The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
met in September to review work in progress on information
technology, the science and engineering workforce, and
nanotechnology. Final reports are scheduled to be released in coming
OSTP Director and PCAST Co-Chair John Marburger and Co-Chair Floyd
Kvamme started this all-day meeting by noting PCAST was "one of
inputs to policy here." They explained that two reports the
council would discuss were not ready for release. Following that
introduction, George Scalise, President of the Semiconductor Industry
Association, outlined the findings of the Subcommittee on Information
Technology Manufacturing and Competitiveness.
The subcommittee focused on information technology because of its
implications for the American economy. Twenty sessions have been
held with Bush Administration, academic, and industrial leaders.
Scalise reported both good and bad news. IT has been responsible for
30% of the growth in the American economy. However, IT manufacturing
in America is declining as international companies increase market
share. While America still has large advantages over foreign
competitors, these advantages, Scalise cautioned, are not absolute.
Overseas manufacturers have the advantages of being closer to
markets, lower labor and capital costs, and significant assistance
from their governments. While there are positive developments in the
United States, such as strong state leadership (NY, VA, and TX being
cited as good examples), university R&D support, an educated
workforce, and some friendly tax policies, America's future IT
leadership is not assured.
Some of these same problems were discussed by Robert Herbold,
Executive Vice President for Microsoft Corporation, in his
presentation about the work of the Subcommittee on Science &
Engineering Workforce/Education. How does the United States stand on
the supply and demand for this workforce?, he asked, replying that
the answer was not clear. Projections from the Department of
Commerce indicate an oversupply, while those from the Council on
Competitiveness point toward an insufficient number of students.
While it is difficult to predict the long-term future, it is
possible to look at short term prospects. Herbold spoke of many
financial service positions being moved overseas. Software and
mechanical engineering jobs are moving to India, where salaries are
10% of those paid to Americans. Also contributing to these changes
are the number of American university students majoring in
engineering. In China, 39% of all students are studying engineering,
as compared to just 5% in the United States. "What is occurring
massive exodus of jobs," Herbold told PCAST. His subcommittee's
important finding for policymakers was that "we have a shift here
monumental proportions" in jobs and competitiveness. Key to
reversing these trends in strengthening the U.S. innovative base,
that being accomplished by greatly improving student proficiency in
math and science. A key to doing so is improving classroom teachers
though a salary merit system. About this, Herbold said, "there's
gold in them there hills."
The final presentation was by G. Wayne Clough, President of the
Georgia Institute of Technology. Clough discussed the results of
different surveys by the Nanotechnology Technical Advisory Group. He
described nine different nanotechnology breakthroughs predicted in
the next five years, in fields ranging from materials to homeland
security. In surveying experts, the vast majority felt that federal
funding for nanotechnology was insufficient. There were not clear
linkages between nanotechnology policy and national science and
technology objectives, and goals and deadlines were not well defined.
Clough stressed the importance of not emphasizing short-term research
needs over longer-term needs. His group also found that too many
excellent proposals were being turned down for lack of funding.
President Bush, Clough stated, should announce a bold nanotechnology
initiative with clearly stated goals and expectations, supported with
substantially higher funding. Looking at the current situation,
Clough told PCAST members that "the feeling is we aren't here today."