Top executives from more than 50 corporations and universities around the country were in Washington last week to hobnob with members of President Bushs cabinet and to lobby for increased federal investment in R&D.
The gathering took place at the U.S. Department of Commerce, where the National Association of Manufacturers hosted a discussion on ways to improve U.S. competitiveness. The group is looking to the government to improve math and science education, modify immigration laws to allow foreign students to remain in the country after graduation, and fund the deployment of critical technologies in addition to increasing R&D investment.
Warning that other countries, especially India, South Korea and China, are accelerating their technology initiatives, NAM President John Engler said that the United States will lose its competitive edge if changes arent made soon.
"We must recognize that a race is under way," Engler said. "If we dont move faster, it will be a challenge to maintain our standard of living and leadership [position]."
Marketplace pressures have caused industry to invest less in basic research, leaving a gap for the government to fill, said Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., in Bethesda, Md.
Craig Mundie, senior vice president and chief technical officer of advanced strategies and policy at Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., said that R&D today focuses primarily on applied research rather than solving basic problems in technology.
"Only a few companies in the world are still funding basic research in computing and software," Mundie said, adding that Microsoft and IBM are two that do so. "I think that pressures are clearly there to focus more on the D than the R."
Several participants complained that they cannot find qualified technology experts, and they expressed concern that the pool of researchers is becoming dangerously low as half of the countrys scientists and engineers will retire in the next 10 to 12 years. Executives also called on the administration to change immigration laws so that foreign students will be encouraged to remain in the United States after graduating.
"The future supply of talent is becoming more and more difficult to recruit," said Martin Jischke, president of Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. "We are in a global competition for this talent." ´
Industry/academia recommendations for competitiveness:
* Revitalize fundamental research by increasing federal investment and spending more on catalyzing high-risk, high-payoff research
* Expand the innovation talent pool in the United States by increasing the number of degrees awarded to students in math, science and engineering and by reforming U.S. immigration policies