This article is published in the March 2006 issue.

The Future of American Innovation: The Gathering Storm

Musings from the Chair

In response to a Congressional request and stimulated by a set of earlier studies (notably the National Innovation Initiative’s “Innovate America” report), the National Academies recently issued a report entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future.”1 This report was produced in response to growing concern that a weakening of U.S. leadership (and, by extension, North American leadership) in science and technology would jeopardize future prosperity. This concern was based on the fact that a major fraction of economic growth in recent decades has been a direct consequence of prior investment in basic research.2 The report committee was asked to address two questions:

  1. What are the top 10 actions, in priority order, that federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so the United States can successfully compete, prosper and be secure in the global community of the twenty-first century?
  2. What implementation strategy, with several concrete steps, could be used to implement each of those actions?

Based on interviews, review of other documents and reports, and deliberations, the committee produced four recommendations, each backed by a more detailed set of implementation plans:

  1. Increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education.
  2. Sustain and strengthen the nation’s traditional commitment to long-term basic research that has the potential to be transformational to maintain the flow of new ideas that fuel the economy, provide security, and enhance the quality of life.
  3. Make the United States the most attractive setting in which to study and perform research so we can develop, recruit, and retain the best and brightest students, scientists, and engineering from within the United States and throughout the world.
  4. Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world to innovate; invest in downstream activities such as manufacturing and marketing; and create high-paying jobs that are based on innovation by modernizing the patent system, realigning tax policies to encourage innovation, and ensuring affordable broadband access.

Although one may debate the recommendation details, there is little doubt that global competition is rising and that the competitive pressures are real. Many of us live in regions whose traditional economic base has been reshaped by global trade. In computing, we have seen shifting trends in graduate student enrollment, flat to only slightly rising research budgets, and declining proposal success rates for research funding.

In his January 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative, which would increase the number of trained secondary-school teachers in advanced mathematics and science. He also called for a doubling of federal investment in basic research in the physical sciences, which includes information technology. Bipartisan bills have also been introduced in the U.S. Congress to increase investment in education and research.

As part of a group of professional societies, industry-academic partnerships and universities, CRA is working to support increased funding for long-term basic research, greater investment in scientific education, and mechanisms to broaden the base of participation in information technology. I encourage you to follow these activities on the CRA blog ( Get involved—talk to your colleagues, raise awareness, and make a difference! In a knowledge economy, a trained workforce and basic research are the enablers.


1 The report can be ordered and excerpts read at:
2 See the famous CSTB “tire tracks” diagram for details (


Dan Reed, CRA’s Board Chair, is the Chancellor’s Eminent Professor and Vice-Chancellor for Information Technology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also directs the interdisciplinary Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI).

The Future of American Innovation: The Gathering Storm