The same committee that gathered five years ago to produce the highly-influential “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” National Academies study has reassembled to revisit the report and has come to even gloomier conclusions about the state of our innovation ecosystem. They’ve released a new version of the report at a congressional briefing today.
This is good timing by the committee as Congress tries to figure out a strategy to pass the America COMPETES Act reauthorization this session and preserve increases for NSF, NIST and DOE in the approps process. It’s looking increasingly likely that any chance for passage for COMPETES will have to come during the lame-duck session, after the November elections. But even then it’s unclear how it will move forward, especially if the House changes hands (as is looking increasingly likely). We’ll know a little more soon. In any case, the report paints a pretty bleak picture of where we stand now, and hopefully that resonates with Members. I’d recommend at least looking through the executive summary and the list of factoids. Sobering stuff.
Here’s a snippet from the executive summary:
So where does America stand relative to its position of five years ago when the Gathering Storm report was prepared? The unanimous view of the committee members participating in the preparation of this report is that our nation’s outlook has worsened. While progress has been made in certain areas—for example, launching the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy—the latitude to fix the problems being confronted has been severely diminished by the growth of the national debt over this period from $8 trillion to $13 trillion.
Further, in spite of sometimes heroic efforts and occasional very bright spots, our overall public school system—or more accurately 14,000 systems—has shown little sign of improvement, particularly in mathematics and science. Finally, many other nations have been markedly progressing, thereby affecting America’s relative ability to compete effectively for new factories, research laboratories, administrative centers — and jobs. While this progress by other nations is to be both encouraged and welcomed, so too is the notion that Americans wish to continue to be among those peoples who do prosper.
The only promising avenue for achieving this latter outcome, in the view of the Gathering Storm committee and many others, is through innovation. Fortunately, this nation has in the past demonstrated considerable prowess in this regard. Unfortunately, it has increasingly placed shackles on that prowess such that, if not relieved, the nation’s ability to provide financially and personally rewarding jobs for its own citizens can be expected to decline at an accelerating pace. The recommendations made five years ago, the highest priority of which was strengthening the public school system and investing in basic scientific research, appears to be as appropriate today as then.
The Gathering Storm Committee’s overall conclusion is that in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.
The Gathering Storm increasingly appears to be a Category 5.
Here’s the full report: Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited (pdf)