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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Dr. John Marburger
Dr. John Marburger
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

February 1, 2006

Dr. John Marburger
Thanks to everyone for tuning in to "Ask the White House" today. Last night President Bush announced an important new "American Competitiveness Initiative" that is getting a lot of attention here at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. I look forward to sharing more information about this Initiative and answering your questions about science and technology.

Mike, from Long Island, NY writes:
Dr. Marburger, President Bush mentioned a comprehensive energy plan in his State of the Union Address, could you explain how it would work?

John Marburger
It is a science based plan that reduces dependence on foreign oil (mostly used in transportation), and introduces alternative energy sources and cleaner, carbon-free production of electricity. The plan will reduce the need for gasoline by a combination of technical improvements including ethanol, hybrid vehicles, "plug-in" cars based on better batteries, and eventually hydrogen-fueled cars. Electricity production technologies using solar, wind, and nuclear power are all close to breakthroughs that will transform the energy profile of the nation. See for a detailed fact sheet.

Paul, from Severna Park Maryland writes:
Does the President's budget increase funding for innovative technology research? How do individuals and small businesses propose technological innovations to federal agencies?

John Marburger
The American Competitiveness Initiative announced by the President focuses on basic research, not technology development. But the priority agencies, NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST, all have technology programs designed to solve problems necessary to advance applications. Each of these agencies has programs for which anyone can apply. Details on their websites.

Doug, from College Station, TX writes:
Are there any details about the proposed (in the State of the Union address Jan 31) scale of wind and nuclear energy production down the road?

John Marburger
The President and Secretary of Energy Sam Bodman will be talking more about these initiatives later this month. Meanwhile check out the Dept of Energy Website for a ton of information about wind and nuclear energy, including projections into the future.

Rick, from San Jose, Calif. writes:
What specifically is the White House proposing to bolster US research, mathscience education and non-oil energy technologies?

John Marburger
For fiscal year 2007, the President is asking Congress to devote $910 million to increase budgets for NSF, DOE Office of Science, and NIST, placing them on a track to double their budgets in 10 years. An additional $380 million will go for education and training programs in the Depts of Education and Labor. Each of these agencies has well-developed plans for their programs and details are published in the President's budget proposal that will appear next Monday.

Frank, from Boone, NC writes:
Dr. Marburger: In the address, the President talked about improving the Math and Science programs for children. I am currently a Mathematics Graduate Student at Appalachian State University, I am also on the Graduate Student Senate, and on the Graduate Council which looks to improve curriculums. I was wondering if there was anything that you would like me to bring to the attention of my fellow grad students and the committees that I serve on to assist the President with his initiative with math and science. Thank you.

John Marburger
Your question, Frank, is an example of what has to happen to make the President's vision come true. Each of us has to take responsibility to prepare ourselves for the future. That means taking math and science seriously, and spreading the word that they are tools for forging the future -- and fun too. You and your colleagues already have skills that are important for others to know about, and I hope you have an opportunity to teach others and participate in some of the programs that are being launched today.

Justine, from Staten Island, New York writes:
In what part of the Constitution does is say that the President must report on th State of the Union?

John Marburger
The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, Section 3, states that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” -- a dictate that has developed into what we know as the State of the Union. The web site has a very interesting history of the State of the Union, noting that George Washington personally delivered the first annual message to Congress on January 8, 1790. Thomas Jefferson took a different approach, submitting his “annual message” in writing to both chambers of Congress, but in 1913 Woodrow Wilson again began appearing in person, and it has been a tradition ever since.

Adam, from Thousand Oaks, California writes:
The President tonight mentioned yet another initiative to instruct high school students in mathematics and the sciences for the reason that American high schoolers are deficient in those areas. As a senior in high school, I witness a depth and breadth in those subjects evident in the number and quality of classes offered, variety of subjects covered, and new equipment purchased often lacking in liberal arts subjects.

Why does the government place so heavy an emphasis on technical subjects in school over other essential job skills such as high-level reading, communications and writing skills (that unfortunately many students lack), and knowledge of business and economics?

John Marburger
Adam, you are lucky to be in a high school that offers you this high quality instruction. Not every high school in the country has teachers and resources to bring this "depth and breadth" to its students. Reading, communications and writing skills are absolutely essential to success in every field, but today and in the future more and more people are going to need technical skills as well. The President's initiative prepares for that future.

