American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Update on Senate Science and Technology Caucus (6-29-98)

Background
In February 1997 the bipartisan Senate Science and Technology caucus held its first public roundtable discussion on the "the role of the federal government in fostering technology" and "elements of a strategy to fulfill the federal government's R&D role."  Chaired by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) the caucus is made-up of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT), and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).  The caucus formed to better educate Congressional staff and Members about the relationship between science and technology and continued American competitiveness in the global market.  Since its first meeting over a year ago, the Senate Science and Technology Caucus has meet to discuss many topics, including the issue of  improving our education system.

Most Recent Action

Summary of Roundtable Discussion on Innovation (6-19-98)
The bipartisan Senate Science and Technology Caucus held a roundtable discussion on June 10, 1998, to discuss the results of the first National Innovation Summit, which was held earlier this year in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The summit was hosted by the Council on Competitiveness, several of whose leadership appeared before the Caucus to discuss the conference summary entitled "Competing Through Innovation: A Report of the National Innovation Summit."

Members of the roundtable discussion included:
Senator Bill Frist (R-TN)
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)
Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM)
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM)
Charles Vest, MIT President , Vice-Chair of the Council on Competitiveness, and Co-Chair of the National Innovation Summit
Michael Porter, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School
John Young, founder of the Council on Competitiveness and Co-Chair of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
John Yochelson, President of the Council on Competitiveness

Mr. Vest voiced concern about the current funding level of research and development in the United States, and questioned if this level will sustain the US in the future global market. For the US to maintain its position in the forefront of the global economy in the future, the nation must reinvest in science and technology.

Mr. Porter asked to what extent the U.S. will be able to support a rapidly growing economy and increased wages without innovations and new technology. He stated that "our research shows that national innovative output correlates strongly with a number of fundamentals: level of R&D expenditures, number of R&D personnel, share of GDP spent on secondary and tertiary education, protection of intellectual property, international openness, and GDP per capita." Currently, he said, the U.S. is "harvesting" the technology developed over the past decades and not rebuilding for the future.

Mr. Young briefly commented on a summit participant poll of the 10-year Outlook for U.S. Innovation in five areas: national talent pool, research base, capital availability, national market vitality, and international market access. Participants noted the greatest perceived weakness is the national talent pool followed by the research base. Short-term suggestions to strengthen these two areas were to continue to attract research and technical talent from overseas and to stimulate R&D in the private sector with business tax credits. Long-term suggestions included increasing the number of science and engineering graduates and the amount of federal funding for frontier research.

Council on Competitiveness President John Yochelson announced efforts to: mobilize summit participants to translate their concerns into action, produce innovation benchmarks, develop a broadly supported national agenda for innovation, and hold regional discussions to incorporate a wider range of public- and private-sector industries. He discussed some actions already taken by summit participants, including increases in the number of science and technology fellows in Congress, as well as extending the Baldrige quality management program, an industry-based skills standard currently used in post-secondary vocational education, to primary and secondary education.

Senator Bingaman restated the need for increased federal funding for R&D, referencing S. 2081, the National Defense Science and Technology Investment Act of 1998 , a bill to double federal R&D funding over the next ten years.

Senator Domenici brought up the issue of basic education as one of central importance in the competitiveness debate. He believes the federal government needs to focus on funding primary and secondary education at the same time as providing tax-credit incentives to private industries for R&D.

Sources: Hearing testimony,  the Library of Congress, and Senator Bill Frist's web page.


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

Contributed by Margaret Baker, AGI Government Affairs Program Intern
Last updated June 29, 1998

 
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