Webcast Recap

On December 11, 2008, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy co-hosted an all-day conference, bringing together Members of Congress, representatives of executive agencies, members of the national laboratories, industry experts, think tank specialists, and key university leaders, to discuss the future of American innovation. Their focus was on how the worlds of government, universities, and private industry could work together in ensuring continued U.S. competitiveness in the global economy.

Other organizations involved in the organization of the conference and its success included the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, the Association of American Universities, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC).

Four Members of Congress opened the discussion, highlighting the potential of the recently-passed America Competes Act of 2007 (20 USC 9801) and describing the challenges of the years ahead. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, outlined several existing models of partnership between public and private entities, including the government-funded nanotechnology labs and the Joint BioEnergy Institute. Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chairman of the Committee on Science and Technology, explained that the America Competes Act will serve as an excellent blueprint for future partnerships and pushed for it to be fully funded. Further, he called upon industry groups to actively engage the government as a valuable partner.

Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL), Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, pressed that "if we don't continue with innovation and the ability to stay ahead...we are not going to keep our place in the global economy." She continued to say that funding needs to be made available to young scientists to encourage them in their work and that basic science should be moved from the lab into the workplace. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Assistant to the Speaker and Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, stated that we are now treading water in education and innovation – other countries have surpassed us. He emphasized the need for new partnerships and a larger government commitment to competitiveness. He added that an expansion of the Higher Education Act and the establishment of a permanent research and development (R&D) tax credit would be significant steps in the right direction.

Beyond pushing for an increase in federal R&D spending, Van Hollen also cited the need for greater investment in energy research, noting that currently "only seven percent of federal R&D dollars go into the energy area."

Panels held throughout the day defined the need for innovation, gave evidence of what types of investments and partnerships have worked well, and suggested bold new ideas for moving forward.

Throughout, panelists agreed that innovation is a critical element in the health of the U.S. economy and the quality of life of American citizens. They described the components of a successful innovation strategy: developing the future workforce, building a science and technology base, driving key economic sectors, and achieving top national goals in the areas of healthcare, security, and energy.

The sessions covered questions such as "how much money and how many scientists are necessary to propel innovation?" and "what kinds of partnerships and collaboration work best?" Ultimately, they converged on the idea that partnerships have played an essential role in U.S. competitiveness for decades and they listed examples of how partnerships have been effective at amplifying the productivity of individual participants and organizations.

One such example has been set by the Proctor and Gamble Company. Jeffrey Weedman, Vice President of External Business Development, explained the success that the company has had in sharing ideas and establishing firm partnerships with government labs, universities, independent inventors, and even competitors. He stressed that the company "want[s] to be connected" in order to develop real solutions to meet the needs of the people. And, he asserted that open innovation causes growth, which creates jobs.

Panelists at the conference also agreed on the urgency of the situation and expressed their dissatisfaction with the unfunded status of the America Competes Act. Furthermore, they emphasized extra steps that still must be taken to ensure that the United States will have a well-oiled innovation system. First, better R&D credits should be established. Second, more focus centers, like the Semiconductor Research Corporation, should be created in order to perform road-mapping exercises. Third, individual states should be better engaged as partners in innovation. Next, the education system needs improvement in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Finally, universities should be linked to national labs and businesses, with incentives established to encourage these relationships.

Ultimately, the conference spelled out the need for a stronger alignment of interests among government agencies, states, universities, and industrial sectors. Further, innovation policy should respond more directly to national goals that are important for the strength of the economy, the quality of life, and the national security of the American people.

Drafted by Jacqueline Nader, STAGE Program
Kent H. Hughes, Director, STAGE Program

Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-NM;
Representative Bart Gordon, D-TN;
Representative Judy Biggert, R-IL;
Representative Chris Van Hollen, D-MD;
Thom Mason, Director, Oak Ridge National Laboratory;
William Wulf, University of Virginia;
Deborah Wince-Smith, President, Council on Competitiveness;
William E. Kirwan, Chancellor, University System of Maryland;
Robert Berdahl, President, Association of American Universities;
Josh Wolfe, Managing Partner, Lux Capital;
Jeffrey D. Weedman, Vice President for External Business Development, The Procter & Gamble Company;
Robert Atkinson, President, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation;
Patricia Dehmer, Deputy Director, Science Program, DOE Office of Science;
Jean-Charles Guibert, Director, MINATEC;
Johnsee Lee, President, Industrial Technology Research Institute;
Daniel Berglund, President and CEO, SSTI;
Richard Stulen, VP and CRO, Sandia National Laboratory;
Larry Sumney, CEO, Semiconductor Research Corporation;
Susan Butts, Director of External Technology, Dow Chemical;
Chris Hayter, Director, Economic Development, National Governors Association;
Kenneth Galloway, Dean of Engineering, Vanderbilt University;
Christopher T. Hill, Professor, George Mason University.