The Bush administration during its second term will look to counter challenges to the United States' technological leadership by funding research and development that not only stimulates the development of new technology, but ensures that new technology is accessible to most people.
While many agree that emerging economies such as China, India, and South Korea are mounting a serious challenge to the United States' long-held role as the leading technology innovator, some question the administration's focus on the task at hand and its ability to deliver adequate funding given the burgeoning federal deficit.
"The Bush administration's philosophy is to create an environment for innovation and an environment for participation," says Phillip Bond, the Commerce Department's undersecretary for technology.
Federal research and development funding, crucial to the administration's ability to create innovative technologies, has increased 44% since 2001, Bond says. The administration contributes $2 billion annually to networking and IT R&D alone at agencies such as the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and areas within the Defense Department. The Bush administration has also allocated $1 billion for the development of nanotechnology and taken an interest in quantum communication, an emerging encryption system.
Broadband and wireless communications, as well as E-government and cybersecurity technologies, are important to the public-participation component of the Bush administration's strategy. "We expect WiMAX to burst onto the scene during the [president's] second term," Bond says. WiMAX, a standard for wireless interoperability, already has the backing of China and Korea. This standard, in addition to work being done to enable broadband connectivity over power lines, will play an important role in the Bush administration's plans to offer affordable broadband to most citizens by 2007.
But beyond R&D dollars and individual projects, President Bush's second term must include the creation of a policy that strengthens and solidifies the United States' long-term leadership in science and technology, says Paul Taylor, chief strategy officer with the Center for Digital Government, a national technology research organization for government agencies. This policy should include tax incentives, funding, and an immigration policy resulting in more Ph.D.s in a wide range of forward-looking professions. "India did," Taylor says. "We need to do it."
India invested heavily in education, a move that helped the country produce a large number of talented computer scientists, Taylor says, adding that a dearth of interest in computer science and mathematics among the current generation of American students has left an "unpaid bill that's coming due this decade." That's an observation shared by IT luminaries such as Intel's Andy Grove and Craig Barrett, as well as Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina.
U.S. spending on IT innovation must be considered relative to the spending, effort, and focus of other countries, in particular China, India, and Korea, Taylor says. "There are serious levels of investment needed to regain our country's spot in the world."