Research is where its at, Bill Gates said yesterday summing up his (and CRA’s, in fact) message for federal funding priorities in a single sentence to the House Science and Technology Committee. The response came in the final minutes of the hearing when Gates was asked what the priority for federal funding should be given that there is a finite amount of federal money to spend and the large number of potential science and technology areas it could be spent on.
Gates appearance before the committee, his last as Chairman of Microsoft, was in commemoration of the committees 50th anniversary. The theme of the hearing was familiar to those in the science and technology realmCompetitiveness and Innovation. Gates testimony, both written and in response to questions, followed the arguments he and the rest of the S&T community have been making for the last several years: the urgency for improving STEM education at the K-12 level, the critical need for federal funding of basic research, the importance of attracting the best and the brightest from around the world to U.S. universities, the need to increase diversity in STEM fields, and the requirement that we do whatever we can to retain talent in the U.S.
The entire written testimony and a webcast of the hearing are available on the committee web site. In it, Gates, not unexpectedly, highlights the important contributions of information technology and its great potential to aid in solving some of the trickiest problems we face:
Computing and software will also play an increasingly central role in scientific research. We are rapidly moving into an era of data-centric computational science in which researchers across a wide range of disciplines routinely use software and computers as essential tools for investigation and collaboration. The ability to use computers to model complex systems is transforming the way we learn about everything from genomics and biosciences to physics and astronomy. In the future, scientific computing will play a profoundly important role in advances that will help us treat diseases, address climate change, and confront many other critical issues.
…But he raises important questions about whether we’re doing all we can to insure the U.S. remains an innovation leader:
As I hope these remarks reflect, I am optimistic about the potential for technology to help us find new ways to improve peoples lives and tackle important challenges. I am less optimistic, however, that the United States will continue to remain a global leader in technology innovation. While Americas innovation heritage is unparalleled, the evidence is mounting that we are failing to make the investments in our young people, our workers, our scientific research infrastructure, and our economy that will enable us to retain our global innovation leadership.
In particular, I believe that there are two urgent reasons why we should all be deeply concerned that our advantages in science and technology innovation are in danger of slipping away.
First, we face a critical shortfall of skilled scientists and engineers who can develop new breakthrough technologies. Second, the public and private sectors are no longer investing in basic research and development (R&D) at the levels needed to drive long-term innovation.
If the United States truly wants to secure its global leadership in technology innovation, we must, as a nation, commit to a strategy for innovation excellence a set of initiatives and policies that will provide the foundation for American competitive strength in the years ahead. Such a strategy cannot succeed without a serious commitment from and partnership between both the public and private sectors. It will also need to be flexible and dynamic enough to respond to rapid changes in the global economy.