New National Security Report Highlights Science, Education

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Publication date: 
28 February 2001

"Americans are living off the economic and security benefits of the last three generations' investment in science and education, but we are now consuming capital. Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in serious crisis, while other countries are redoubling their efforts. In the next quarter century, we will likely see ourselves surpassed, and in relative decline, unless we make a conscious national commitment to maintain our edge."
- U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century

"In this Commission's view, the inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine," says a February 15 report on U.S. national security by a panel of influential experts from the public and private sectors. "American national leadership must understand these deficiencies as threats to national security. If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century."

The report, "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change," presents the results of the third and final phase of an ambitious review of the country's national security structure, conducted by the congressionally-mandated U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century. The commission, co- chaired by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, includes among its members former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Defense and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger. The Commission has put over two years of work into this effort to "redefine national a more comprehensive fashion than any other similar effort since 1947."With such a broad mandate, it is noteworthy that the Commission gives science a highly prominent place among the issues vital to national security.

Previous reports arising from the review described how global geopolitics and national defense are likely to evolve over the next 25 years, and proposed a national security strategy to address those changes. This report, which reflects Phase III, recommends wide-ranging changes to existing structures and processes to enable implementation of the proposed strategy. The commission views increased support for, and improvement of, the nation's research and education systems as critical pieces of this reform. "The U.S. government has seriously underfunded basic scientific research in recent years, it warns. "The quality of the U.S. education system, too, has fallen behind those of scores of other nations. This has occurred at a time when vastly more Americans will have to understand and work competently with science and math on a daily basis."

The report contains three major recommendations for the nation's research enterprise: doubling the R&D budget by 2010; empowering the President's science advisor to establish civilian R&D objectives and coordinate the funding for these objectives; and reorganizing the national laboratories with new and clearly defined missions. Also presented are three recommendations for the nation's education system: passing legislation that would encourage students to pursue careers in science or science teaching; developing a comprehensive plan to increase the quantity of teachers and the quality of the teaching experience; and establishing a targeted program to strengthen historically black colleges and universities, particularly in science, math and engineering. The text of the specific recommendations, along with supporting quotes from the report, will be provided in FYIs #22 (scientific research) and #23(education).

The release of the Commission's recommendations for altering the nation's security structure coincides with President Bush's charge to his administration to conduct its own review of the existing structure. Members of the commission will brief the administration on this report, but how much impact their advice has remains to be seen. Bush's budget plans show no indications of putting science funding, other than that for NIH, on a path toward doubling in the near future.

The Phase III report of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, entitled "Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change," runs about 130 pages and is available at