The Future of U.S. Technological Competitiveness

It seems to me…

We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology.”  ~ Carl Sagan.

It is difficult to determine which country is best in basic science.  As of now, the U.S. publishes more research papers than any other[i] though China, currently ranked third, could surpass the U.S. by as early as next year.  At a time when most countries are increasing their investment in science and technology, the U.S. is cutting its budget for Research and Development.  U.S. funding for research and development declined as a percentage of gross domestic product by 54 percent in physical sciences and 51 percent in engineering from 1970 to 1995[ii].  This rate of decline has only increased – especially since the recent recession.

Universities, in addition to educating, have long been the cradle for basic research that resulted in spinoffs of the next generation of products, companies, and employment.  Now, education institutions under increasing financial constraints are reducing funding for all activities, including research, which will severely curtail our future prospects in innovation, growth, and skilled future employees.

President Obama announced a new initiative proposal on 9 March 2012 focused on strengthening and ensuring long-term competitiveness and job-creating power of U.S. manufacturing.  The $1 billion investment contained in the President’s budget for fiscal year 2013, known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI)[iii], is explicitly modeled on Germany’s very successful Franuhofer Society and would build a network of up to 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation serving as regional hubs of manufacturing excellence to help make U.S. manufacturers more competitive and encourage investment in the U.S.  The President also launched a pilot institute for manufacturing innovation funded from $45 million of existing resources from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce and the National Science Foundation, selected from a competitive application process.

NNMI is intended to leverage new investment from industry, state and local governments, and the research community and will be a collaboration among the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy.

While a step in the right direction, funding is too little and only set to last for four years requiring researchers to concentrate more on obtaining additional project funding rather than on sustainability.  We only can hope wisdom prevails and long-term funding is insured.  Unfortunately, given Congressional historical precedence, we should not be overly optimistic.

America won the race to the moon – and then shortsighted politicians disbanded the greatest science and technology teams ever assembled.  Politicians recently repeated that mistake when the Space Shuttle program was ended with lack of planning leaving the U.S. without a manned space program.  Fortunately for the U.S. space program, what NASA was unable to achieve, private investors seem ready to accomplish.

NASA’s failure to have a successor space launch vehicle in place when the Shuttle program ended seems all-too-typical based on past history.  After all, as previously stated, following the last manned trip to the moon which landed on 11 December 1972, Congress terminated funding for additional exploration rather than exploiting U.S. experience and establishing a permanent lunar base – a decision that set back that segment of space exploration by fifty years.  Rather than having a successor to the shuttle ready, the U.S. became dependent upon the Russians to ferry supplies and replacement personnel to the International Space Station (ISS).

Fortunately, the private sector now appears ready to assume a large role in future space exploration.  Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX) recently resupplied the ISS and plans to have a vehicle able to carry humans into space within the near future.  Other companies, such as Orbital Sciences, also are preparing space vehicles supposedly freeing NASA to concentrate on missions to the moon, asteroids, and Mars.

Maybe it is time for the public-sector to get out of the hardware side of space exploration and turn all of it over to the private-sector.  NASA should instead concentrate on funding development and exploration until space became financially sustainable.

What is true for space exploration, however, is not true for basic research in general.  The success of private-sector companies in space comes only after years of otherwise unaffordable public-sector investment and currently remains viable only due to NASA contracts.

NNMIs currently represents one of the U.S.’s best hopes for the future.  Hopefully normally shortsighted politicians will not take it upon themselves to once again sabotage it.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[i]The World’s Best Countries in Science, Scientific American, October 2012, pp44-45.

[ii]Zakaria, Fareed.  How government funding of science rewards U.S. taxpayers,, 20 June 2012.

[iii]Sargent Jr, John F.  The Obama Administration’s Proposal to Establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, Congressional Research Service,, 28 August 2012.


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Budget, College, Deficit, Deficit, Development, Economic, Education, Franuhofer Society, Funding, Germany, Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation, NASA, National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, National Science Foundation, Obama, Recovery, Space Exploration Technology, Support, Technology, Training, University and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Future of U.S. Technological Competitiveness

  1. Usually I don’t read post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very compelled me to try and do it! Your writing taste has been surprised me. Thank you, very nice article.


  2. hurtiglån says:

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    • lewbornmann says:

      Thank you. I have been writing this blog for several years. When I started writing, there wasn’t any intent of doing it on a regular basis but have consistently written at least one every week and will continue as long as it remains enjoyable. Topics, for the most part, are subjects in which I either have an interest or am trying to clarify my own thoughts.

      I am a bit curious as to whether you are in Vietnam and your topic of “Bad Credit”?


  3. Pingback: Space Exploration: Why Now? | Lew Bornmann's Blog

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