RealTime IT News

Tech Embraces Bush Call For U.S. Competitiveness

President Bush's call for an "American Competitiveness Initiative" in his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday night is winning high praise in the technology community.

The president's plan calls for $5.9 billion in 2007 and $136 billion over the next 10 years to increase U.S. investments in research and development, strengthen education in math and science and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.

"To keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity," he said. "Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hard-working, ambitious people -- and we're going to keep that edge."

Bush said the lion's share of the proposed funding would go to three federal agencies that support basic research in the physical sciences and engineering: National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science and the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In addition, the president wants to commit $380 million in new federal support to improve the quality of math, science and technological education in K-12 schools. The president also called for opening more foreign markets for U.S. IT goods and services.

"The business community commends the president for making American competitiveness a national goal," Intel Chairman Craig Barrett said in a statement.

"We urge government leaders to take immediate bipartisan action to ensure U.S. innovation leadership, including a renewed emphasis on math and science education, additional investment in basic research and incentives for business investment in innovation that creates new jobs."

Robert Holleyman, the president and CEO of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), added in a statement, "If America is to continue leading the world in high-tech innovation, there's no doubt that we need a renewed focus on staying competitive.

I was glad to see the president's focus on competitiveness and I hope Congress will embrace this challenge in the year ahead."

TechNet, the political networking arm of the technology executives, was also lavish in its praise of Bush's agenda.

"TechNet and its member companies applaud President Bush for raising innovation and competitiveness to the top of the national policy agenda," Lezlee Westine, president and CEO of the organization, said. "The president laid out a clear path for a comprehensive competitiveness initiative for America that prioritizes on critical areas of R&D investments, economic incentives, energy and health care technologies."

Most importantly, Westine stressed, is the president's commitment to "strong investments in math and science education to foster tomorrow's innovators."

On average, U.S. colleges and universities now annually turn out approximately 1 million graduates, but only 70,000 of those degrees are in engineering. By contrast, China and India churn out 6.4 million college graduates a year, with almost 1 million of those in engineering.

"As a child I was captivated by the 1960s space program and technological innovations, and it inspired me to get an engineering degree," Stratton Sclavos, chairman and CEO of VeriSign, said in a statement. "Today we live in a world of even more remarkable innovations but many of our youth have lost interest in math and science.

"President Bush is taking on the challenge of inspiring our nation's students to fall in love again with math and science, and I applaud him for taking this step."

Bush also addressed the issue of immigration as it pertains to tech workers.

"Keeping America competitive requires an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy," the president said.

The technology industry has long supported an increase in H1-B visas for foreign workers. H-1B visas allow employers to have access to educated foreign professionals, many of whom are employed in scientific research, medicine, technology and education.

Under current law the program is capped at 65,000, with an added exemption for 20,000 foreign nationals earning advanced degrees from U.S. universities.

Bush's statements about foreign workers and global markets especially encouraged Compete America's Sandra Boyd.

"Highly educated foreign nationals have a long history of contributing to America's economic success. American immigration policy must reflect this fact," Boyd said in a statement.

"We urge Congress to enact much-needed reforms to both the H-1B visa and green card programs to help U.S. employers maintain their ability to lead the world in innovation and create jobs in America."