The White House is following up on President Obama’s message of driving innovation presented in last week’s State of the Union address with a new report outlining policy initiatives the administration is pressing, including efforts to build out broadband infrastructure, reform the nation’s patent system and catalyze investment in basic research.
The report, released Friday, caps a week of events where the president and senior officials highlighted various elements of the innovation agenda, including Monday’s launch of the Startup America initiative, a public-private partnership that seeks to unlock private capital for innovative new businesses.
Many aspects of the new White House effort extend the recent turn the administration has taken to court the business community, such as the proposal to lower the corporate tax rate. At the same time, congressional Republicans have expressed skepticism at some of the new proposals, warning that promises to invest in areas like clean energy and high-speed rail are thinly coded ploys to embark on more stimulus spending.
But much of what the administration is proposing has a familiar ring to members of the tech sector, as the White House is backing some of the broad, longstanding proposals generally favored by the industry, such as improving education in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. The administration has set a goal of adding 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade, beginning with a recruitment program that will be included in the fiscal 2012 budget the White House is set to unveil Feb. 14.
The president’s innovation agenda also echoes concerns that many business leaders have expressed about the eroding position of the United States in the global economy.
“Unfortunately, there are disturbing signs that America’s innovative performance slipped substantially during the past decade,” the administration said in its report. “Across a range of innovation metrics — including growth in corporate and government R&D, the number of scientific and technical degrees and workers, access to venture capital and the creation of new firms — our nation has fallen in global innovation-ranked competitiveness.”
The report reiterates Obama’s pledge to include a significant increase for R&D in the budget the president will send to Congress later this month. The White House pledged to continue to ramp up funding for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the laboratories administered by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Department of Commerce, building on measures included in last year’s budget proposal. Additionally, Obama is seeking to simplify and make permanent the Research and Experimentation tax credit for businesses.
Speaking to reporters on Friday at the White House, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling acknowledged that the ambitious innovation agenda faces an inherent friction with the current political momentum for spending cuts and fiscal restraint, noting Obama’s pledge to freeze non-security spending.
“This all has to be done in the context of a budget,” Sperling said. “These are the priorities that we are still making room for.”
In addition to research and education, the president has outlined the goal of rehabilitating U.S. infrastructure, including investments in smart-grid technology and an effort to deliver high-speed wireless broadband to 98 percent of the population over the next five years. Next Thursday, Obama is scheduled to travel to Marquette, Mich., to promote the National Wireless Initiative.
Another plank of the innovation agenda involves a reform of the nation’s patent system. The administration is moving to implement a fast-track mechanism for businesses and inventors to speed along the review and approval process, which Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said is “perceived by almost everybody to be excessively bureaucratic.”
“The patent system has a 700,000 application backlog. It takes almost three years to get your patent application reviewed. That’s unacceptable,” Goolsbee said today at the White House.
A broader effort to overhaul the patent system is working its way through Congress, with the Patent Reform Act passing out of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.
“It cannot just be done purely by executive action. It will take some legislation,” Goolsbee said.
The administration’s report on the innovation agenda is available for public comment at the White House website.
Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.