RealTime IT News

A Bipartisan Push For More Tech Money

WASHINGTON -- It appears Republicans and Democrats can finally agree on at least one issue: America is losing its leadership grip on global technology.

Even more surprising? Both parties agree on the answer: more money for science, math and engineering.

A month after House Democrats urged their colleagues to double funding for basic research and development, a coalition of Senate Republicans and Democrats unveiled today the same idea in different wrapping.

The National Innovation Act proposed by John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) "nearly" doubles research funding for the National Science Foundation and establishes an Innovation Acceleration Grants program for high-risk, high-tech research.

"The goal of our legislation is to ensure America's global role as a leader in technological innovation and to tap into the vast expertise and talent at our disposal," Ensign said. "Innovation fosters new ideas and technology, which leads to a more prosperous future."

Ensign said in his year as chairman of the Republican High Tech Task Force he has heard much about outsourcing tech jobs and the need for more American scientists and engineers.

"This bill is all about in-sourcing," he told reporters at a Capital press conference. "It is essential we encourage, support and maintain an infrastructure of innovation in technological fields of study."

Lieberman noted the number of jobs requiring technical training is growing at five times the rate of other occupations.

"However, the average number of students studying and entering these fields is declining, and the average of the U.S. science and engineering workforce is rising," he said.

Richard Luger (R-Ind.), one of nine Republicans co-sponsoring the legislation, noted that China and India annually graduate 6.4 million from colleges, with almost 1 million of those in engineering.

"The United States turns out 1.3 million college graduates and 70,000 engineers," Lugar said. "We live in a global society, and by spurring research and innovation in the U.S., we are also ensuring that our companies stay competitive internationally and prosper domestically."

The legislation also comes less than a week after the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a report stating China has overtaken the United States as the world's leading exporter of information and communications technology (ICT) goods.

While the senators were vague on the actual dollar amounts involved in the legislation, Lieberman said it would "significantly increase" federal support for graduate fellowship and trainee programs in science, math and engineering.

George Allen (R-Va.), another co-sponsor of the bill, said the National Innovation Act would be a "comprehensive initiative investing, incenting and encouraging Americans into the fields of engineering, science and technology."

As it did after the Democrats' November announcement, the technology industry, which has long lamented the decline in U.S. science and engineering students, rushed to praise the legislation.

"There is no more important public policy priority than creating an environment in which innovation will flourish and fuel continued U.S. economic growth and global leadership," Lezlee Westine, president and CEO of TechNet, said in a statement.

"The National Innovation Act embodies this goal and rightly calls for our nation to focus our attention on the critical areas of research and development, economic incentives and investments in education in order to maintain our edge."

Jim Barksdale, chairman of the Barksdale Management Group, said the legislation "contains the right mix of common-sense initiatives to support patent and immigration reform, but also rightly calls for a greater commitment to research and development and a permanent extension of the R&D tax credit."

He added, "Put simply, this measure takes a very smart holistic approach to help our nation stay on top."