Washington, DC (Scicasts) - In his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night (January 25th), President Obama spoke of the need to maintain America’s leadership in a rapidly changing world so that the country's economy is competitive. The emphasis in his speech was on outperforming America's global competitors – particularly the emerging economies – through science, technology and innovation, as well as education. Below is the summary of his speech in relation to his science and technology plans.
Investment in Science and Technology Innovation
The President was calling for new investments in American innovation. He said that inventions by talented scientists and engineers supported by government investments have created good middle class American jobs and transformed the world. He highlighted his budget plans that aim to help increase the nation’s R&D investments, as a share of GDP, to its highest levels since President Kennedy launched the space race.
One key area in which he issued a challenge to America’s scientists and engineers was green technology. President Obama highlighted his innovation agenda, which includes a new commitment to supporting clean energy technology, paid for by ending taxpayer subsidies for fossil fuels. The President’s Budget will propose increasing clean energy technology funding by a third compared to 2010, including an expansion of the successful ARPA-E research program and a doubling of the number of Energy Innovation Hubs operating around the country. These Hubs will allow America’s scientists and engineers to gather the best minds in their fields, and focus on the hardest problems in clean energy.
Furthermore, the President’s Budget will also focus on high-value research on clean energy deployment, including more than doubling investments in energy efficiency and over 85 percent increase in renewable energy investment. These investments will support the “$1 a Watt” initiative to make solar energy cost competitive; increased funding for 24-hour geothermal renewable energy; and industrial efficiency to keep American manufacturing competitive. In the current economic hardship, the president ensured that these investments can be made without adding to the deficit, as he called for ending the approximately $4 billion per year in tax subsidies to oil, gas and other fossil fuel producers.
In 2008, President Obama set an ambitious goal of putting 1 million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015 – which would put America on a path to reducing oil consumption by 785 million barrels by 2030. While his efforts to date have positioned the U.S. to meet that goal, the President affirmed that more is needed to ensure that the U.S. is the first country to put 1 million advanced vehicles on its roads. To reach that goal, President Obama will propose in his Budget a new effort to support electric vehicle manufacturing and adoption in the US through improved consumer rebates, investments in R&D, and competitive programs to encourage communities to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure. He explained that this builds on his administration's ongoing efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil through aggressive steps, including strong fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and significant investments in biofuels.
The President also proposed another ambitious plan of generating 80 percent of US electricity from clean energy sources by 2035, through new standards that will help create a market that facilitates innovation across a range of energy sources, from renewable sources to nuclear power, clean coal, and natural gas. This standard would be coupled with new efforts to promote energy efficiency that save money for American families and businesses – including a new initiative to catalyze private sector investment and upgrade commercial buildings such as offices, stores, schools and other municipal buildings, universities, and hospitals. It will also build on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s efforts to site more renewable energy projects on public lands than at any point in history.
Embracing Today's Digital Age
Recognizing the importance of the modern information and digital age, the President called for new efforts to ensure that the US has the fastest, most reliable ways to move and share data through high-speed Internet. He proposed efforts to repair and rebuild America’s infrastructure and put forward a National Wireless Initiative to assist the business sector in extending the next generation of wireless coverage to 98 percent of the American population.
According to President Obama, this National Wireless Initiative will enable businesses to grow faster, students to learn more, and public safety officials to access state-of-the-art, secure, nationwide, and interoperable mobile communications. For public safety officials, this can mean the difference between success and failure, or even life and death; as such technologies can allow emergency workers to access building designs at the scene of an accident and police officers to send pictures to one another in real-time. In addition, the initiative will foster the conditions for the next generations of wireless technology, nearly doubling the amount of wireless spectrum available for mobile broadband (through incentive auctions and other mechanisms to ensure spectrum is used more efficiently) and providing critical support for R&D in wireless innovation.
Education for A Successful Economic Future
As for education, President Obama proposed efforts to prepare 100,000 new teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math, which he strongly believes as the key skills for the best jobs in America. The President’s plan will expand promising and effective teacher preparation models and prepare more of the nation’s top STEM graduates for a teaching career. According to his statement, this will help restore America’s global leadership in higher education. He pledged to continue the efforts strengthening the Pell Grant, promoting more affordable student loans, and revitalizing and expanding access to America’s community colleges.
In addition, the President called on Congress to make permanent the American Opportunity Tax Credit that’s worth up to $10,000 for four years of college and has helped millions of middle class families reinvest real dollars in their children’s higher education.
The President was also pledging to work with Congress to apply a bipartisan approach to replacing No Child Left Behind. The Administration’s Blueprint for Reform calls for a re-defined federal role in education that will raise expectations for schools and students, and make room for states and school leaders to lead the way in improving results. The President’s Budget will call for bold restructuring of federal funding to focus on a new goal of college and career readiness for all students.
Another area which President Obama believed was an important factor for enhancing America's education was reforming immigration laws to stop expelling talent. The President asked Congress to work with him to reform the US immigration system in a comprehensive manner so that schools and universities stop expelling talented and responsible young people, whether they were brought to the country by their parents as children, or come from other countries to pursue college and advanced degrees. He said that as the country works to rebuild the economy, the ability to thrive depends, in part, on restoring responsibility and accountability to the American immigration system.
Although the speech was indeed a positive outlook of US government's attitude towards science and technology industry, as well as science, technology and maths education, I was somewhat disappointed that there was minimal mentioning of biotechnology and healthcare research investments. Perhaps, I am biased due to my biotechnology and medical background, but I cannot help but feel that the green technology buzz was a strong influence to President Obama's outlook. Of course, green technology is a hugely important emerging market, hence we built an entire dedicated channel for this sector here on Scicasts (Scicasts.com/GreenTechnlogy). Though, if governments fall into the trap of investing heavily in individual "buzz" sectors, then they will divert their attentions away from other important scientific developments in other sectors that could equally boost economic growth and transform education.
Nonetheless, I thought this was a good overall outlook for many sci-tech entrepreneurs, businesses and research groups, and indeed for education. I personally believe that the education systems both in the UK and the USA have, somewhat, lost touch with science and technology in the recent years. I do hope that the president can push ahead with his plans and that other governments around the world can follow suit, which can further secure the global economic future with less dependence on the financial sector, which is still extremely vulnerable.