The Great Innovation Challenge Of The 21st Century

rep_anna_g_eshoo_170—251shkl.jpgOur guest blogger, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

When President Kennedy committed the United States to send a man to the moon, he said, “The vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we are first, and therefore, we intend to be first. Our leadership in science and industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort.”

Kennedy’s leadership inspired and spurred American innovation. We reached the moon, and we did even more. The public investment we made to win the space race spawned a generation of discovery and technological dominance that made the United States the most productive, efficient, competitive and prosperous nation on Earth.

Today at the dawn of the 21st Century, we’re facing serious new challenges.

China, India, the European Union and others are steadily — sometimes dramatically — gaining on us in critical areas. South Korea, which has 1/6th of our population, now graduates more engineers than the United States. Japan and the United Kingdom award more doctoral degrees in science and engineering. U.S. elementary and high school students rank near the bottom among developed countries in science and math proficiency. The U.S. has slipped from 11th to 16th in broadband, and foreign-based companies are increasing their share of U.S. patents.

Fortunately for us, we can take action as we have in the past, and not allow the rest of the world to pass us by.

Two years ago, I joined then-House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to launch The Innovation Agenda: A Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America #1. We developed this Agenda after extensive consultation with our nation’s leaders in academia, high-technology, telecommunications, biotechnology and venture capital. These roundtable meetings which began at Stanford University in my Congressional District were repeated across the country and were critical in developing the Agenda.

The Agenda the Speaker unveiled in November 2005 is a non-partisan set of policies to keep America competitive and a call to action for our entire country. Now that we’re the majority, we are committed to implementing this Agenda, which focuses on five areas to foster a new century of innovation.

We will:

— Create a new generation of innovators by making college more affordable and increasing our investment in educating a skilled workforce in the vital areas of science, math, engineering, and information technology.

— Make a sustained commitment to federal research and development by doubling funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science within the next 10 years. We will also modernize the R&D tax credit to increase domestic investment, strengthen the patent system, and improve protections for the intellectual property of American innovators worldwide.

— Spur affordable access to high-speed, always-on broadband Internet and mobile communications which will dramatically increase the productivity and efficiency of our economy.

— Achieve energy independence, strengthen our national security, and protect our planet by supporting the development of clean, sustainable alternative fuels and energy-efficient technologies.

— Provide small businesses, the catalysts for technological innovation, with greater access to grants and capital to encourage entrepreneurship and job creation throughout our economy.

In the last few weeks, the House has passed five significant and bipartisan Innovation Agenda bills. These bills will generate 10,000 new teachers a year in math, science and technology; increase long-term support for scientific research and young researchers; strengthen access to capital programs for small businesses; and reauthorize and increase funding for the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. These are just the first of many steps to implement our Agenda while adhering to the responsible fiscal policies of pay-as-you-go budgeting.

Innovation is essential to our drive to be the best. It fuels our economy, bolsters our national security and extends our influence around the world. President Kennedy also said, “The American, by nature, is optimistic. He is experimental, an inventor and a builder who builds best when called upon to build greatly.” The Innovation Agenda will equip our citizens to meet the competitive challenges of the 21st Century and build a brighter future for our children and grandchildren.

— Anna Eshoo