America COMPETES Act Keeps America's Leadership on Target

President Obama's signing of the America COMPETES Act this week represents a major milestone on this Nation’s path to building an innovation economy for the 21st century—an economy that harnesses the scientific and technological ingenuity that has long been at the core of America’s prosperity and applies that creative force to some of the biggest challenges we face today. Whether it’s developing new products that will be manufactured in America, or getting and using energy more sustainably, or improving health care with better therapies and better use of information technology, or providing better protection for our troops abroad and our citizens at home, innovation will be key to our success. And that is exactly what the COMPETES Act is all about.

This bill comes at a crucial time in our Nation’s economic and technological trajectory—a time that President Obama characterized last month as a “Sputnik moment.” Just as Americans in 1957 quickly grasped the significance of the Soviet Union’s historic launch of the world’s first artificial satellite—responding aggressively with new investments in research and development (R&D) and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education—Americans today are recognizing that we are once again on the brink of a new world. The decisions we make today about how we invest in R&D, education, innovation, and competitiveness will profoundly influence our Nation’s economic vitality, global stature, and national security tomorrow.

COMPETES keeps America on a path of leadership in an ever more competitive world. It authorizes the continued growth of the budgets of three key agencies that are incubating and generating the breakthroughs of tomorrow—the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation.  COMPETES also bolsters this Administration’s already groundbreaking activities to enhance STEM education—to raise American students from the middle to the top of the pack and to make sure we are training the next generation of innovative thinkers and doers.

COMPETES authorizes ongoing support for ARPA-E, the novel energy-research program modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which promises to give rise to “leapfrog” technologies that will reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources and stimulate a green economy while producing steady, high-quality jobs of the future.

And in a great boost for the cause of generating novel solutions to tough national problems, COMPETES gives every department and agency the authority to conduct prize competitions. Prizes and challenges have an excellent track record of accelerating problem-solving by tapping America’s top talent and best expertise wherever it may lie. The Administration has supported this approach as part of its all-hands-on-deck approach to stimulating innovation, and under COMPETES we can expect a further blossoming of new ideas from citizen solvers across the land.

It is heartening that Congress recognized that the maintenance of America’s global leadership in science, technology, and innovation transcends politics and partisanship.  Full funding of the COMPETES Act is among the most important things that Congress can do to ensure America’s continued leadership in the decades ahead.

As President Obama said in North Carolina last month, “This is our moment. … We’ve got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth. We need to do what America has always been known for:  building, innovating, educating, making things.”

John P. Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
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