FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Five Years After “Rising Storm” Report, Outlook for American Competitiveness Has Deteriorated

Richard M. Jones
Number 104 - October 12, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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A very sobering report has been released by the committee that first issued “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” While finding that progress has been made in some areas, the committee, chaired by Norman Augustine, warns in a new report that “in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years. The Gathering Storm increasingly appears to be a Category 5.”

Few science policy reports have had the impact that “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” has had since its release in October 2005. Written at the request of Members of Congress from both parties, the report drew on previous studies to formulate four overarching recommendations and twenty specific implementing actions that Congress could take to improve the nation’s competitiveness. The report’s release received immediate recognition that has continued in the five years since. Rarely is there a congressional hearing, a meeting, or a briefing at which science policy or funding issues are addressed in which reference is not made to the “Gathering Storm” report or its warnings, recommendations, or specific actions.

As assessed in the committee’s new report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited – Rapidly Approaching Category 5," progress since 2005 has been uneven and tentative. Few advancements have been made in the teaching of STEM subjects in the nation’s schools, with international tests finding American students lagging behind their counterparts. The America COMPETES Act was passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Federal funding for some science agencies increased. The Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy was established and initially funded. But much of this progress is threatened.

Recent significant funding increases for the DOE Office of Science, National Science Foundation, and the research programs of the National Institute of Standards and Technology were as a result of the short term economic stimulus legislation. Appropriations legislation for this new fiscal year is stalled, and the budgetary outlook varies, with some S&T agencies poised to receive significant increases while other agencies could be flat-funded. (http://www.aip.org/gov/budginfo.html ) The America COMPETES legislation has expired. It took three attempts to get a COMPETES reauthorization bill through the House, and the bill’s outlook is uncertain in the Senate. Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was put off until next year.

The new report was released at a standing-room-only briefing at the Capitol that was well-attended by senators and representatives and several members of the Augustine committee. Members of Congress spoke of the importance of science and technology to the American economy in a world in which billions of people earn less than two dollars a day, and in which a high percentage of future jobs will depend on innovation. Compounding the problems facing the United States is a much-stressed federal budget, economic and other threats to the nation’s universities, and significant progress in the competitiveness of other countries.

The new report features three components that readers will find very useful. The first is a table entitled “Implementation Status of Recommendations from Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” Categorized by the four major recommendations, the table describes actions Congress has taken to respond to the twenty implementing actions. Congressional responses range from specified appropriations to authorizations without funding to introduced legislation to no action. Also helpful, and in many cases alarming, are more than five pages of “factoids” relating to the competitive position of the United States. The report also contains an appendix of eleven pages with perspectives, in the form of quotations, regarding knowledge capital, human capital, the innovation environment, and “A Category 5 Storm.”

The report, concludes with this overall assessment:

“In balance, it would appear that overall the United States long-term competitiveness outlook (read jobs) has further deteriorated since the publication of the Gathering Storm report five years ago.

“Today, for the first time in history, America’s younger generation is less well-educated than its parents. For the first time in the nation’s history, the health of the younger generation has the potential to be inferior to that of its parents. And only a minority of American adults believes that the standard of living of their children will be higher than what they themselves have enjoyed. To reverse this foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and by the nation’s government…at all levels.

“The Gathering Storm is looking ominously like a Category 5…and, as the nation has so vividly observed, rebuilding from such an event is far more difficult than preparing in advance to withstand it.”

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095