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