Chairman Gordon Comments on President’s Address Highlighting the Importance of Science


Today, the president addressed the National Academy of Sciences. Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) offered the following statement in response:

“I wholeheartedly agree with the president that the key factors of our long-term economic competitiveness are investing in basic research, fostering innovation, and improving science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) education.

I am encouraged that the president has made a commitment to keeping the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science on a sustainable doubling path, as we called for in the American COMPETES Act.

The president also highlighted the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E, which will foster innovation in energy technology development. ARPA-E was signed into law in 2007, but sat on the shelf, unfunded, until earlier this year when the new Administration and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

ARPA-E will be a new agency within the Department of Energy (DOE) tasked with high-risk, high-reward energy technology development, especially research that is too cross-cutting or multi-disciplinary to fit into the current system. It will bring together the best and the brightest from all sectors—national labs, academia, the private sector, individual inventors—in a way that has never been done in energy research. It will give them the resources and the autonomy they need, and it will get bureaucracy out of their way.

I believe ARPA-E is uniquely positioned to be the bridge to the new energy economy—and, with it, the “green” jobs we need. Although many companies are developing new energy technologies, the full burden cannot fall exclusively to the business community. Government also has a role in funding breakthrough research and facilitating tech transfer by supporting public/private partnerships. ARPA-E will helpf form the foundation of a vibrant new sector of our economy, the way DARPA formed the underpinnings of the multi-billion dollar defense industry.

The question isn’t whether we can afford to do this research in the current economic climate. The need for the new technologies is greater than ever because of economic conditions. About half of the growth in GDP in the fifty years after WWII came from development and adoption of new technologies. Innovation—especially new energy technologies—is the path to reinvigorating our economy and ensuring our competitiveness over the next 50 years.

Another important subject the president highlighted was the work being done at NASA in helping us to understand climate change. We cannot make a commitment to addressing climate change without being committed to NASA. NASA’s work, along with the efforts of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will be key to our efforts to monitor and understand the potential impacts of climate change, including shifting weather patterns, melting glaciers and ice sheets, sea level rise, and other phenomena.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that NASA’s R&D efforts in space science, aeronautics, and human space flight also contribute significantly to the nation’s overall innovation agenda and are worthy of our robust support—and that’s a view that was overwhelmingly endorsed by Congress on a bipartisan basis in its enactment last year of the NASA Authorization Act of 2008.

Lastly, the president highlighted the need to improve STEM education in this country, especially by encouraging people who have degrees or work experience in the STEM fields to go into teaching. We need to not only ensure that the U.S. continues to produce the world’s best scientists and engineers, but also to ensure that every student is prepared for the technical, high-paying jobs of the 21st century and that we have the educated work force businesses need to create and keep jobs here.”

For more information, including on ARPA-E or STEM education, please see the Committee’s website.

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