Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on Investing in Federal R&D

March 17, 2011

Chairman RockefellerWASHINGTON, D.C. — America’s expertise in science, technology and innovation has made us a leader in the global economy. But our role as a global leader is being challenged, and we need to be smart about how to maintain our competitive edge. 

Realizing the danger of inaction, this Committee worked to pass the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which cleared both the Senate and the House with overwhelming bipartisan support.

But we still have a long way to go. Countries, like China and India, are devoting far more resources into research and development. They are finding new ways to use technology to deliver cleaner energy, cleaner water, cleaner air and more economic opportunity.

And that’s what brings us here today.

I think in some ways we have become too comfortable in our previous success. We still remember our potential—and forget where we are today. Our future depends on the investments we make to keep this nation competitive. Without a strong, bold and daring vision, we risk falling behind. 

For me this takes particular urgency in my state of West Virginia. West Virginia is in the midst of transitioning from a more industrial economy to one that, in the future, I hope is based more on technology. Our universities are thriving but we need to do more. We need the infrastructure for that. We are headed in the right direction but still have steps to take. 

America COMPETES offers a blueprint for our innovation infrastructure. It puts science and research investments on a doubling path over 10 years and strengthens science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

However, in light of today’s fiscal debate, we find our commitment to an innovative America in danger. This is despite the fact that the President’s Deficit Commission itself called for an increase in government support for science R&D as a long-term gain for the budget.

The President’s FY 2012 budget proposal—with its call for increases in science at the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—sets the right agenda for the future. However, we must first take action in this fiscal year. We simply cannot afford to continue jeopardizing our nation’s future by failing to invest today.

This hearing is an opportunity to identify the hurdles we must overcome on the path toward a more competitive America. I am pleased to welcome to this Committee a group of witnesses who have tremendous insight into the challenges we face.

Dr. Holdren, President Obama’s chief science advisor, is responsible for the broad federal science portfolio as the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Dr. Suresh, the new Director of the National Science Foundation, is in charge of directing funding to the most innovative researchers in the country—people who seek to solve our most difficult scientific problems.

Dr. Gallagher, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, leads the agency best equipped to bring government and the private sector together, conducting cutting-edge measurement research for new technologies.

And, last but not least, we have Dr. Abdalati. As NASA’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Abdalati works to integrate science across the space portfolio.

I want to thank our witnesses again for being here today. I look forward to their testimony.