The political profile of efforts to strengthen U.S. research and development was raised last month with the release of a multi-pronged strategy by the highest ranking Democrat in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). "The Innovation Agenda: A Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America #1," includes many of the recommendations made by previous advisory panels. What was noteworthy about the November 15 event at the National Press Club was the presence of Pelosi and her statement that "this will be our priority."
Concerns about the strength of American research and development are long-standing. Many of the problems and solutions in the Innovation Agenda were raised in reports ranging from one released by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) in 1998 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/1998/fyi98.138.htm) to the recent National Academies report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/155.html.)
In describing the Agenda, Pelosi stated, "Today, the world has changed dramatically – in ways that pose unprecedented challenges to our economic well-being. The underdeveloped countries of yesterday can become the formidable competitors of tomorrow . . .or even today. Those countries are following what has been the United States' blueprint for decades, and which resulted in our pre-eminence. As others have copied our blueprint, we have departed from it. They are investing heavily in improving their educational systems, and creating world-class universities, particularly in science and technology." As evidence, Pelosi cited the number of U.S. students now graduating with degrees in engineering compared to much higher numbers in India and China, stagnating or falling decline in federal support for basic research since 1987, and the low U.S. ranking in broadband penetration.
The Agenda was developed with advice from leaders and CEOs in academia, venture capital, and entrepreneurs in the high tech, biotech, and telecommunication sectors in forums in California, Washington state, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. It has five major components: increasing the STEM workforce, investing in sustained R&D, guaranteeing access to affordable broadband technology, energy independence, and various initiatives to strengthen small businesses. In regard to R&D spending, the Agenda states that funding would be doubled for the "National Science Foundation, basic research in the physical sciences across all agencies, and collaborative research partnerships." Pelosi could not provide a cost estimate for the Agenda or state how it would be paid for, saying "we can't afford not to do this." She spoke several times of her willingness to work with House Republicans.
In anticipation of the Pelosi announcement, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH) released a statement (see http://edworkforce.house.gov/press/press109/first/11nov/pelosi111505.htm ) critical of Pelosi's and her party's colleagues votes on Republican legislation "enhancing small business competitiveness, streamlining federal bureaucracy, and helping create new jobs for American workers."
The eight-page Agenda can be reviewed at http://www.housedemocrats.gov/news/librarydetail.cfm?library_content_id=557