Science and Technology
Outlook and Report '95


Scientific knowledge is the key to the future. Technology is the engine of economic growth. Together, science and technology build new businesses, provide good jobs, improve health and the quality of education, and protect us from threats as diverse as environmental degradation and military force. These essential tools of modern society open our eyes to new opportunities and challenges. For example, high technology industries, from computers to biotechnology, form the cutting edge of our economy, but their lead over tough global competition is narrow. Information technologies have transformed personal and business communication, offering immediate benefits but raising important long-term questions about access and control. The technological superiority of U.S. military forces helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union, an event that diminished the nuclear threat but left challenging regional instabilities in its wake. Our efforts to probe further into the universe and look more deeply into the smallest particles of matter instill national pride but often call for international cooperation in a world seemingly beset by competition and conflict.

BOX: Technology for America's Economic Growth,

The traditional federal role in technology development has been limited to support of basic science and mission oriented research and development. This strategy was appropriate for a previous generation but not for today's profound challenges. We must move in a new direction:

(Source: Technology for America's Economic Growth: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength, February 1993)

American mastery of science and technology will largely determine whether our citizens capture new opportunities -- good jobs, a higher quality of life -- and continue to enjoy basic amenities, including safe and affordable food and shelter. Innovations in myriad products and processes Americans count on for a better life, such as heart surgery, computing, and electric lighting, stem from scientific advances. The investments we make today in basic and applied research will assure the continuous flow of knowledge needed to develop new technologies for the future.

The federal government plays a crucial role in ensuring American leadership in science and technology. The Nation's world leadership in science, mathematics, and engineering derives from federal sponsorship. Federal research investments led directly to the technological leadership of U.S. firms in agriculture, aeronautics, semiconductors, computers, communications, pharmaceuticals, and scores of other critical areas.

Maintaining this leadership requires steady investment. The Administration proposes $73 billion for all research and development in Fiscal Year 1996, which would constitute about 40 percent of all U.S. research and development. The public will receive a substantial return on this investment. While there is much room for uncertainty in measuring the impact of federal research spending, repeated studies suggest that the payoff to the Nation's economic welfare is great. The private rate of return on research and development spending -- meaning the return to the firm performing the research and development -- averages about 20 to 30 percent. But the social rate of return -- including spillovers to other firms and customers -- is about 50 percent, or twice as high.

The government's indispensable roles in advancing science and technology, include: 1) ensuring a strong base of fundamental science; 2) educating a scientifically and technically literate workforce; 3) providing a business environment that encourages innovation and investment; 4) investing in research and development that is critical to the economic and social needs of the nation, but cannot attract adequate private support; and 5) encouraging mutually beneficial international cooperation in science and technology. Science and technology confer benefits in areas outside the market, e.g., national security, public health, food safety, education and training, and the environment. Only federal research and development funding can ensure adequate attention to these key problems.

The federal government, acting for all Americans, can make long-term research investments where the returns are collectively essential to our country, but distant, individually uncertain, or difficult for private firms to secure. For example, many decades of public support for molecular biology, chemistry, and physics laid the foundation for today's pharmaceutical and biotechnology enterprises which now return billions of dollars to individual firms and provide many high paying jobs. As another example, our investments in space technology have led to our strong global position in the commercial launch and satellite business.

In 1993 this Administration began an intense reexamination of federal research and development priorities. This review of federal research and development management is an integral part of the Administration's commitment to make all of government more efficient and more responsive. The review continues, but we remain convinced that: 1) the Nation's future depends on advances in science and technology; and 2) federal investment is an essential catalyst for such advances. We are determined to continue investments in the future despite fiscal pressures today. Progress toward the Nation's goals and the Administration's priorities has required significant changes in federal roles and responsibilities in the science and technology enterprise. Fiscal constraints have necessitated streamlining and some painful reductions in programs. Substantial improvements in management and the redirection of scarce resources still leave us with much to accomplish.

This report describes the actions and plans of the Clinton Administration to harness the power of science and technology. It examines the rationale for federal support of science and technology. It describes our strategy for using science and technology to meet the challenges that lie ahead, including several new research and development initiatives and public/private partnerships. Finally, the report explains the Administration's progress toward reorganizing the federal science and technology enterprise.

National Goals for Science and Technology

Thoughtful investments in science and technology fuel economic growth, strengthen national security, and improve the quality of life. This Administration has directed its efforts toward high priority areas, including:

Success in each area will depend on advances in fundamental science, continuing technological innovations, and responsible governance.

Scientific knowledge is the key to the future. America's future demands an expanding knowledge base, which requires investment in our people, institutions, and ideas and sharing broadly with our global partners. Science lies at the heart of that investment -- it is an endless and sustainable resource with extraordinary dividends. The nation's commitment to world leadership in science, engineering, and mathematics created the world's leading scientific enterprise, whether measured in terms of discoveries, citations, awards and prizes, advanced education, or contributions to industrial and informational innovation. Our scientific strength is a treasure we must sustain and build on for the future.

