Important Reading: New Augustine Report on U.S. Competitiveness

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Publication date: 
14 December 2007

"If history teaches any lesson it is that no nation has an inherent right to greatness. Greatness has to be earned and continually re-earned."

"Only by providing leading-edge human capital and knowledge capital can America continue to maintain a high standard of living - including providing national security - for its citizens."
- Norman Augustine

A compelling report describing risks to America's future economic prosperity and security has been released by Norman Augustine. Augustine, the chairman of the National Academies Committee that produced the 2005 report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," has authored an 82-page essay that is important reading.

"Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?" does not offer new policy recommendations, citing those from the original report. Rather, it cites numerous statistics that starkly describe areas in which America is falling behind, and areas in which other nations are moving ahead. The essay draws on congressional testimony and lectures which Augustine has given since the "Rising Storm" report was released. See for a review of the report, and for its recommendations.

Fundamental to how the world has changed are how "the aviation and telecommunication revolutions have conspired to make distance increasingly irrelevant," what Augustine later calls "The death of distance." He adds, "An important consequence of this is that US citizens, accustomed to competing with their neighbors for jobs, now must compete with candidates from all around the world. These candidates are numerous, highly motivated, increasingly well educated, and willing to work for a fraction of the compensation traditionally expected by U.S. citizens."

Augustine highlights two critical issues that must be corrected. The first is what he characterizes as America's "failing" K-12 education system. As an example he cites difficulties that two states - Maryland and North Carolina - have in educating university-trained physics teachers. He quotes Erskine Bowles, President of the University of North Carolina: "Think about this: in the past 4 years, our 15 schools of education at the University of North Carolina turned out a grand total of three physics teachers. Three. And we're going to complete with those guys in Asia? Come on – not that way."

The "Rising Storm" report also identified insufficient funding by the federal government of basic research as the second critical issue. Again, Augustine points to physics as an example. He states: "US federal support of research in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering - when adjusted for inflation - has been stagnant for 2 decades. . . . as a percentage of GDP, federal investment in research in the physical sciences and engineering has been reduced by more than half since 1970." Among the indicators that Augustine cites are following: "The National Intelligence Council reports that in 2003 'foreigners contributed 37 percent of the research papers in Science, 55 percent in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and 71 percent in the journals of the American Physical Society.'" Additionally, "For the first time, the world's most powerful particle accelerator does not reside in the United States; this virtually ensures that the next round of breakthroughs in this fundamental discipline will originate abroad."

Earlier this week, Augustine briefed congressional staff at a well-attended meeting on Capitol Hill that was organized by the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation. National Academy of Engineering President Charles Vest, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), also addressed this meeting. Augustine's report can be read at

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