Bush May Pump Tech in State of the Union Address


In five previous State of the Union addresses, President Bush has spoken more
than 30,000 words and only made fleeting references to technology. He has
never used the words “Internet” or “broadband” in a State of the Union speech.


That may change tonight.


According to sources contacted by internetnews.com, the president is
expected to call for new programs and/or funding to regain America’s lost
global lead in information technology.


“I think the president will use the bully pulpit to make competitiveness a
part of the national debate,” said Tom Galvin of Washington-based 463
Communications, which works closely with both Congress and the White House
on technology issues.


Another source with close White House connections, who asked to remain
anonymous because Bush’s Tuesday night speech is not final, said, “[Competitiveness] is still in [the State of the Union address] now.”


America’s flagging global IT leadership is most famously characterized by
the country’s current rank at 16th in the world in broadband deployment.


According to a report issued
last month by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,
the United States is no longer the global leader in exporting information
and technology goods.


China has taken that lead, exporting $180 billion worth of tech goods and
services in 2004. The United States followed at $149 billion. In 2003, the
United States was the world leader, with $137 billion in sales.


More disconcerting to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, however, is
Americans’ declining interest in math, science and engineering, three
benchmark disciplines of technology.


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.


“In 2006, it doesn’t really matter how many times [Bush] uses the words, it’s how he takes the leadership on competitiveness,” Galvin said.


Lawmakers are waiting in the wings for Bush to take that leadership,
recently introducing legislation designed to revive U.S. IT fortunes.


In December, Senators John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) rolled out the National Innovation Act, promising to nearly double research funding
for the National Science Foundation and establish an Innovation Acceleration
Grants program for high-risk, high-tech research.


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.


Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), a 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.”


Two months ago, Democrats went on the offensive with their own “innovation”
Agenda
“, calling
for doubling the funding for basic research and development and adding
100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers to America’s workforce
in the next four years.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said she and other
Democratic leaders spent time holding technology forums across the Silicon
Valley and in Seattle, Boston, Chicago and North Carolina’s Research
Triangle.


“They warned that the commitment of the public sector has not kept pace with
America’s challenges in the global economy,” Pelosi said. “Today, Democrats
challenge Congress and the country to renew our commitment to the
public-private partnerships that will secure America’s continued leadership
in innovation.”


If all goes according to plan, Bush may be about to accept that challenge.

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