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The result was a report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” by a commission led by retired Lockheed Martin Chairman Norman Augustine declaring that America would “lose our privileged position” without significant increases in research investment and education performance.
“While only four percent of the nation’s workforce is composed of scientists and engineers,” the report said, “this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent.”
It cited federally backed research that decoded the human genome, leading to biotechnology breakthroughs, and integrated circuits and GPS, leading to computers, cell phones, iPods, CT scans and electronic books.
Responding to the report, in 2007 Congress passed but didn’t fund the America COMPETES Act, authorizing a doubling of hard science research.
A reauthorization passed last year after the Augustine commission updated its 2005 report and said that the “gathering storm” was “approaching Category 5,” with the U.S. ranking 27th among developed nations in the percentage of college students receiving degrees in science and engineering.
Another stunning factoid in the report: According to ACT tests, 78 percent of high school graduates were not prepared for entry-level college courses in math, science, reading or English.
At the moment, Obama gets the need to invest in education and research. House Republicans don’t.
For former Rep. John Porter (R-Ill.), this is “déjà vu all over again.” In 1995, the then-new GOP majority proposed a five-year, 25 percent cut in NIH funding.
Porter invited five pharmaceutical company CEOs and five Nobel laureates to visit then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who got the point and helped Porter, NIH’s chief appropriator, increase the agency’s budget.
The question this year is: Who’s Newt? Who’s John Porter? Somebody has got to save America’s seed corn from a mindless mob. So far, it’s not the Republican leadership.