Innovation for America: Technology for Economic Growth and Empowering Americans

Innovation—the process of developing a new product, service, or process—is critical to ensuring that the next generation of Americans outperforms the last. For this reason, from the day he took office, President Obama has challenged his team to promote innovation using all available tools and to nurture the creative spirit of the American entrepreneur.

Last week I joined my colleagues, Vivek Kundra, the U.S. Chief Information Officer, and Phil Weiser, Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation to the National Economic Council Director, at the Brookings Institution’s Taubman Forum to discuss an important component in President Obama's Strategy for American Innovation—technology’s role in spurring economic growth and empowering all Americans.

We highlighted three key goals:

1. Accelerate entrepreneurship, innovation and jobs of the future.

Equipping Americans to create and perform the jobs of the future requires investment in the “building blocks” of innovation, such as research and development (R&D), physical infrastructure, and human capital. The Administration has placed particular emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math (or “STEM”) education. Last November, for example, President Obama launched the “Educate to Innovate” campaign that has already mobilized over $500 million in philanthropic and private sector support and which, through grassroots efforts such as National Lab Day, has created over 1,700 “hands on” learning projects, matched 11,000 teachers and volunteers, and made over 69,000 connections between volunteers and supporting organizations and resources to help bring discovery-based science experiences to students in grades K-12.

Last April, President Obama challenged the combined public and private sector to invest 3% of the nation’s GDP on R&D to ensure that the United States remains the leader in next-generation technologies, just as we have in aerospace, computing, and Internet technology. To accelerate the transition of university and federal lab ideas to the marketplace, the Commerce Department has launched the “i6 Challenge” offering $1 million in prizes for the most effective strategies to spur technology commercialization and entrepreneurship in their regions.

2. Increase access to data and technology to empower consumers.

Last May, CIO Kundra launched data.gov with 47 datasets—an inventory that has mushroomed to over 270,000 in a year and catalyzed a global movement towards open data for innovators to commercialize in ways big and small.

The Department of Energy has embraced this principle in its efforts to seed a clean technology economy, emphasizing the transformative potential of consumer access to data on electric power consumption via a modernized electric grid. To ensure that the Federal government has a comprehensive strategy to achieve a cost-effective “smart grid,” the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Technology has convened the key agencies and their experts to develop a framework for our policy in this area as we look beyond the Recovery Act’s $4.5 billion investment.

3. Tap into the creativity and expertise of the American people to spur change.

On the President’s first full day in office, he released a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government calling for a more transparent, participatory, and collaborative approach to address the nation’s most pressing challenges. Last December, OMB Director Peter Orszag published the follow-on Open Government Directive, which embraced the use of prizes and challenges to encourage public participation in a range of public policy challenges, ranging from encouraging kids to eat healthier to improving the quality of veterans services delivery.

To appreciate the power of government as a convener and catalyst of outside innovation, consider in more detail the origins of the Health 2.0 Developer Challenge. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius launched the Community Health Data Initiative on June 2nd following a meeting of public health and technology professionals at the Institute of Medicine on March 11th. Over the course of 90 days, fueled by freely available, granular, community-specific health data, Secretary Sebelius celebrated more than 20 new or improved prototype applications designed to spur local and regional efforts to improve health performance -- all without additional cost to the taxpayer. Through the Developer Challenge, we intend to extend this effort through October to allow for a new round of innovations.

In short, engaging the public by using technology more effectively, promoting the conditions for innovation and entrepreneurship, and empowering consumers, are critical goals of the Administration’s technology agenda. The Brookings event was a welcome opportunity to discuss them and we look forward to continuing this discussion over the months ahead.

Aneesh Chopra is United States Chief Technology Officer

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