EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s column for Sept. 12, 2014:
Throughout my career in public service – first as President of West Virginia Wesleyan College, then as Governor of West Virginia, and now in the U.S. Senate as Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation – I have supported investments in science and technology, and in educating our young people in these areas. There is no better way to maintain our global leadership and economic vitality.
In July, I chaired a hearing of the Commerce Committee to talk about the importance of federal funding for basic research and how we can best invest in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to keep our nation competitive.
At the hearing, my colleagues and I heard from Vinton Cerf, who played a leading role in developing the Internet. Vint’s story is a wonderful example of American ingenuity, and as such, he recognizes the need for federal investments in research. During his testimony he said, “Government support for basic and applied research is crucial. Not only does it bring great civil and economic benefits, but the government also has the unique capacity to sustain this kind of effort.” This is so true. We owe it to the next generation of American innovators to give them the tools they need to move our country forward.
To make sure Congress is living up to this obligation, I introduced the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014. The bill supports a wide range of critical research efforts both at government agencies and at non-government research institutions while also advancing STEM education and working to move our best research results from the lab to the marketplace. COMPETES was first passed seven years ago to secure long-term investments in science and technology. Seven years later, we must continue to pursue the goals of COMPETES and to build on its successes. Here are seven reasons why we must make this bill a priority.
- R&D investments support new industries, drive job creation, and provide technological advancements crucial to economic growth and national security. A COMPETES reauthorization will recognize these benefits and authorize steady, increasing, and predictable support for federal R&D efforts.
- Scientific and technological progress is directly linked to increased prosperity and quality of life. More than half of post-WWII economic growth in the United States derives from advances in science and technology, and federally-funded basic research has contributed to technology we use every day like computers, GPS, and the Internet. A COMPETES reauthorization will support today’s emerging technologies such as nanotechnology and photonics.
- U.S. leadership in global R&D funding is eroding. This means that the next great technological breakthrough is increasingly likely to come from our economic competitors. Sustained investments through a COMPETES reauthorization will work to keep the United States ahead of the competition.
- Federal R&D funding isn’t limited to government labs; it supports our world-leading universities and helps train the undergraduate and graduate students needed to keep America’s workforce vibrant and competitive. A COMPETES reauthorization will continue to support higher education in STEM while working to make our investments in academic R&D more efficient.
- According to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the American workforce will need significantly more STEM professionals over the next decade. A COMPETES reauthorization will support improving STEM education and emphasize both teacher training and the need to increase STEM participation among women and minorities.
- The private sector can’t support the nation’s basic research needs on its own. Due to increased competition, fewer corporations are significantly investing in basic research, which tends to be risky, require long-term investment, and might benefit competitors. As a result, the federal government supplies more than half of the nation’s basic research funding. A COMPETES reauthorization will sustain this crucial federal role and support R&D partnerships between government, academia, and the private sector.
- Innovation – the process of introducing new products, services, and processes to the marketplace – is critical to economic competitiveness. A COMPETES reauthorization will help accelerate the commercialization of federally-funded research, encourage entrepreneurship, and direct the National Science Foundation to identify and support promising technology development.
There are so many reasons to pass this bill, but – put simply – we should reauthorize COMPETES because we know it works. According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, COMPETES has made it “dramatically easier” for agencies to pursue ambitious solutions to tough technological problems. One federal science agency director stated that COMPETES made the agency more efficient and better engaged with industry. And COMPETES-supported programs like the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which I helped create in 2001 and has funded awards to produce more than 12,000 new STEM teachers nationwide, continue to place trained teachers in high-need areas.
The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2014 will build on these successes to keep the U.S. competitive, get kids excited about STEM, and give life to the innovative ideas coming from our research institutions that help make this nation so successful.