America is starting to fall short as a global leader in innovation, and the implications could be dire, according to a new government report. The compelling Department of Commerce study, The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States, suggests that when it comes to the three pillars of innovation—research, education and infrastructure—21st-century America isn’t doing as well as 20th-century America, the country that put men on the moon.
“Common to all three pillars is that they are areas where government has made, and should continue to make, significant investments,” says the report, an interesting finding in an election year when “government investment” in just about anything is an unpopular concept among a significant percentage of the electorate.
What can be done?
Actions include sustaining the levels of funding for basic research by the Federal government, extending a tax credit for private‐sector R&D to give companies appropriate and well‐designed incentives to boost innovation above the baseline level that would have been reached absent these incentives, and improving the methods by which basic research is transferred from the lab into commercial products.
Ongoing and new Administration initiatives are…making college more affordable, spurring classroom innovation at all levels, expanding the size and quality of the STEM teacher ranks, and encouraging and facilitating students’ and workers’ continued STEM education.
The United States is lagging behind in certain key aspects of a 21st-century infrastructure (such as broadband Internet access) and facing capacity constraints for other aspects (wireless communications) given the high demand for these services. Ensuring that the United States has the infrastructure it needs to be competitive in the 21st century will require both additional support by the government and an appropriate policy framework to enable the private sector to build on the government’s support.
The report also calls for a rejuvenation of America’s manufacturing sector and asserts that the private sector must ultimately be “the engine of innovation,” a conclusion that gives the findings some bipartisan appeal. Still, it’s humbling to read about how much there is to do to keep America as competitive and innovative tomorrow as it was yesterday.