November/December 2020Vol. XXXIII No. 2

Science Returns to Informing Federal Policies

Editorial Board of the MIT Faculty Newsletter

The Trump administration systematically used budget cuts and regulatory changes to undermine scientific contribution to public policy. These actions weakened key US agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. We anticipate the incoming administration will undo the damage done to these agencies and restore the role of science in shaping policy. However, a return to the status quo ante will not address the institutional arrangements that limit science’s role in shaping policy. During the Obama/Biden administrations, corporate lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, US Chamber of Commerce, and the Defense Industry exerted far too much power over national policy. The choice of John Kerry to lead the Climate efforts is a promising sign that science will have a substantive role in shaping climate policy.

But Biden’s failure to be concerned that the Pentagon budget consumes more than half of US discretionary spending is deeply troubling, though perhaps not surprising, given the Defense Industry’s ability to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to advance their interests. The United States currently spends more on national defense than China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil – combined. Perhaps a new oversight position to contain the spiraling Pentagon budget is warranted.

Quoting Dwight D. Eisenhower, “This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.”

We hope the new administration will heed the urgent demands of those who elected them, and tap into the nation’s appetite for change by putting the people’s interest at the head of the queue.