Research & Development Investment Policy Report Summary (8-12-99)

A briefing was held at the National Academy of Sciences building on July 14, 1999 to release the National Research Council's new report Harnessing Science and Technology for America's Economic Future.  Committee co-chairs William Spencer, chairman of SEMATECH, and Dick Thornburgh, former governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. attorney general, addressed the three long-term goals of their report and the need for increased science and technology research and development (R & D) funding from federal, state and local governments as well as industry.

The report links R & D investment by federal, state and local governments, and industry, to the nation's prosperity and states that such investment most be continued if long-term economic growth is to be achieved.  The NRC report outlines three long-term goals.  First, it echoes a 1993 report by the Competitiveness Policy Council setting a long-term target to raise productivity growth to 2 percent per year, approximately the level of growth from 1947-1973.  The NRC report states that achieving this sustained level of growth will "allow rising living standards and noninflationary economic growth."

Although it acknowledges the need for further research on how advances in science and technology translate to economic growth, the committee believes that research and development investment will play a major role in achieving this primary goal.  The report states, "We endorse the bipartisan effort to pass legislation calling for substantial increases in federal science and technology investments as a good start after a number of years of low real growth in the science and technology budget.  Particular attention should be paid to emerging fields of science and technology in which cuts in long-term industrial research and Department of Defense basic research spending have had a severe impact."  More information on R&D doubling efforts is available on this website.

The committee also strongly encourages U.S. industry, universities, and state and local governments to join the federal government in this investment.  The report urges use of tax incentives (including making the R&D tax credit permanent) to raise the proportion of academic research funded by industry from seven percent to twenty percent in ten years.  It also stresses that partnerships "should be encouraged, with flexible design and implementation" and that matching grants should be made available for such projects.

In order to increase growth, the committee says the "federal government should lead in structuring international research cooperation that advances fundamental knowledge, building on the lessons of recent years."  It endorses the Task Force on Alternative Future's 1995 report "Alternative Futures for the Department of Energy National Laboratories" as "an appropriate blueprint for national laboratories."  Finally, the NRC report encourages the use of technology road-mapping activities and "expanded efforts to share perspectives across fields and sectors."

The second primary goal set forth by the report is to increase both the number and proportion of Americans prepared for careers in science and engineering, focusing on under-represented groups.  It notes that less that forty percent of engineering doctorates award in the United States go to Americans.  Over the next ten years, the report urges that this level be raised to over fifty percent.  Specifically the committee urges that K-12 science and technology education and life-long learning education programs be developed, and that a greater effort be made to include under-represented groups in science and engineering careers.

The report's third long-term goal is to "maintain and improve the domestic and global market environment for U.S.-generated innovations to allow us to prosper in a global economy" by adopting "national standards for securities litigation and product liability" and continuing to "examine trade, antitrust, and intellectual property policies with the aim of opening markets globally for U.S.-generated innovations."

The National Research Council committee developed its report after holding a national forum on Harnessing Science and Technology for America's Economic Future February 2-3, 1998.  According to the final report the forum "was designed to elicit participation from a wide range of experts and from the interested public."  The forum attracted 260 attendees in government, industry, and universities from 34 states and several foreign countries.  The report primarily relies on material presented at that forum.

The report is available from the National Academy of Sciences.

During a question and answer period at the press briefing, a member of Sen. Joseph Lieberman's (D-CT) staff emphasized the need for "concrete visual or one liners" linking economic development to R & D investment.  The doubling proposal (to double federal spending on non-military R & D over ten years) "is hard to sell without this," she added.  The co-chairs agreed with her comments and remarked that science funding is not an entitlement in the U.S. as many considered it to be during the Cold War.  Thornburgh described how one state research investment was able to recapture sixty percent of its investment within one year through increased tax revenue.  The staff member said this type of anecdotal evidence would be very useful in pushing for the type of doubling bill, which the committee endorsed.  Another member of the audience cautioned that not all returns to the economy are tax based and focusing on this alone could be "dangerous and misleading."  He urged the use of micro and macro level studies.

While stating that purely curiosity-driven research is important, Spencer encouraged the use of road mapping to focus research.  He said this has worked well for the Department of Energy, which requires road maps for all its R & D projects.  A representative of the National Institute for Standards and Technology encouraged that research be described as "knowledge and use" based instead of "basic and applied" and said that both types of research are needed.


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Althea Cawley-Murphree

Updated August 12, 1999


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