Academy Report Confirms U.S. Has Work to Do to Stay Competitive
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently issued a report requested by Science Committee Democrats and other Members of Congress on how the U.S. can maintain its prominence in science and technology and prosper in the competitive global marketplace. The report focuses on the nation's economic competitiveness - and the findings were alarming.
In short, the United States will not remain competitive in the global marketplace unless corrective action is taken in education, research and innovation policies.
(Left to right) Mr. Augustine, Dr. Vangelos and Dr. Wulf
Today Members of the U.S. House Committee on Science explored the NAS investigating panel's findings and recommendations with its chairman Norman Augustine, retired Lockheed Martin Corp. CEO, as well as with panel member Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, retired Merck & Co., Inc. CEO and Dr. William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering.
"Everyone wants to win the competitiveness game," said Ranking Member Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN). "But as this report aptly points out - when you take a hard look at the U.S. compared to the rest of the world, the U.S.' odds of winning the game look bleak right now."
The NAS report, entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, outlines a number of specific actions the U.S. can take to improve our innovation environment here at home. Most of the National Academies' recommendations call for the Federal Government to invest more in scientific research, in K-12 teacher recruitment and preparation, and in attracting more students to careers in science and technology. Other recommendations deal with visas and federal tax policy that affect the innovation environment.
Among the most worrisome indicators highlighted in the report include:
- For the cost of one chemist or one engineer in the U.S., a company can hire about five chemists in China or 11 engineers in India.
- As chemical companies are closing U.S. facilities, more than 50 of the 120 chemical plants being built around the world are locating in China.
Many of the Academy's recommendations are similar to those in recent reports by the Council on Competitiveness and the American Electronics Association. Their recommendations also mirror many of the objectives already being pursued by Science Committee Democrats, including substantial funding increases for the National Science Foundation and the DOE Office of Science, and improvements to the preparation and professional development of K-12 science and math teachers.
"There seems to be a broad consensus on what the U.S. should be doing, but the Administration has not followed through in its funding requests," added Ranking Member Gordon. "Once we've lost our edge, catching up may not be an option. We've got to make serious commitments now on every level - math and science education, investments in basic research and policy changes - to spur innovation. Then, we must work to ensure that innovation creates jobs that stay here at home, not migrate overseas."
As Science Committee Democrats have long maintained, ensuring children access to the best science/math education and advancement tools possible only equates to partial progress if the U.S. is graduating students who can't find jobs here at home. Innovation alone won't lead to real jobs for U.S. workers, and the Academy report stops short of detailing concrete solutions for keeping jobs generated by U.S. innovation.
"We are facing a number of problems - each one like a tile in a mosaic. No one of these problems by itself creates the sort of crisis that provokes action. But if you stand back and look at the collection of problems, a disturbing picture emerges - a pattern of short-term thinking and a lack of long-term investment," reminded Dr. Wulf in his testimony before the Committee.
"All is not lost but the situation is urgent. As we heard from our distinguished witnesses here today, there are ways to make a difference. Committing real dollars rather than empty promises to research would be a good start; inspiring kids to careers in math and science would be another. Tough choices lay ahead and I can assure you that Democrats on this Committee are committed to seeing tangible results," remarked Rep. Gordon today.