take more math and science, and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We’ve made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country. Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced-placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good, high-wage jobs. If we ensure that America’s children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.”

Detailed info available at OSTP’s ACI summary page (above) as well as through the Department of Education:

The vital importance of re-architecting nationwide science literacy
The president’s No Child Left Behind legislation included mandatory annual assessments for science for students in three grade levels:
President Bush has included science and technology topics in his State of the Union speeches to an unprecedented extent. Research and development funding in his administration has increased by amounts not seen since the days of the Apollo program. His support for nanotechnology, information technology, energy technology, and improved incentives for science education and industrial investments in research have been strong and consistent. It takes nothing away from the commendable support for science expressed by our President-elect Obama to acknowledge the very positive science accomplishments in the Administration of President George W. Bush.

Originally published January 13, 2009

Tags decision making democracy education funding governance leadership policy politics research

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