Box: Science in the National Interest

Science provides an endless frontier of inquiry. Advancing that frontier feeds our sense of adventure and our passion for discovery. The unfolding secrets of nature provide new knowledge to address crucial challenges, often in unpredictable ways. These include improving human health, creating breakthrough technologies that lead to new industries and high quality jobs, meeting our national security needs, protecting and restoring the global environment, and feeding and providing energy for a growing population. Science is a critical investment in the national interest, and we have pledged to:

(Source: Science in the National Interest, August 1994)

The United States has refined a system for selecting excellence in ideas, individuals, and institutions that is extremely competitive and productive. The system cannot always pinpoint the exact areas or nature of scientific breakthroughs or the timeline to fundamental discoveries. Over decades, however, it reliably produces discoveries that enrich the lives and prospects of our citizens and, when transformed to practical, cost-effective products, reorganize old businesses and create new ones. For example:

Box: El Nino Forecasting Reduces Agricultural Losses

Early forecasts of the dramatic shifts every few years in the timing and intensity of precipitation patterns associated with El Nino have enabled farmers in several South American countries to prevent crop losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, keeping food available and prices from rising sharply. This improved forecasting capability was developed over the past ten years with research into the causes of El Nino by the United States and other countries through the International Tropical Ocean-Global Atmospheric Program.

Adverse and fluctuating weather events on a large scale cause billions of dollars in crop losses and other economic impacts each year. Drought in the Sahara, delayed monsoons in India, and prolonged dry periods in food-growing and water resource regions create food and water shortages for large populations. Even in developed countries such as the United States, events such as the Great Plains droughts of 1988, the Mississippi River floods of 1993, and the California floods of 1995 cost millions of dollars in damages and crop losses.

El Nino affects weather from Australia to South and Central America, as well as into the western and southern United States. Although fluctuations in the weather cannot be prevented, the ability to predict extreme changes months in advance allows for agricultural yields to be protected by changing crops and planting schedules. Our improved forecasting ability is sufficiently accurate to also be applied to water resource planning in the southwestern United States. Water supplies can be protected by adjusting storage and management practices.

Technology is the engine of economic growth. Over the past 50 years, at least a quarter of U.S. economic growth -- possibly as much as half -- came from new technology built upon earlier fundamental discoveries. These advances created millions of good new jobs, a cleaner environment, better health and longer lives, new opportunities for individuals, and enrichment of our lives in ways we could not imagine half a century ago.

Traditional factors such as access to natural resources and cheap labor no longer determine international competitiveness. Instead, the new growth industries are knowledge based. They depend on the continuous generation of new technological innovations and the rapid transformation of these new technologies into commercial products the world wants to buy. This requires a talented and adaptive work force capable of using the latest technologies and reaching ever-higher levels of productivity.

We can only make educated guesses about which investments will catalyze revolutionary developments, and we must expect some failures. But if the past is any predictor, our expectations for an excellent return on our investments are not misplaced. For instance:

Our vision is of long-term economic growth that creates jobs while improving and sustaining the environment. Reconciling these goals requires an environmental technology strategy that helps industry shift from waste management to pollution prevention and efficient resource use. Nationally, it will create economic growth by capturing the rapidly growing market for clean technologies. Globally, it will help developing countries leap frog directly into sustainable technologies in many industrial and service sectors.

Box: Technology for a Sustainable Future

A carefully crafted, forward-looking environmental technology strategy, along with a strong societal commitment to environmental protection, will allow us to move expeditiously toward sustainable development. An environmental technology strategy should:

(Source: Technology for a Sustainable Future, July 1994)

Responsible government advances science and technology. Government is an essential actor in making sure science and technology help the Nation reach its goals. Only the federal government can bring the benefits of science and technology to nonmarket areas, such as national defense, education and training, environmental quality, global health threats, or world-class fundamental scientific research. In these areas, a strong government presence is crucial.

A government role is also vital in promoting, in partnership with the private sector, those technologies critical to economic growth and to the creation of good jobs that cannot attract sufficient private investment. We invest government funds, on a cost-shared basis, where private sector investment is not adequate to the job because of unacceptably high technical risks, prohibitive cost, long payback horizons, or where the returns cannot be captured by the investing firm but spill out to competitors, other firms, or society at large. The social rate of return to research and development investments, where the benefits may accrue to several firms and to consumers in the form of less costly and higher quality products, is about twice as high as the average rate of return to private investment.

A regulatory and economic environment favorable to capital formation and private- sector investment in research and development is also essential to advances in science and technology. To encourage private investment, the Administration supported and Congress extended the research and experimentation tax credit in 1993 for 3 years and reduced capital gains taxes for small businesses. To encourage the formation of alliances for new technology development, the Administration reduced antitrust barriers to the formation of joint production ventures. To promote private investment in the national information infrastructure, the Administration transferred to the private sector a portion of the radio frequency spectrum previously used by federal agencies and allowed competitive bidding in granting new licenses.

After careful review of the impact on national security and foreign policy interests, the Administration liberalized controls on the export of computers, telecommunications, and other technologically sophisticated equipment. This action allowed U.S. industry access to foreign markets that some have estimated are as large as $30 billion over the next few years without compromising our security.

Bilateral and multilateral trade agreements have expanded access to foreign markets for America's high-tech companies. For example, under NAFTA, Mexican tariffs have been eliminated on 70 percent of U.S. exports in the computer equipment and software sector. The agreement negotiated at the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade provides for unprecedented international agreement on patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and other intellectual property issues. These directly affect the competitiveness of U.S. high technology companies.

Inextricable Links