“We’re in deep trouble,” David Abshire warned. Abshire, the president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Larry Wortzel, Chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, spoke at a November 16 briefing at which a new report on America’s S&T future was released.
As reviewed in FYI #135 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/135.html ), The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation has released “The Knowledge Economy: Is America Losing its Competitive Edge: Benchmarks of our Innovation Future,” (see http://futureofinnovation.org) the second in a series of reports examining America’s S&T standing. The first report and other similar reports are credited with raising awareness among Washington policymakers about international competition to U.S. science and technology leadership.
The three speakers at the briefing (a fourth speaker, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) was unable to attend because of a schedule conflict), highlighted the importance of basic research and praised the Administration and Congress for their efforts to increase the budgets of the National Science Foundation, DOE Office of Science, and the NIST laboratory research program. Reaction to the Bush Administration’s American Competitiveness Initiative, which recommended the doubling of the collective budgets of these agencies over ten years, has been very positive. The Task Force, Gingrich, Wortzel and Abshire called on President Bush to include the Department of Defense 6.1 basic research program in the American Competitiveness Initiative in the FY 2008 budget request. The benchmarks report charts flat funding for defense 6.1 spending since 1977. FY 2006 funding for the 6.1 program was $1,470 million. Doubling 6.1 funding would require, one speaker calculated, 1/3 of 1% of the federal budget. Gingrich commented, “There is a profound linkage between economic and national security, and nowhere is it made clearer than in the Defense Department’s support for basic research in the physical sciences and engineering.” In remarks prepared for the briefing, Cooper, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said “I believe we must invest in basic defense research if we are going to develop the most effective weapons technologies and other equipment for our troops, not just now but in the future.” He called inclusion of the 6.1 program in the Initiative “the logical next step.”
The importance of science and technology to America’s economic future was highlighted by the speakers and the Task Force report. Gingrich pointed to the vast amount of scientific and technological knowledge that will be created in the coming decades, and asked how much of it will originate in America. Increasing funding for S&T is not a question of additional money, he said, but one of priorities. Abshire outlined the need for a strategy supporting scientific and technological breakouts and breakthroughs, and spoke of his concern that many physicists who would have been working at the Superconducting Super Collider were now at the CERN laboratory. Wortzel added, “We face strong competition from a state-managed science and technology research program in China. That draws American capital, talent, and research efforts out of the U.S. and over to China. If we are going to remain competitive, we need to focus our basic research at home and put more resources into funding it.”