“For more than half a century, our nation prospered and was made healthier and more secure when we were committed to leading the world in science and innovation,” said Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin, and one of the coalition leaders. “Today that bipartisan commitment is in question, as the federal government's investment in research has weakened and is further threatened by sequestration, immigration reform continues to be frustrated, and other goals that we identified as critical to innovation remain unmet.
“We are heartened that some progress has been made, but completing this agenda will take an enormous amount of work. We will continue to look to Congress and the next Administration for leadership on these issues.”
The organizers of the coalition reported that one of their seven goals had been completed: legislation to strengthen and make permanent the Research and Development Tax Credit was enacted in 2015. This, they said, will provide steady encouragement to the private sector, including start-ups and small businesses, to invest in innovation.
In addition, they acknowledged modest progress toward renewing the federal commitment to scientific discovery. While budget sequestration remains a threat, Congress provided a significant increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, which began to rebuild the nation's investment in biomedical research after years of flat funding.
They also acknowledged similarly modest progress toward the goal of improving student achievement in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) with enactment of legislation to expand STEM teacher recruitment and training programs and to strengthen standards and accountability in K-12 education. They noted, however, that funding for these programs lags far behind what is needed to make U.S. students competitive globally.
The organizers of the coalition also pointed to a number of goals unmet, and some on which no progress has been made:
- Reform U.S. visa policy to welcome and keep highly educated international professionals, particularly those holding STEM degrees from U.S. universities;
- Take steps to streamline or eliminate costly and inefficient regulations and practices governing federally funded research to help unburden researchers to focus more time on conducting research and training the next generation of scientists, engineers, health care professionals, and business leaders (although the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions has advanced a number of recommendations offered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in its 2015 report Optimizing the Nation's Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century).
- Reaffirm merit-based peer review as the primary mechanism major federal agencies should employ in making competitive scientific research grants to ensure the most effective use of taxpayer dollars; and
- Stimulate further improvements in advanced manufacturing through support for programs aimed at accelerating manufacturing innovation and new federal-industry-academic partnerships.
The primary goal of the coalition, as stated in the call to action, is the renewal of the federal commitment to scientific discovery “by ending sequestration's deep cuts to discretionary spending caps and providing steady and sustained real growth in funding of at least four percent for basic scientific research at the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, USDA, and NOAA.”