President Reagan's transition task force in science recommended scrapping President Carter's ballyhooed stimuli for specific scientific innovation in industry and also suggested reorganizing the science advisory setup to include a panel modeled on the Council of Economic Advisers, according to transition team members.
The transition task force also told Reagan frankly that the science adviser is useful only as a personal "agent" of the president, and the job would not be worth filling at all if Reagan did not want to use his adviser that way.
The report has never been released, and after submitting it late last year the task force waited somewhat nervously for some movement from the Reagan team. Some even feared that Reagan might take their suggestion and not fill the job of science adviser.
But a few weeks ago transition team members received word that there would be a science adviser and that seven or eight candidates were being considered. The leading candidate has been Simon Ramo, who was co-chairman of the transition task force and is a board member of TRW Inc., a maker of electronics, auto parts, spacecraft, and other machinery.
If Ramo does get the job -- which is not certain, since one source said he has not been offered it -- then many of the transition recommendations will have a good chance of becoming policy, since Ramo himself wrote much of the task force report.
One of the most important recommendations was that the government step back from any detailed involvement in trying to make industry more technologically modern, more innovative.
The Carter administration had several such operations. For example, CARP, the cooperative automobile research program, used government funds, matched by the auto industry, to develop "automobile technologies of the future."
"The government should put less money into research and development in direct applications," said Edward E. David, a task force member and president of Exxon Research and Engineering Co. "If you cut out CARP or things like it, then that money can be effectively turned back to industry through various kinds of broad incentives. Money should be given in a more general way, so that industries can decide for themselves how to use it."
"The best thing to do is make more cash available and at the same time cut government programs," David said, echoing many of the 15 science task force members.
As the task force imagined the new science adviser's office, it would revert to the form prescribed by Congress in the legislation that created it in 1976. Under Carter, a single science adviser was kept, but the idea of a panel similar to the Council of Economic Advisers was eliminated.
The task force suggested restoring that panel, which would have advisers in several specialties -- such as defense, energy, and health -- and would report to the science adviser.
According to several task force members this council would be able to give the president independent advice, from a prestigious group and sometimes in a public forum, echoing the form of a group that did the same for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, called the President's Science Advisory Committee.
Some task force members and several former presidential science advisors have said that the possible importance of the job was not recognized until late by the Carter White House, and has not yet been by the Reagan White House, and that is one reason the appointment has been so long in coming.
"I don't feel the president understands the significance of having that kind of position," said Jerome Weisner, former president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and science adviser to President Kennedy. Said William O. Baker, a task force member and retired board chairman of Bell Laboratories: "I don't think they have yet had a chance to understand the importance of it, and the way in which such an office can support their mission."
One example of the importance of an independent science advisory group, said Weisner, "is to help in the handling of the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You have to have someone to keep them from doing extreme things.
"When I was science advisor the military at one point was promised 200 new missiles and they came back saying they needed 3,000. I was able to tell President Kennedy why I thought that was crazy. Finally, [Defense Secretary] Robert McNamara came back asking for 900. That was still more than we needed, but better. In this kind of situation it is critical for the president to have independent advice from someone who has the necessary credentials."