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New Investments Needed in Defense Research, Says Task Force on Innovation Report

Increased support for defense basic research is needed for national security and economic competitiveness, says the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation in a report released in November.

The report, entitled Measuring the Moment:  Innovation, National Security, and Economic Competitiveness, is a follow-up to the Task Force’s February 2005 report, which presented benchmarks showing that the United States is in danger of losing its competitiveness in science and engineering. The new report shows that many of those trends continue.

At the November 16 report release event in Washington, the Task Force and several national security experts called for increasing defense basic research in particular. Defense basic research is central to both economic and national security, but federal spending on defense basic research has remained flat for over three decades, the Task Force says.

The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation is a coalition of businesses and business organizations, scientific societies, and higher education associations, including the APS. The task force advocates increased federal support for research in the physical sciences and engineering.

 “Breakthroughs in basic science–such as those in radar, lasers, optics and microelectronics–have played a major role in establishing and maintaining our military superiority. To help American troops retain their advantage on the battlefield in the future, it is critical that new investments be made today in areas such as energy storage, materials research, nanotechnology and high-performance computing,” says the report.

The Task Force calls for the administration to include defense basic research in the American Competitiveness Initiative. The American Competitiveness Initiative would double, over 10 years, the federal funding for basic research at NSF, DOE’s Office of Science, and NIST. 

Speaking at the November 16 event, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that innovation is certain to occur at a rapidly increasing rate. He predicted a massive increase in total knowledge in the next 25 years. “The question is not will it occur, but how much will occur in the US,” said Gingrich. “For the first time in 100 years we are at a crisis point in American science,” he said. Gingrich called for increased investment in science and technology. “It is not a question of money, it’s a question of priorities,” he said. He also suggested the government could inspire innovation by offering prizes for developments such as a hydrogen car.

If we don’t invest in science and technology, warned Gingrich, we will end up in a situation in which China and India will have scientific abilities we won’t even understand. “We will be in a nightmare,” he said.

At the November 16 event, David Abshire, president of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, said that in order for the United States to remain competitive, we must elect a president in 2008 who will be a strategist and an innovator.

Also speaking at the November event, Larry Wortzel, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, emphasized that China is increasing its support of scientific research, attracting more and more research and development, and providing incentives to attract back Chinese scientists who trained in the United States. He said that if the US doesn’t invest more in science, all the innovation work is going to China. 

Federal investment in physical sciences and engineering as a share of GDP has been in significant decline for decades, according to the report. The US share of patents and scientific publications is shrinking. China in particular is rapidly increasing its output of research articles, the report notes. In addition, the high tech trade deficit is continuing to widen, and more R&D facilities are being located abroad. China has overtaken the United States as the largest exporter of information technology.

Troublesome education trends continue as well, the report says. American teenagers continue to lag those in most developed countries in math and science literacy, and the percentage of US students earning undergraduate degrees in science and engineering fields has fallen behind many other countries. While American universities are still the best in the world, China has made it a priority to make its universities world class, the report says. US production of PhD scientists has been essentially flat, while Asian production of PhD scientists has been increasing rapidly.

Increasing numbers of people are working in science and technology. From 1994 to 2003, the proportion of the workforce in those fields increased from 17% to 23%, but the United States is relying on foreign- born talent to fill many of those positions, the report says. Unlike in many areas of science and technology where we rely on foreign talent, defense and national security work requires US citizens who can obtain clearances, the task force notes.

The full report can be found at http://futureofinnovation.org/.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff