President Jackson Urges Congress To Strengthen the U.S. Innovation Ecosystem
The health, prosperity, security, and global leadership of the United States depend on our strength in science and technology, Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson told a U.S. Congressional panel, warning that looming federal budget cuts in science research and development put the U.S. at risk.
“Life-changing, job-creating, security-sustaining scientific discoveries and technological innovations have rested on strong collaboration among business, government, and academia. This three-way partnership has created an ‘innovation ecosystem’ that has driven our economy, prosperity, and well-being for decades,” President Jackson said at a hearing Feb. 6 before the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
This, the first hearing of the Science Committee in the 113th Congress, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), focused on the impact of research and development (R&D) on the lives of the American people and examined policies to ensure the U.S. remains the leader in innovation.
“We remain the world leader in scientific discovery and technological innovation. But, the health of our innovation ecosystem is in jeopardy,” President Jackson said, in reference to the impending cuts in federal scientific research and development funding set to go into effect March 1, 2013, due to the so-called “sequester,” the gaps in the U.S. high-skilled workforce, and other constraints to moving ideas from the lab to the marketplace.
President Jackson said a strong “innovation ecosystem” requires (1) strategic focus, (2) game-changing idea generation, (3) translational pathways to bring discoveries into commercial or societal use, and (4) capital, including financial, infrastructural, and human capital.
She urged a particular collaborative focus on educational support to develop the next generation of leaders in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.
President Jackson pointed to research at Rensselaer’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI)—which houses one of the most powerful university-based supercomputers in the world—as a collaborative model to emulate. She noted the work under way with companies of all sizes to improve their products and processes; the faculty research on a range of health, energy, and other challenges; and the educational activities under way to prepare the next generation of digital leaders.
“Nations that invest in research, educate the next generations, and make commitments to build effective innovation ecosystems will be the global leaders of tomorrow,” President Jackson said.
Charles Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering, and Richard Templeton, president and CEO of Texas Instruments, also testified at the hearing.
In a joint op-ed published Feb. 6 on Politico.com, in conjunction with the hearing, President Jackson and Templeton wrote: “We now are on the cusp of a data-driven, super-computer powered, Web-enabled globally interconnected world. The only question is, who will lead this new technological revolution? Will it be the U.S. or another country?”
Referencing the effective collaborative scientific research partnership among business, universities, and government in the U.S., they wrote: “Other countries have taken note of our success and are emulating our model. Governments around the world are investing heavily in energy, health care, telecommunications, and other arenas, in partnership with their colleges and universities and with existing and emerging businesses. And they are investing in their people, preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
Referencing the looming across-the-board federal science R&D budget cuts—known as the sequester—they wrote: “These indiscriminate cuts may save money in the short term… But there will be a significant, long-term, irreparable price to pay if the U.S. government slashes its support for science and engineering and for those who pursue those fields.” And they urged the Congress to act to avert the pending budget cuts.
Rensselaer and Texas Instruments have a shared history: J. Erik Jonsson, a 1922 graduate of Rensselaer, was a co-founder of TI and then became a major benefactor of Rensselaer.
To read President Jackson’s testimony, go to www.rpi.edu/president/speeches/ps020613-sst.html.