Policy Analysis

The Storm Continues Unabated….

September 27, 2010

The panel that brought you the landmark Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, the very same report that led Congress to pass the America COMPETES Act, has issued an update, and it isn’t pretty.

Yes, Congress passed COMPETES. Yes, Congress set science on a 10-year doubling path. And yes, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA , or stimulus) provided additional funds for much-needed infrastructure projects and other programs for the DOE Office of Science, National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

But, unfortunately, this hasn’t been enough. That because, as the U.S. has tried to catch up, other countries, too, have gotten the same message: Investments in science, engineering and math are the keys to robust innovation and competitiveness. They have outpaced us and outspent us. And it shows.

The panel, again chaired by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, concludes in its follow-up report Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, that

“In the five years that have passed since Rising Above the Gathering Storm was issued, much has changed in our nation and world. Despite the many positive responses to the initial report…. America’s competitive position in the world now faces even greater challenges, exacerbated by the economic turmoil of the last few years and by the rapid and persistent worldwide advance of education, knowledge, innovation, investment, and industrial infrastructure. Indeed the governments of many other countries in Europe and Asia have ….aggressively pursued many of the key recommendations of Rising Above the Gathering Storm, often more vigorously than has the U.S. ….in the face of so many other daunting near-term challenges, the U.S. government and industry are letting the crucial strategic issues of U.S. competitiveness slip below the surface.

Other choice nuggets include:

“The unanimous view of the committee members participating in the preparation of this report is that our nation’s outlook has worsened.”

And:

“The Gathering Storm Committee’s overall conclusion is 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.”

As readers of this blog have no doubt surmised, APS continues to work tirelessly to get the innovation and STEM education messages out to anyone who will listen, but in particular, to the current Administration and members of Congress. Clearly, that job must continue. Given the current gloomy economic climate and the resistance by many in Congress to spend any money on anything – save defense – our job will be herculean at best. The question is: Can we afford to do any less? I will let the authors of the report speak for me when they note that:
  • United States consumers spend significantly more on potato chips than the government devotes to energy R&D;
  • In 2009, 51 percent of United States patents were awarded to non-United States companies;
  • China has now replaced the United States as the world’s No. 1 high-technology exporter; and
  • Sixty-nine percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.
But here’s the topper:
  • All the National Academies Gathering Storm committee’s recommendations could have been fully implemented with the sum America spends on cigarettes each year—with $60 billion left over.

Category 5 storm indeed.


Policy news and viewpoints for the physics community. The analysis and opinions are those of the APS Office of Public Affairs and do not necessarily represent the entire Society.