Status Report

“Averting the Storm”: Science Committee Holds Hearing on New Competitiveness Report

By SpaceRef Editor
October 14, 2010
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“This isn’t the America I would like to see for my grandchildren.” – Norman Augustine

Following the release of “Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited – Rapidly Approaching Category 5,” the House Science and Technology Committee invited members of the committee issuing this report, and the earlier 2005 report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” to testify at a hearing. While there were differences between the Science Committee members about federal policies, there was uniform agreement that America’s competitiveness is at risk.

Committee chairman Bart Gordon’s (D-TN) opening remarks centered on the House-passed reauthorization of the America COMPETES legislation. A key Senate committee passed its version of this bill that is to be merged with the work of other committees when the bill comes to the Senate floor. The original COMPETES bill expired about two weeks ago, and no one knows with any certainty when, or if, the Senate will act. Gordon spoke of the difficulty getting legislation through the Senate, sentiments that were more strongly echoed by the committee’s Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX).

The four witnesses were members of the Gathering Storm committee, and much of their testimony reiterated the conclusions and recommendations described in the two reports. Citing the passage of the original COMPETES legislation, significant increases in some S&T agencies’ budgets, the establishment of ARPA-E, the continuation of the R&D tax credit, and visa reform, Norman Augustine, retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, said “we’ve made progress.” But he reminded the representatives that the funding increases were provided by the short-term economic stimulus bill, and how the COMPETES legislation was expiring. Federal budget difficulties, economic and other stresses on universities, the slackening of health sciences funding, and advances in other countries are some of the factors leading Augustine to conclude that the United States is no longer preeminent in its economic competitiveness.

Craig Barrett, Retired Chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation, views American competitiveness as more than just a federal concern. He called on the private sector to join government in investing in schools, “and in the creation of new job opportunities by removing barriers to innovation.” Barrett described favorable tax, intellectual property, and bankruptcy policies in other countries that he has visited.

The development of clean energy technology was the focus of the testimony by Charles Holliday, Chair of the American Energy Innovation Council and Chairman of the Bank of America. The council recommends the creation of a national Energy Strategy Board, an annual $16 billion investment in clean energy innovation, new energy innovation centers, annual funding of $1 billion for ARPA-E, and a program to spur the commercialization of advanced energy technologies.

The final witness was C. D. Mote, Jr., President Emeritus of the University of Maryland. He described a report issued by a National Research Council committee he chaired that examined science and technology strategies in six countries. “This study concluded that national culture was the ‘best predictor’ of future S&T competitiveness” he said, adding that China and Singapore “stood out in this regard.” Mote also told the representatives, “Our national priorities today are many (e.g. wars, debt, economy, jobs, housing, healthcare, terrorism) and global competitiveness in S&T and innovation is not near the top among them. This is our principal and fundamental problem.”

Reaction to the testimony was favorable. During the question-and-answer session, there was agreement that taxpayers should not subsidize corporate research, but instead fund pre competitive research at universities or the national laboratories. There was considerable discussion about the role of taxes, schools, worker education, and wage rates in retaining and expanding the number of future high-paying jobs in the United States.

The title of this hearing was “Averting the Storm: How Investments in Science Will Secure the Competitiveness and Economic Future of the U.S.” Whether the United States will make these investments and take the other steps described five years ago in the first “Gathering Storm” report remains to be seen.

Richard Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics

SpaceRef staff editor.