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State of the Union: R&D Funding, Climate Change, STEM Education, Immigration Reform

Richard M. Jones
Number 29 - February 13, 2013  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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Last night’s State of the Union address and an event this morning held by the Office of Science and Technology Policy demonstrate the Obama Administration’s continued emphasis on the importance of research and development and related policy matters.  The following are excerpts from the President’s State of the Union address regarding R&D funding, climate change, STEM education, and immigration reform:

R&D Funding:

It is notable that President Obama reiterated a theme found in recent State of the Union addresses.  Beginning with President George W. Bush’s 2006 call for the doubling of federal funding for the physical sciences, the importance of science and technology has been discussed in all but one of the annual State of the Union addresses since that time. Last night the President said:

“Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.  A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.  There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. 
 
“So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Department of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.  And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America.  We can get that done.

“Now, if we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas.  Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy -- every dollar.  Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s.  They’re developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries 10 times more powerful.  Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.  Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.  We need to make those investments.”

Climate Change:

Repeating his message about climate change in his January 21 Inaugural address the President urged Congress to “pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change.”  If it does not, Obama declared that he will issue a series of executive actions to reduce pollution.  The President took a similar course yesterday when he issued an eight-page executive order on “improving critical infrastructure cybersecurity” following the failure of Congress to enact such legislation.

The President’s remarks on energy and climate change follow:  

“Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.  After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future.  We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.  We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar -- with tens of thousands of good American jobs to show for it.  We produce more natural gas than ever before -- and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it.  And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.
 
“But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.    Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods -- all are now more frequent and more intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late. 
 
“Now, the good news is we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth.  I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one [senators] John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago.  But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.  I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

Later in his address Obama proposed a new financing mechanism for energy research:

“Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence.  We need to encourage that.  And that’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.  That’s got to be part of an all-of-the-above plan.  But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and our water.

“In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together.  So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.  If a nonpartisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we.  Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. ”

STEM Education:

The Administration has emphasized the need to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics teaching in the United States to strengthen the nation’s economy.  This morning the Office of Science and Technology Policy held an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building entitled “State of Science, Technology and Math Address.”  In attendance were OSTP Director John Holdren; U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park; NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver; NASA Flight Director for the Mars Curiosity Rover Bobak Ferdowsi; iTriage co-founder and CEO Peter Hudson; and Jack Andraka, who was the winner of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.  Holdren offered opening comments reiterating the President’s State of the Union remarks.  Approximately fifty students attended who posed questions to the speakers.

Last night the President spoke of the need to improve education as follows:

“These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, housing -- all these things will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs.  But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.”

He continued:

“Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges.  So those German kids, they're ready for a job when they graduate high school.  They've been trained for the jobs that are there.  Now at schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools and City University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree in computers or engineering.  We need to give every American student opportunities like this.   
 
“And four years ago, we started Race to the Top -- a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, all for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year.  Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy.  And we’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math -- the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill the jobs that are there right now and will be there in the future.”

Immigration Reform:

Obama also reiterated a point from his Inaugural address on immigration reform as it pertains to the STEM workforce:

“Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants.  And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities -- they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.   Now is the time to do it.  Now is the time to get it done.  Now is the time to get it done. ”

 He later said:
 
“And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.”

Richard M. Jones
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
rjones@aip.org
301-209-3095