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Bullet policy · Oct 26, 2020

Report Urges Increased Investments in U.S. R&D

A new report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Perils of Complacency: America at a Tipping Point in Science & Engineering, urges significant action and research funding to ensure that the United States does not lose its leadership position in innovation.

The report offers a five-year update to the Academy’s 2014 report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, which called for annual U.S. investments in research and development (R&D) to equal 3.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

“China is projected to become the world’s largest economy when measured by GDP by 2030. By 2026, the 250th anniversary of the United States, China’s strategic plan calls for it to be well on its way to becoming the unchallenged world leader in science, technology, and innovation,” reads the new report. “These developments are perilous for America, which today, 50 years after the Apollo 11 moon landing, is at a tipping point in R&D,” the report warns.

The report notes that the United States gained global leadership by prioritizing innovation and cautions that falling behind in science and technology R&D funding, even for a few years, can have “grave consequences for a country’s economy, job creation, standard of living, and national security.”

The latest report reaffirms the recommendations offered in the 2014 report, including increasing federal funding for basic research at a sustained growth rate of at least 4 percent per year and appropriating U.S. R&D budgets on at least a two-year cycle, rather than annually. In addition, the report offers new recommendations focused on strengthening U.S. STEM education and the American workforce.

“The nation’s pre-K-12 public education system has been in crisis for decades,” notes the report. The authors call for implementing the recommendations laid out in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s 2005 report, Gathering Storm, which included creating 10,000 federally funded four-year scholarships annually in STEM fields to be competitively awarded to U.S. citizens in exchange for a commitment to teach STEM in a public school for at least five years after graduating. The authors also recommend that states “return to, and then sustain or increase, pre-Great Recession levels of public university funding, as measured per full-time equivalent (FTE) student.” Furthermore, the report calls for repealing the tax placed on earnings of endowments of private universities.

The report was prepared by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and a committee comprising notable players in the U.S. innovation ecosystem, including Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin; Neal Lane, former director of the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Steven Chu, former Secretary of Energy; and Bart Gordon, former chair of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.