One of the great things about life inside the Beltway is that the conversation in social settings keeps getting more and more informative and enlightening the longer you stick around.
For Members of Congress and government employees with big ideas that involve taxpayer dollars, times may seem rather tough. Bean-counters and agency managers are hunkered down, trying to make scarce dollars go further. Risk-taking and agency wish lists are out of fashion. Congressional appropriators face the strictest constraints in a generation a decline in discretionary spending for a third consecutive year.
Few Americans see a dime of federal farm subsidies, and few may believe theres much public benefit from the payments. But theres one farm program that clearly helps not only farmers but also the public at large through cleaner air and water, improved wildlife habitats and reduced use of scarce water resources.
For half a century, Americans have marveled at launches from the massive aircraft carriers that are prime emblems of American military might. The roar of engines, the puffs of steam, the jarring and abrupt acceleration and in a few blinks of an eye, a fighter jet is off on its mission.
Among the 2,500 attendees at the Department of Energys third annual innovation conference, held in a Washington, D.C., suburb in February were hordes of mid-level government scientists, academics and private-sector entrepreneurs well-versed in the highly experimental research topics that packed the agenda. Notably, also in attendance were senior Members of the House and Senate, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and other business leaders, as well as President Bill Clinton, who delivered the keynote speech on the closing day.
Sometime this summer, researchers funded by a new center at the National Institutes of Health will begin trying to construct a new tool to test whether drugs are likely to be safe in humans. If successful, the technique could significantly shorten the time it takes for drug developers to figure out whether a product can pass the first test facing a proposed therapy whether it will end up hurting the patients that its intended to help.
The federal government is drowning in computerized data. A single research experiment can produce terabytes trillions of bytes of data every second. Managing the sea of information that accumulates each year and finding ways to mine it for the most useful information is becoming extraordinarily difficult.
By all accounts, the airline industry hasnt had it easy since the turn of the millennium. Between 9/11 and subsequent terror-related close calls, the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak, surging fuel prices and the long-lasting economic downturn, efforts to make even a modest amount of money by hurtling people aloft from Point A to Point B hasnt been a consistently successful venture.