Arthur M. Bueche Award

2008 Arthur M. Bueche Award Recipient Remarks

The 2008 Arthur M. Bueche Award was presented to Dr. G. Wayne Clough, Secretary, Smithsonian Institution, "for outstanding accomplishments advancing civil engineering and higher education, and for leadership promoting U.S. international competitiveness." These remarks were delivered at the NAE Annual Meeting on Sunday, October 5, 2008.

Given the focus of the Arthur M. Bueche Award on active involvement in U.S. science and technology policy and enhancement of the relationship between industries, government and universities, and the many outstanding people who make contributions in these areas, receiving this award is indeed a high honor. I accept it with deep humility and profound gratitude.

Heartfelt thanks go to the many people who helped me get where I am today, including many great teachers, my thirty four PhD students, my parents, and of course my wife and family. In my life, I’ve been fortunate to have had an array of wise mentors, including many who are former winners of the Bueche Award such as Chuck Vest, Norm Augustine, John Slaughter, Erich Bloch, and Ralph Gomory. Others who have helped me along the way include the leaders of organizations such as the Council on Competitiveness, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Science Board and the National Academy itself. To all of them, my sincere thanks.

Today, science and technology policy and collaborations between industry, government and universities are the subject of formal study by scholars around the world. My own involvement in these areas did not follow a formal route, but resulted from my career development. I was fortunate in my life to enjoy a degree of success in teaching and research at some of America’s great research universities. And, as I mentioned, I’ve had many mentors in my life. All this motivated me to want to give back to the engineering profession and over time I became involved in higher education administration, which ultimately opened possibilities to serve in the policy arena on the national scene. Some might say that I was practicing policy without a license- but it was for a good cause!
Mind you, I do not advocate a licensing procedure, but I do advocate for more preparation for engineers who will increasingly be called upon to participate in the policy arena-as they should.

Science and technology and related policy factors are becoming more important with each passing day, their reach extending into all areas of our lives—at work, home, and play. The importance of collaboration between our nation’s universities and our industry and government also is growing as we face global economic competition where the traditional U.S. advantages no longer sustain us. All of this is made more complex as the lines between disciplines and fields blur and the problems of society become increasingly interconnected and the solutions are to be found in cross-disciplinary cooperation. Thus, while the need for engineers to participate in the national dialog increases; at the same time it requires an appreciation of issues and skills currently beyond the ken of most engineers. We need to become students again.

Not long ago I participated in a forum of top executives from different technology companies and all agreed that engineers need to become more engaged in policy. The sentiment, however, was that engineers would be more effective if they offered opinions only about issues in their field of expertise.

As I listened, I realized our local, state and national politicians do not think this way. Every day they vote on matters of importance without being experts in a given field. If they are lucky, elected officials get advice on issues from staff, constituents, experts and outside entities. At the local and state levels such expert advice may not be available. Regardless, they are expected to vote. It is time for engineers to realize that on all levels of government we should play a larger role in this process.

Through advisory boards and non-partisan groups, informal advice and expert testimony, engineers can inform the issues of the day. The enduring advantage of our discipline is that we bring a problem solver’s mentality to issues and we can sort through complex issues to find the core problems. But this is not enough. To better serve the public and work more effectively in the policy arena, we engineers will have to move beyond our comfort zones.

We should appreciate that our way of thinking is useful, even when confronted by matters with which we are not familiar. A few years ago I was asked by then Governor Roy Barns of Georgia to head up a state-wide task force on revising Georgia’s natural gas deregulation legislation. The legislation had created a marketing nightmare and led to an angry citizenry. Now, I knew very little about the natural gas industry or deregulation, but I found that with a little study, my engineering approach to the issues put me ahead of just about everyone else. I also knew enough to seek out two expert consultants and use them to inform my task force. In the end we produced the framework for legislation that corrected the problems.

Being willing to step outside the comfort zone is one part of the equation, but I believe engineers who wish to contribute to policy deliberations should also prepare themselves by developing an appreciation of the world of policy and politics. This can best be done with some degree of formal preparation.

Some of this is already being done with the support of the MacArthur Foundation through a program that funds ten universities to offer a year long program for mid-career scientist and engineers to prepare them for policy roles. We were fortunate at my former institution, Georgia Tech, to receive a MacArthur grant for this purpose. Beyond this excellent program, I would suggest that other entities, perhaps the NAE or the disciplinary professional societies, could offer shorter-term programs in this vein to help individuals who arrive in executive positions and need help in getting started. Of course the Academy and the National Research Council, as part of their charter, have to offer advice to the federal government as needed. Yet the need for advice goes well beyond this traditional role, since many times the Academies are not asked until there are problems, and local and state governments need help as well.

This has become all the more clear to me in my new position as the twelfth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. At this great Institution, I am privileged to witness how technology merges with science, art, history and culture- and always has. I learned that the first Secretary of the Smithsonian, Joseph Henry, served as a science advisor to President Lincoln and served as president of the National Academy of Sciences for twelve years even as he remained Secretary of the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian today is involved in education, outreach, research, creation of new knowledge and preservation and documentation of 137 million artifacts of science, history, art and culture. For all of the seemingly disparate nature of the activities of the Smithsonian, technology is an essential component linking them. For example, we are in the process of digitizing of our collections and creating innovative systems to allow access to them by students and teachers in the K-12 system and research scholars around the world. This is a revolutionary prospect, moving from a world where nearly 98% of the 137 million objects are kept in archives and seen by only a few, to one where they can be seen and used by millions of people around the world. The possibilities are staggering, Needless to say it is an exciting time to be Secretary of the Smithsonian and I look forward to working with the National Academies to re-establish the link between these great American institutions.

In hundreds of ways science and technology are dramatically changing our lives, and the policy framework to make it work has to be established, hopefully with in-put from those who are most knowledgeable about it- scientists and engineers.

Many thanks again to the academy for this great honor, many thanks to my family and friends; I thank all of you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.