The Department of Commerce and National Economic Council today released a new report on “The Competitiveness and Innovation Capacity of the United States” at an event featuring Secretary of Commerce John Bryson followed by a panel of speakers and small group breakout sessions. The report was a Congressional mandate in the COMPETES reauthorization last year.
Secretary Bryson opened the event with a keynote address saying that the report contains three areas of focus: federal funding of basic research, STEM education, and infrastructure investment. He discussed that these are areas of investment that payoff in the future and that they need to be encouraged even during difficult economic times.
The Secretary’s brief remarks were followed by a panel discussion with Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Under Secretary for Economic Affairs Rebecca Blank, US Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and McKinsey Global Institute Director James Manyika.
Deputy Secretary Blank began the discussion by talking about the need for competitiveness and job growth to be part of the same conversation. She spoke to the fact that many people don’t see college education, particularly in STEM fields, to be pertinent to their lives and that we need to change the overall picture so they can make the connection.
Manyika pointed out that the concern over jobs was not just because of the recession and that wage growth matters because consumer spending is such a heavy driver of economic growth in the US. He answered a question regarding the US competitiveness standing by saying that the US economy is still the most innovative and attractive in the world, as it has been since World War II, but that change is starting to happen around the globe with other countries trying to rise to the same level of innovation. Manyika also noted that there are market failures in research and development because of the long-term nature of basic research and the private sector cannot fund that kind of research without the government.
Chopra gave examples of the payoff of federally funded R&D. He specifically called out the list of billion dollar sectors within IT that can trace their starts back to federally funded research. He also discussed the success of commercializing a great deal of research that originally started at DARPA and the need to emulate that kind of model and the need to have public-private partnerships.
There was little time for audience questions but one question that did get asked was if all the jobs of the future require computing knowledge and skills, why isn’t computer science being taught at the K – 12 level. Chopra answered by saying that the engineering and technology (the E&T in STEM) need more investment and more emphasis because the science and math portions are already well established.