IT Innovation and Education at Risk Without Government Support
Witnesses at a Senate Commerce Committee panel conveyed the role that continued federal support for R&D, tech innovation and improved STEM education play in the growth and health of the IT industry.
Thu, September 20, 2012
The health of the IT industry and other technical fields -- and the broader challenge of the United States remaining competitive against emerging foreign powers -- depends to a great extent on the government's ability to facilitate basic research and bolster education, witnesses told a Senate panel on Wednesday.
The Senate Commerce Committee convened what could be its last hearing of the session to evaluate the implementation of the America COMPETES Act, a foundational element of the federal support provided for research and development and STEM education.
The 2007 bill, which was reauthorized in January 2011, channels funding to a variety of federal agencies involved in promoting science and technology, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation.
"Our economy today is to a very large degree underpinned by advancements in science and engineering," Norman Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, told the committee. "If Americans cannot compete for those jobs, and we're becoming less and less competitive as every day passes, we won't have the income to pay the taxes to provide for national security or healthcare. We won't have the money to provide for education."
Augustine, who chaired the working group that produced a report that laid the groundwork for the drafting of the America COMPETES Act, said he considers the bill "of the utmost importance" and called it "one of the finest examples of bipartisanship & that we have seen in recent years."
But the implementation of the bill has been slowed by ongoing funding shortages, a challenge that has only been magnified by rising concern over the ballooning federal deficit, as well as the prospect of a deep set of automatic spending cuts set to take effect in January if lawmakers fail to reach an agreement on a plan for deficit reduction.
Supporting IT Innovation and Research Keeps U.S. Globally Competitive
At Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed support for the federal government's role in supporting basic research and development (R&D) -- the sort that can take years or even decades to incubate a commercially viable product, if one even emerges, creating a risk-reward ratio that is too high for many companies to tolerate.
Committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.V.) pointed out that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were working under NSF funding in 1994 at Stanford as they were developing the technology that would come to power the world's leading search engine. Google, Rockefeller pointed out, did not go public for another decade.