Improving Science and Technology Innovation in the United States at the Brookings Institution

Capitol Building

On June 8, the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. hosted a forum entitled, “Improving Science and Technology Innovation in the United States”.   The forum’s goal was to bring leaders together from the fields of government, higher education, and business to discuss the need for increasing both innovation and investment in science and technology.  Participants in the program included Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer; Vivek Kundra, Federal Chief Information Officer; Phil Weiser, Senior Advisor to the National Economic Council Director for Technology and Innovation; Robert Braun, Chief Technologist of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology.

The panel acknowledged some troubling signs in science and technology innovation in the U.S.  Last year was the first year that non-U.S. innovators filed more patents than did U.S. innovators, and the United States also is falling behind other nations in the percentage of GDP spent on the critical area of research and development.

However, the panel acknowledged that there are promising signs for the future of science and technology innovation in the United States.  The House recently passed the America COMPETES Act, which was designed to foster research, spur innovation, create jobs for the 21st century economy; and  create, educate, and train a suitable workforce for those jobs.  Additionally, President Obama has made a commitment to utilizing technology in a wide range of initiatives, from online games to encouraging children to eat healthily to the digitization of federal records and the promotion of STEM education through Educate to Innovate.

The importance of STEM education for the future of American innovation was emphasized throughout the program. The Honorable Paula Stern, representing NCWIT, posed a question to members of the administration in the panel regarding what is being done to increase the participation of women specifically in information technology and engineering, and what their participation might mean for the future of American innovation.  Phil Weiser, Senior Advisor to the National Economic Council Director for Technology and Innovation answered the question by citing NCWIT as a great example of social innovation and a coalition built to tackle current public policy challenges. 

Weiser noted NCWIT’s work to change the demographics of the IT workforce, which presently is predominantly white and male.  This homogeneity does not reflect the great diversity of the United States.  Thus STEM education needs to be emphasized in the early stages so as to provide diverse individuals with the opportunity to pursue careers in information technology and scientific fields more broadly.  Phil Weiser pointed to Educate to Innovate as an example of a White House program designed to create a generation passionate about science and mathematics, thus contributing to continued U.S. innovation.

The importance of STEM education, particularly for women and minorities, was addressed again later on in the program when The Honorable Paula Stern questioned Congressman Bart Gordon, Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology regarding the extent to which the America COMPETES Act will address the issue of limited female participation in computer science education.  Congressman Gordon responded by saying that the best place to make progress in the science and technology workforce and in the STEM education area is with women and minorities as they are currently the most underrepresented groups.  Gordon stated, “And so just by bumping them up, you know, again, that’s the best bang for our buck”.  He continued by describing some of the incentives in the America COMPETES Act to encourage women and minorities to pursue STEM education.  Gordon conceded that the initiatives were not currently calibrated specifically to computer science, but that this should be a step to consider moving forward.

The forum ended by emphasizing the importance of passing the America COMPETES Act in the Senate.  You can show your support for this important piece of legislation by signing this petition at www.usinnovation.org.  In conclusion, the “Improving Science and Technology Innovation in the United States” forum provided an insightful arena for the discussion of technology and the future of innovation in the United States.  The promotion of STEM education, especially among women and minorities, is a crucial component of this initiative, one which NCWIT will continue to fight for and support.