Federal reports point to R&D as the key to American innovation

We’re only three weeks into the new year, and a barrage of federal reports that focus on the status of American competitiveness and innovation capacity already have been released. Not surprisingly, the connection between research and education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and a strong national economy was highlighted in each report.

On Jan. 6, the Department of Commerce delivered The Competitive and Innovative Capacity of the U.S. report to Congress. The report outlines the three elements of innovation — basic research, education and infrastructure — and goes on to state that these areas require a strong and sustained federal investment to flourish.

The Commerce report presents ten policy recommendations, the first of which is for continued support for basic research through federal funding. Other recommendations include expanding R&D tax credits, improving STEM education and eliminating the barriers associated with translational research. Read a summary of the report here.

In February 2011, President Obama created the Jobs Council, which was tasked with developing a set of recommendations that would create jobs in the short term and improve American competitiveness in the long term. On Jan. 17, the Jobs Council released a new report titled Road Map to Renewal. It identifies six areas that are critical to address the president’s goal: education, research and development, energy, manufacturing, regulatory reform and tax reform.

The Jobs Council report presents several recommendations for each of the six topics. Of particular interest to the basic research community is the recommendation to raise the national investment in R&D to at least 3 percent of gross domestic product. The U.S. currently invests 2.8 percent of GDP to R&D, while countries such as Japan and Sweden invest 3.4 and 3.7 percent, respectively. Read a summary of the report here.

Finally, on Jan. 18, the National Science Board, the policy-making body at the National Science Foundation, released its yearly report on Science and Engineering Indicators. This report outlines trends in U.S. global competitiveness in the science and technology work force, education and economic activity. While the U.S. remains the leader in supporting science and technology, that lead could soon be overtaken as countries in Asia, particularly China, continue to increase their national investments in R&D.

The report shows that between 1999 and 2009 the U.S. investment in R&D dropped from 38 percent to 31 percent, whereas it grew from 24 percent to 35 percent in the “Asia-10” (China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand). Read the report digest here, or visit the NSF website to explore specific topics like STEM education, global R&D trends or the science work force.

These reports all indicate that the key to maintaining America’s global competitiveness lies in its commitment to federal support for research and development. Countless studies have shown that STEM occupations are among the highest paying, fastest growing and most influential in driving economic growth and innovation. The ASBMB Office of Public Affairs will continue to bring you studies such as these that help support the argument for a strong investment in research.

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