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Obama Promises Massive Commitment To Scientific Research

Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Microsoft strategy officer Craig Mundie among those named to help the administration shape its science policy.

In a speech to the members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), President Obama pledged to commit 3% of the U.S. gross domestic product to scientific research, development, and education, an amount that exceeds scientific funding during the height of the space race with the former Soviet Union in 1964.

"This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history," he said, referring to funding plans outlined in the Recovery Act and his proposed budget.

The president said science is "more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before."

He cited the emergent swine flu outbreak as an example of why the nation cannot afford to fall behind in science. "Our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community," he said.

Noting that President Lincoln created the NAS at a time of civil war, in a refusal to accept that the nation's sole purpose was survival, Obama recounted that how his 19th century predecessor said that we must add "'the fuel of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery of new and useful things.'"

He said that federal funding of the physical sciences had fallen by half over the past quarter century as a proportion of U.S. GDP.

And he envisioned possible advances from investing in science, such as "solar cells as cheap as paint, green buildings that produce all the energy they consume, learning software as effective as a personal tutor, [and] prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again [after a debilitating injury]."

President Obama also announced the members of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, a group that helps the administration shape science policy.

Eighteen of the 20 members named are distinguished academics and public office holders or health care organization executives.

Two of the 20 -- Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt -- currently work primarily in private-sector technology companies.

Obama in his budget has proposed doubling the budgets for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He also introduced a new arm of the Department of Energy, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, designed to replicate the research success of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

In addition, he said he planned to triple the number of NSF graduate research fellowships.

The president stressed that innovation would be driven by the private sector as well as the government and said that under his budget the research and experimentation tax credit would become permanent. "By making this credit permanent, we make it possible for businesses to plan the kinds of projects that create jobs and economic growth," he said.

InformationWeek will be highlighting innovative government IT organizations in an upcoming issue. Nominate your agency by submitting an essay on your most innovative IT initiative completed in the last year. Find out more, and nominate your organization by May 1.

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