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The Knowledge Economy: Is the United States loosing its competitive edge?
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by Task Force on the Future of American Innovation 24 USA


For more than half a century, the United States has led the world in scientific discovery and innovation. It has been a beacon, drawing the best scientists to its educational institutions, industries and laboratories from around the globe. However, in today’s rapidly evolving competitive world, the United States can no longer take its supremacy for granted. Nations from Europe to Eastern Asia are on a fast track to pass the United States in scientific excellence and technological innovation.

The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation has developed a set of benchmarks to assess the international standing of the United States in science and technology. These benchmarks in education, the science and engineering (S&E) workforce, scientific knowledge, innovation, investment and high-tech economic output reveal troubling trends across the research and development (R&D) spectrum. The United States still leads the world in research and discovery, but our advantage is rapidly eroding, and our global competitors may soon overtake us.

Research, education, the technical workforce, scientific discovery, innovation and economic growth are intertwined. To remain competitive on the global stage, we must ensure that each remains vigorous and healthy. That requires sustained investments and informed policies.

Federal support of science and engineering research in universities and national laboratories has been key to America’s prosperity for more than half a century. A robust educational system to support and train the best U.S. scientists and engineers and to attract outstanding students from other nations is essential for producing a world-class workforce and enabling the R&D enterprise it underpins. But in recent years federal investments in the physical sciences, math and engineering have not kept pace with the demands of a knowledge economy, declining sharply as a percentage of the gross domestic product. This has placed future innovation and our economic competitiveness at risk.

To help policymakers and others assess U.S. high-tech competitiveness and the health of the American science and engineering enterprise, we have identified key benchmarks in six essential areas - education, the workforce, knowledge creation and new ideas, R&D investments, the high-tech economy, and specific high-tech sectors. We conclude that although the United States still leads the world in research and discovery, our advantage is eroding rapidly as other countries commit significant resources to enhance their own innovative capabilities.

It is essential that we act now; otherwise our global leadership will dwindle, and the talent pool required to support our high-tech economy will evaporate. As a recent report by the Council on Competitiveness recommends, to help address this situation the federal government should:

Increase significantly the research budgets of agencies that support basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, and complete the commitment to double the NSF budget. These increases should strive to ensure that the federal commitment of research to all federal agencies totals one percent of U.S. GDP.

This is not just a question of economic progress. Not only do our economy and quality of life depend critically on a vibrant R&D enterprise, but so too do our national and homeland security. As the Hart- Rudman Commission on National Security stated in 2001:

…[T]he U.S. government has seriously underfunded basic scientific research in recent years… [T]he inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine. American national leadership must understand these deficiencies as threats to national security. If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century.

In the post-9/11 era especially, we should heed this warning.

For the full document: click here

The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, a coalition of high-tech companies, business organizations, scientific societies, and higher education associations, was founded in 2004 to advocate greater federal investments for basic research in the physical sciences and engineering. The group focuses specifically on the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Department of Defense research budget, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology labs at the Department of Commerce.

Its members are: Agilent Technologies, AeA, ASTRA, American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, American Physical Society, Association of American Universities, Computing Research Association, Computing Technology Industry Association, Computing Systems Policy Project, Council on Competitiveness, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Lucent, Materials Research Society, Microsoft, National Association of Manufacturers, NASULGC, The Science Coalition, Semiconductor Industry Association, Southeastern Universities Research Association, and Texas Instruments.

You can find more about 'the future of the USA - its role in an emerging economy' in the Books and Links section.

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