House Science Committee members listened as three "true captains
of industry," as Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) called
them, offered their views and recommendations on how the U.S. can remain
a global leader in science, technology and innovation. Boehlert referred
to the July 21 hearing as a "love-in," as the witnesses and
committee members generally agreed on the importance of the issue and
the actions needed. He spoke of the need to "make sure all of Washington
understands what's at stake," and was pleased that two members
of the House Appropriations Committee, John Culberson (R-TX) and Todd
Tiahrt (R-KS), attended the hearing.
In his prepared testimony, Johns Hopkins University President William
Brody set the stage with the following comments: "It looks as though
the innovation pipeline is slowly being squeezed dry.... [W]e are losing
the skills race" and "are beginning to lose our preeminence
in discovery as well." All three witnesses agreed that attention
must be focused on what Brody termed "two urgent priorities:"
education and basic research funding. They called for improved K-12
education in math and science, financial incentives to encourage undergraduates
to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)
fields, and national policies that would attract and retain the "best
and brightest" minds from around the world. A sound primary and
secondary education system with an emphasis on science and math is "first
and most important," said John Morgridge, Chairman of Cisco Systems,
Incorporated: "Education is the foundation.... All innovation comes
from it; it is the engine of economic growth."
The witnesses also concurred on the importance of increasing funding
for long-term, high-risk fundamental research. Brody called for a renewed
commitment to double the NSF budget over the next five years and for
restoring DARPA's long-term focus. The federal investment in R&D
as a percentage of GDP "peaked 40 years ago," he pointed out.
Morgridge recommended making broadband connectivity available to all
Americans, ensuring intellectual property rights, reforming the patent
system, and expanding the R&D tax credit. Nicholas Donofrio, IBM's
Sr. Vice President for Technology and Manufacturing, said that while
we are entering a new era of interconnectivity, globalization, and a
transition toward a service economy, we are still using metrics developed
for the industrial revolution. We do not yet know how to develop metrics
for innovation, he said, but "no one else has figured out how to,
either." Whoever determines the right metrics and implements the
right incentives, he stated, "can be the leader." Both Donofrio
and Brody also cited recommendations of a December 2004 report from
the Council on Competitiveness's National Innovation Initiative, which
Brody co-chaired. The report, "Innovate American: Thriving in a
World of Challenge and Change," can be purchased on-line at http://www.compete.org/
and the executive summary can be viewed for no charge.
Referring to a roundtable discussion held in June by House Democrats
(see FYI #121),
Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) noted that it is "not clear" whether
the U.S. has a shortage or surplus of scientists and engineers and there
is "no accurate way to predict future demand." These are "difficult
issues that go beyond simple solutions" such as increasing R&D
funding or training more S&T workers, he said. Given that companies
can employ high-tech workers in other countries for lower wages, "what
kind of skills," he asked, "will let U.S. scientists and engineers
differentiate themselves?" Donofrio said that "students must
be prepared to be innovators," and Morgridge commented that "creativity
may not be as transferrable geographically" as some might think.
Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) added later in the discussion that creativity
"is one of our biggest aces in the hole" to counter lower
wages in other countries. Brody also thought that wages for highly trained
workers in other nations would rise rapidly "to equilibrate."
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) questioned whether the need to seek "the
best and brightest" from around the world was "a cop-out"
because the U.S. was unable to adequately prepare domestic students
and attract them to STEM careers. Brody replied, "we are in a global
competition for talent," and Boehlert added, "you've got to
do both." Later Donofrio remarked that one problem was that not
enough teachers are adequately trained in math and science; "we
need better math and science teachers." The best and brightest
"can't afford to teach," Boehlert said. He mentioned the Robert
Noyce scholarship for service program that would, he said, if properly
funded, provide scholarships for college juniors and seniors in STEM
fields in return for several years of teaching after receiving a degree.
Concerns were expressed about a societal culture that does not appreciate
teachers and education; Rep. Al Green (D-TX) described seeing parents
miss a PTA meeting to attend a football game, and noted that professional
athletes are paid millions while teachers are underpaid. "If we
truly want to leave no child behind," he said, we have to "leave
no teacher behind."
The tone of the discussion changed when several members challenged the
industry representatives about what Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) called
the "inherent tension" companies face between doing what is
best for American workers and making a profit for stockholders by outsourcing
jobs to cheaper labor. "In order for IBM to be the asset you would
like it to be here in the U.S.," Donofrio stated, it "has
to be competitive" on a global basis. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
said the "globalist view of big business" was not comforting
to someone who is "looking out for the American people." But
Donofrio said global competitiveness helps IBM stay healthy in the U.S.
and is what has "allowed us to continue to increase employment
in this country" in recent years.