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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The United States and its Fuscal Future - Part 9: Scientific and Technological Innovation

I apologize for the delay in posting this next part but I have been short of time lately. Anyway, here it is.

Scientific and technological innovations has been a cornerstone for the United States powerful position in the world. They have improved the quality of life, performance of the economy and government, and the relationship between government and citizens. These advances have been fueled historically by public and private sectors investing on average about $284 billion annually. But as the pace of innovation has quickened in the last 30 years, competition in the global economy has accelerated and other countries are steadily gaining on the United States. They have upgraded their education institutions to compete with U.S. institutions and they have increasingly become more attractive in the funding and research offers to the brightest minds around.

Adding to the problem the Unites States faces in the competing for technological and scientific superiority are the domestic demographic and educational changes that have shrunk the size and the quality of the country's scientific workforce. Among the problems are: lagging performance by U.S. students in math, science, and engineering; large numbers of U.S. scientists reaching retirement age; reduced number of foreign minds coming to work here due to heightened security measures and visa restrictions, along with better offers from other nations.

One particular area the requires substantial funding but has come into question due to cost/benefit analysis and potential risks, is space exploration, specifically NASA. The Shuttle Columbia's tragic accident brought to the front page the potential risks involved with space exploration, and the possibility that the costs versus benefits of continuing to fund NASA heavily, specially during the largest federal deficit in recorded history, might not be economically sustainable.

The focus of the U.S. government should be on developing a more coordinated and targeted approach to setting the U.S. research agenda that also ensures the best return for investment. What kinds of incentives could be implemented to encourage private sector collaboration and also nurture interdisciplinary research and development approaches that enhcance U.S. competitiveness? Can current programs and funding processes maintain the nation's position as a scientific leader and continue to attract global investments in new technologies? The U.S. must also address the domestic problem posed by U.S. students not meeting necessary standards and forcing the country to rely on a foreign scientific workforce. And finally a reexamination of NASA's role in our future is essential seeing that it is a costly venture that at best can only yield results in the long term furture.

For more information on Part 9 visit www.gao.gov or go directly to the report:21st Century Challenges: Reexamining the Base of the Federal Government

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