Cajus, from Dallas writes:
How often do you get to meet with our President and can you give some examples of how you have advised him?

John Marburger
I meet with the President whenever he has to make decisions about science or technology issues. Examples: the American Competitiveness Initiative he announced last night, briefings on tsunamis, space policy, energy initiatives, and health issues such as how to respond to the threat of avian flu. I also work closely with all the other White House policy offices, and the cabinet agencies.

Mike, from Brookfield, WI writes:
According to the exerts of the speech you had online education and development of technology seems to be an important issue. I am a highschool student very interested in science and engineering. What sort of programs are you setting in place to help students like myself have more experience with real life applications and scholarships?

John Marburger
Exposure to real life applications, and to people who earn their living in technical fields, is an important motivational factor in science, technology, engineering and math studies (STEM). The American Competitiveness Initiative includes support for the Adjunct Teacher Corps, which brings in STEM professionals to share their real-world skills with students. See the fact sheet on the Initiative on

Stephen, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada writes:
Why does the current White House and all previous White Houses release the State of the Union speech ahead of time? I believe it also occurs with other speeches such as inaugural addresses. Doesn't this take away from the impact of the speech and give time for the media and the opposition party to pick it apart before it even occurs?

John Marburger
This practice helps reporters and commentators to digest the often very condensed ideas and initiatives in this important speech so they can perform their function in explaining it to the American people and others throughout the world.

Jordan, from Fort Washington, MD writes:
Is there any way that I can get a transcript of tonight's state of the Union Address? It would be very helpful for the story that I am writing fo my college newspaper.

John Marburger
It's already on in the State of the Union 2006 section located at

David, from Florida writes:
How does the OSTP fit into the federal system? Which of the President's secretaries does it report to (Interior)? How does it determine what research to do?

John Marburger
My office is part of the President's policy staff and advises all of the Executive Office of the President on science and technology issues. It coordinates science and technology programs throughout the Executive Branch by staffing interagency committees with representation from all the Cabinet agencies. We rely on recommendations from the agencies and their numerous advisory panels, as well as direct input from the science and engineering communities. The American Competitiveness Initiative is an example of a multi-agency initiative that brings the capabilities of key agencies together to accomplish an important national goal.

David, from Annapolis writes:
The president's plan for innovation mirrors closely the Augustine report recommendations. Absent, as far as I have been able to determine, was any mention of a new DARPA-like agency at DOE to work long-range RandD on energy. Has the idea been rejected, or is it still under consideration.

John Marburger
Although there are many similarities, the President's American Competitiveness Initiative is not derived from any of the many reports on these issues that have appeared during the past year. It does, however, reflect a broad consensus about priority areas. The ACI acknowledges the excellent procedures within the priority agencies (NSF, DOE Science, NIST) for planning and funding research. Details of how funds will be expended will be made available in the President's Budget Proposal next Monday.

Collin, from Chicago writes:
What is the White House definition of 'Basic Science' the funding of which the president proposed to double in 10 years? For example, does the definition (and proposed doubling) include particle physics? What about nano technology? And a mission to Mars? Thanks.

John Marburger
The American Competitiveness Initiative identifies three priority agencies that are critical to basic research in the physical sciences that provides the foundation for future economic competitiveness. Areas like nanotechnology, information technology, materials science, and quantum coherence will be an important part of the initiative. Particle physics and space exploration are important, but not necessarily a focus of the Initiative.

Norman, from Stanford, California writes:
Dear Dr. Marburger, I applaud your efforts to raise the priority of funding for basic research and appreciate the fact that the American Competitiveness Initiative seeks to double the funding for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology over the next ten years.

Are there any major new projects (such as the International Linear Collider) being considered as part of this initiative, or do you expect to better support existing projects (such as ITER) and basic infrastructure?

John Marburger
Each of the priority agencies in the American Competitiveness Initiative has detailed plans and programs that are developed in consultation with the science community. Projects like ILC and ITER are included in their plans, which are usually detailed on the agency websites.

Dr. John Marburger
Thanks to everyone for the great questions. Sorry we couldn't answer them all, but stay tuned for more exciting details about the American Competitiveness Initiative.