(3 of 8)
The result, produced in just three months: a 505-page report, co-authored by a team of distinguished scientists, CEOs, Nobel prizewinners and university presidents--including Texas A&M president Robert Gates, director of the CIA under President George H.W. Bush and a close friend of the Bush family. Titled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," it outlined in detail just how bad the situation was in nearly every area of research and called for new government funding. At about the same time, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce were issuing reports with similar conclusions.
Democrats seized publicly on the issue first. In November, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi announced a series of proposals modeled on those in "Gathering Storm." Tellingly, though, she avoided criticizing the President, going as far as removing some negative language at the last moment. The idea, said a party official, was to get something accomplished, not just score political points. Even so, Pelosi's opening shot made Republicans nervous. "The feeling," says an industry official who was involved in discussions with the White House, "was, 'We cannot let them have this issue.'" Indeed, top Bush aides, including Karl Rove and the Secretaries of Labor, Education and Commerce, began lobbying internally for some sort of presidential initiative. Bush aides say the indispensable player in moving the package to the presidential podium was Bush's workout partner and close friend former Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who made it a crusade after a fellow Texan on the National Academies committee handed him the report. "This is like Sputnik," Evans tells TIME. "We need to give this the same focus and energy."
By Dec. 6, when Republican Representative Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, met with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director Josh Bolten to press for more money for scientific research, Boehlert found Bolten unexpectedly receptive. Later that day, four Cabinet Secretaries showed up for a meeting on scientific research held at the Commerce Department. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman surprised Boehlert by staying all day. Although the Congressman has been advocating increased scientific research for years, Boehlert says, "Now it was getting the visibility." Soon Bush himself was pushing the proposals through the OMB, which often rips such initiatives apart.
If all that was at stake was some sort of bragging rights--who has the most Nobels, who gets to look down its national nose at the rest of the world--none of that would have happened because it wouldn't really matter. After all, Americans may have invented the integrated circuit and the Internet and the lightbulb, but people all over the world get to use them. Same goes for the statin drugs that lower cholesterol and the iPod. And we are obviously free to use inventions made elsewhere, such as Velcro and the ballpoint pen.