Why Didn't Obama Mention Landmark Science Legislation?
Just before Christmas, President Barack Obama celebrated a string of last-minute legislative accomplishments on tax cuts, gays in the military, the nuclear arms pact, the 9/11 responder bill, and food safety. But 2 weeks after saying that competition on innovation from overseas made this "our generation's Sputnik moment," the White House barely mentioned that key science legislation, the America COMPETES Act, which passed Congress last week amidst the flurry of lame-duck activity.
COMPETES authorizes scientific education efforts, manufacturing research, and, crucially, spending for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy (including its ARPA-E high risk research program), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The nonprofit Science Coalition called the bill's passage "vital" and Obama's science advisor, John Holdren, called it "a major milestone" in one of two blog entries from White House aides on the bill. But with the spotlight on the president after the productive week, Obama made no mention of the bill in prepared statements, on the White House home page, or in a press conference.
"He should have mentioned it," Michael Lubell of the American Physical Society said of Obama's silence on COMPETES. "I would have been happy if I had heard more from him on that," said National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest, who called the bill's passage "a major deal."
Vest also said paltry press coverage of the bill's passage was "very disappointing," as COMPETES was left out of thousands of stories on the last-minute legislative successes. The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even prominent science bloggers including Chris Mooney and Phil Plait failed to mention the bill's passing.