"The time has come to sound the alarm."- Chairman Frank Wolf on U.S. S&T position
Earlier this month, three of the most prominent members of the House with jurisdiction over science and technology policy and funding announced that a conference will be held this fall on science, technology, innovation and manufacturing. Appearing at a Capitol Hill press briefing to discuss this conference were Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI). Joining the representatives were senior officials from the National Association of Manufacturers, American Electronics Association, Business Roundtable, and the Council on Competitiveness.
There is long-standing concern on Capitol Hill about the level of federal support for science and technology funding. This concern seems to have taken on a sense of greater urgency as countries such as China and India become more competitive.
Wolf, chairman of the newly-formed House Appropriations Subcommittee on Science, State, Justice and Commerce, has in recent months given this issue more prominence through a letter to President Bush and introduction of a bill that would benefit college students in math and science (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/064.html and http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/061.html .) The May 12 briefing was held to highlight a provision in an emergency supplemental appropriations bill that was signed by President Bush the day before. While most of this legislation centered on national security funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, language was inserted in the bill stating, "the Secretary of Commerce shall convene a national conference on science, technology, trade and manufacturing."
The conference will be held in Washington this fall. Wolf announced that Boehlert and Ehlers will select its participants. Wolf remarked, "our hope is that the conference will bring together the nation's best and brightest to help develop a blueprint for the future of American science and innovation. It also will look at where there has been slippage and why, and what needs to be done to reverse the trend." Boehlert said of the conference: "It can help forge a national consensus on what is needed to retain U.S. leadership in innovation. A summit like this, with the right leaders, under the aegis of the federal government, can bring renewed attention to science and technology concerns so that we can remain the nation that the world looks to for the newest ideas and the most skilled people."
When describing the rationale for the conference, Wolf stated, "Last week I met with a leading group of scientists and posed this question: Do you think we - the United States - are doing okay when it comes to science and innovation, are in a stall, or are we in a decline? None said we are doing ‘okay.' About 40% said we were in a stall and the remainder - 60% - said we were in decline. I asked the executive board of a prominent high-tech association . . . they all said we are in decline. Regardless of whether you categorize our current situation as a stall or decline, there is general agreement that America's dominance in science and innovation is slipping. Just look at three measuring sticks: patents awarded to American scientists; papers published by American scientists; and Nobel prizes won by American scientists. All three are down." Said Ehlers: "we have a lot to do."