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NAS, Council of Competitiveness unveil recommendations to boost American innovation

January 14, 2021
By: Kevin Michel

Nearly 75 years ago, the head of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, Vannevar Bush, published what became a seminal report in the science community. The report chronicled the necessity of basic scientific research, investment by government in science and innovation, and identified the reasons to push the limits of our own knowledge. Science, The Endless Frontier was Bush’s call for a committed relationship between government and science. In the spirit on Bush’s pioneering report, the National Academies of Science (NAS) and the Council on Competitiveness (the Council) have published reports outlining the ways in which policymakers, the private sector, and researchers can boost American innovation in the years ahead.

Bush’s answer to the uncertainty of the postwar society was government funding for basic scientific research and innovation. Today, NAS argues that to deal with the grim issues facing our world, we too must embrace the endless frontiers of science and retool our institutions to be more responsive and nimble in the face of immense change.

The Endless Frontier: The Next 75 Years in Science, a reflection on the science community over the last 75 years and a look ahead at the next 75 years, begins by placing the American research environment in an unsettled position. The U.S. has seen a decline in share of global R&D since 2000, a plateau in creating human capital, an unfocused approach to targeted research such as next-wave telecommunications and AI, and a slow technology transfer ecosystem. The research enterprise is evolving, and the U.S. must take steps to remain a global competitor, the report urges.

To rebuild trust in science in the public’s mind, the report calls for a greater effort to be made by scientists to create a two-way conversation with the public, one in which society and science are intertwined. While Bush once thought that science was to be handled by scientists and disseminated to society, NAS now says that science should give individuals the basic tools for success in their lives. It should empower the public.

NAS sees philanthropic investment filling the gaps of government funding. For example, philanthropies can often take on more risk than government investment can. Philanthropies can act like venture capital for science and utilizing this relationship in the future will lead to the development of unconventional and perhaps revolutionary ideas.

Recognizing the same urgency and importance of innovation in today’s world and channeling the same concern for the future of the scientific enterprise, the Council on Competitiveness created the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers (NCICF). The commission recently published its call-to-action and lays out its roadmap to policymakers towards innovation, leadership, growth, and inclusivity.

The Council’s report, Competing in the Next Economy, challenges policymakers to adapt the U.S. innovation ecosystem to the changing nature of innovation. It notes that other nations have begun replicating the structural advantages that have made the U.S. the center of global innovation, new research and business models are emerging and disrupting traditional technologies, and not every American has seen the benefits of American innovation. To respond to these conditions, the report calls for a new age of innovation that aligns local, state and national governments with the private sector.

The report lays out a series of recommendations to the incoming Biden administration that will increase the number and speed of innovations, and the number of American innovators. The ultimate goal of the strategies outlined in the report is to increase American innovation tenfold. Strategies include establishing the U.S. Digital Infrastructure Access and Inclusion Initiative, establishing various innovation investment funds, and expanding SBIR awards with a Phase III award cycle.

The two reports channel the same energy and vigor of Bush’s seminal report and serve as possible roadmaps for the future of basic scientific research and American innovation.