Securing America’s Scientific Future

By U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo
October 2014

Just four years ago, Apple unleashed a new world of possibilities and put it in the hands of millions of consumers, students, educators, scientists, entrepreneurs and doctors worldwide when it unveiled the first iPad. Over 200 million have been sold since, making it one of the most ubiquitous and empowering smart devices ever.

But underlying this now-pervasive tablet technology is another success story. The innovation packed into the iPad drew from a vast array of federally supported scientific and technological research. Touchscreens and multi-touch interface were born out of Defense Department research in the late 1960s and 70s, and research funded by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s and 90s. The iPad processor, as well as all the support and interface chips, were born out of work on the first integrated circuit at Texas Instruments and Fairchild in 1958. GPS? Developed from federally funded research at American universities.

It was the combined efforts of American ingenuity and visionary federal support that laid the foundation for the iPad’s success and the plethora of smart devices on the market today. Now, fast-forward from the days of this pioneering scientific research, and, today, U.S. global leadership in science is in peril. Dwindling federal investment in scientific research and the lack of a visionary national science policy could make the next iPad, the cure for a deadly disease, or a semiconductor breakthrough nothing more than fantasy.

I believe America has the capacity to advance the revolutionary ideas of tomorrow, but in order to do so, we need a national recommitment to invest in scientific research and foster the next generation of scientists in our classrooms.

Investment in advanced biomedical research is a policy I’m working to address head-on in the current Congress. Federal funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is at unprecedented lows, jeopardizing our national health and preventing future breakthroughs. In 2011, 53 percent of all funding for basic research came from the federal government, yet as a percentage of the total federal budget the federal government spends two-thirds less on research and development today than it did in 1965. At NIH – the foremost biomedical research institute in the world – the number of research grants the agency is able to fund has declined every year over the past 10 years.

Partnering with Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), our legislation expands support for future research at the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense Health Program, and the Veterans Medical & Prosthetics Research Program. The America HEALS Act would reverse declining federal investment by augmenting federal appropriations for biomedical research with a mandatory trust fund dedicated to steady growth in research conducted at these federal institutions. The bill would increase funding for each agency and program every year at a rate of GDP-indexed inflation, plus five percent. This consistent, long-term investment would provide the agencies the certainty they need to plan and manage strategic growth, and empower our nation’s top scientists to strive for the next big breakthrough across fields that all contribute to economic growth.

Why a sustained investment in federally-funded biomedical research? Today, countries around the world are placing a priority on their own research investments. Between 1999 and 2009, Asia’s share of worldwide research and development expenditures grew from 24 percent to 32 percent, while American expenditures fell from 38 percent to 31 percent. Meanwhile, the European Union has committed to a five-year plan to boost biomedical research.

Next generation research cannot happen without the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians. The next decade is estimated to create approximately 8.5 million STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) job opportunities, but during the same time it is also estimated that the U.S. will face a shortage of 1 million STEM graduates. At the end of 2010, the Program for International Student Assessment found that U.S. students, compared with contemporaries in more than 60 industrial countries, ranked 17th in science and 25th in mathematics. College degrees in physical science, computer science, mathematics, and engineering have also had less than average growth. So I’ve made it a priority to reinvigorate STEM education in our country’s classrooms.

This year, I was proud to be the bipartisan Co-Chair with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) of the first annual Congressional STEM Academic Competition, the House Student App Challenge. Established by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013, this nationwide competition invited high school students from across the country to compete by creating and exhibiting their software application, or “app,” for mobile, tablet, or computer devices on a platform of their choice. The annual competition is designed to promote innovation and engagement in the STEM education fields. Over 150 congressional offices participated and students entered a wide range of apps that tested their prowess and intellect in the STEM fields.

In 2007, I authored and Congress enacted the America COMPETES Act, legislation that created a blueprint to secure our nation’s economic future and competitive edge in the 21st century. In addition to establishing advanced federal research entities for high-risk, high-reward technology development, the law called for preparing thousands of new teachers in math and science. In 2010, Congress extended this law, but only until 2013. Congress must reauthorize America COMPETES in order to prepare all students for the highly technical, high-paying jobs of the future.

America’s global leadership in science has not come about by accident. It has been a purposeful endeavor as old as the country itself, beginning with our Founding Fathers. Washington devised the 16-sided threshing barn. Jefferson is credited with designing the macaroni machine, a polygraph copying device, an improved dumbwaiter, the swivel chair and countless other innovations. Benjamin Franklin is known for his bifocals and lightening rod. The framers of our Constitution wisely appreciated that curiosity and inventiveness would propel the new nation forward. They valued creative alchemy and explicitly protected individual initiative to ensure a steady supply of it. In our Constitution, they empowered the United States Congress “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their Respective Writings and Discoveries.”

As bifocals have given way to Google Glass and the polygraph copying device to 3D printers, the value we place on the power of scientific discovery and invention must remain unwavering. And as our Founding Fathers once envisioned America’s scientific future, we must re-imagine it because federally supported research and the budding scientists of today will drive the innovations and breakthroughs that will change our lives in the years and decades ahead. One of America’s greatest scientists Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Let’s get to work on securing our scientific future.

Anna G. Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, represents California’s 18th Congressional District and serves as Ranking Member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

Rep. Eshoo also serves as the Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for the 113th Congress. She is the first woman in the history of the Subcommittee to serve in a leadership role. She was elected to the Subcommittee on January 19, 2011.

Throughout her career, Rep. Eshoo has always been a leader on technology and telecommunications issues. She has authored legislation to establish standards for digital signatures, worked to expand broadband deployment, and ensured that life-saving, location-based E9-1-1 services are deployed by wireless companies.

Rep. Eshoo has vowed to work with her colleagues on expanding high-speed, affordable broadband, protecting electronic privacy, freeing up more spectrum and transitioning our nation’s 9-1-1 system to a next generation, IP-based network. She has been a strong champion of preserving an open Internet. Rep. Eshoo also serves as a Co-chair of the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Internet Caucus, joining Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Senator John Thune (R-SD).

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo

U.S. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo