As experts seek explanations for America's record-breaking
performance in the current world economy, it is tempting to credit our
bountiful natural resources and our diverse, hardworking population. But many
other countries and even our own ancestors have enjoyed similar
resources without producing an economic boom su ch as the United States
achieved in the late 20th century. The credit for our recent success really
goes to the powerful system we have generated to create new knowledge and
develop it into technologies that drive our economy, guarantee our national
security, and improve our health and quality of life.
This report explores some of the remarkable, tangible benefits
to our nation from the sustained funding of research and development (R&D).
The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)
prepared this report in response to Vice President Gore's request. The
Vice President called for a new compact between our scientific community and
our government one that would emphasize support for fundamental science
and a shared responsibility to shape our breakthroughs into progress. The Vice
President turned to PCAST for help in illuminating the benefits of our past and
present investments in science and technology.
The technologies covered here those dealing with
information, global positioning, biotechnology, food, the environment, and
manufacturing illustrate how much we have come to rely on technology and
take it for granted in our everyday lives. But the marvels of today are really
the fruits of research seeds planted decades ago investments that have
not only given us new technologies, but have also helped educate generations of
engineers and scientists who now form an essential component of our modern
workforce. The very fact that these advances required decades of investment
stands as a warning against complacency in our future investment strategy. As
the Vice President has noted, the government and the private sector must work
together to ensure that today's investments in research and development
are sufficient to yield similar p ayoffs to society in the 21st century. Close
cooperation with our international partners is also crucial to the success of
this venture, since scientific breakthroughs occur with no regard for national
Research Pays Economic Dividends
The President's Council of Economic Advisors and other
economists have pointed out the high rates of return on investments in research
and development. This past spring, Federal Res erve Chairman Alan Greenspan
repeatedly cited an unexpected leap in technology as primarily responsible for
the nation's record-breaking economic performance. In particular, a
technology-based surge in productivity appears to be contributing substantially
to our economic success.
This report only hints at the many non-economic benefits that
result from investments in science and technology. Our military strength
built on a foundati on of high technology has enabled the United States
to keep America safe from aggression, defend our allies, and foster democracies
across the globe. New technologies also improve the quality of our lives.
Medical research in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and medical devices
promises us a healthier life. Environmental research offers cleaner air, water,
and soil through better monitoring, prevention, and remediation technologies.
Advanced monit oring and forecasting technologies from satellites to
simulation help save lives and minimize property damage caused by
hurricanes, blizzards, and other severe weather.
Agricultural research yields a cornucopia of safer, healthier,
and tastier food products. Automobile research leads to cars that are safer,
cleaner, more energy-efficient, and more intelligent. Aeronautical technology
makes air travel safer. Energy research delivers cleaner fuels and reduces
American dependence on foreign resources. Information and telecommunications
technologies enable instantaneous communications across the globe
PCAST Investment Principles
As it advises the President, PCAST supports a steady funding
stream for scientific and technological advances to help ensure prosperity and
well-being for our children and grandchildren. The following principles
first adopted by PCAST in 1995 to guide the nation's investment in science
and technology remain vital to our nation's success in the 21st
- Science and technology are major determinants of the American
economy and quality of life.
- Public support of science and technology is an investment in
- Education and training are crucial to America's future.
- The Federal government should continue to support strong
research institutions and infrastructure.
- The Federal investment in science and technology must support
a diverse portfolio of research, including both basic and applied science.
- Stability of funding is essential.
Federal investment played an important role in the development
of all the technologies described in this report particularly in cases
where the results of research w ere not clear at the outset. For example, when
Federal funding began for the forerunners of today's Internet, no one knew
what computer networking could accomplish or how far and how quickly it
would spread. The same is true of the Federal role in the development of lasers
and global positioning systems. All of these investments, made because the
research was fundamentally important and was needed to fulfill government
agency missions, eventually changed the way businesses and governments operate
and enhanced our daily lives.
The Federal government also plays a vital role in ensuring the
scientific and technical literacy of the U.S. population. In our rapidly
changing economy, continual learning must become a way of life. All Americans
need a solid education in science, mathematics, and technology to gain the
skills necessary to participate in tomorrow's workforce, to stay informed
about issues, and to understand our increasingly complex world. Additional
challenges for education today include a rapidly diversifying population,
growing international commerce and cultural influences, an information
technology revolution, and a heightened pace of change in the workplace. The
Federal government, in partnerships with the states, business and industry, and
academic institutions, has undertaken an ambitious agenda to foster lifelong
learning from K-12 through undergraduate and graduate school, and on to
workplace training. To fulfill this task, we must employ the best educational
strategies, based on solid research.
The members of PCAST, closely linked to all the stakeholders in
the national and international science and technology enterprise, represent a
network of advice and support that contributed greatly to this report. There is
much to admire in the mult iple reports issued by various stakeholders in the
past few years calling for a renewed commitment to investment in science and
technology. This report illustrates some of the payoffs from those investments
and underscores the need for sustained and cooperative support in the 21st
century to avoid the dangers and seize the opportunities.