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The Facts on the Recovery Act & American Innovation

A look at the report out this week on some of the amazing innovations spurred by the Recovery Act that often go under the radar, and a debunking of some of the attacks on the report.

Earlier this week, Vice President Biden unveiled a new report detailing how the Recovery Act is investing $100 billion in groundbreaking scientific research and advances in technology.  The report focuses on how Recovery Act investments in modernizing transportation, jumpstarting the renewable energy sector, advancing medical research, and building a platform to enhance the private sector’s ability to innovate have helped put America on-track to achieve some major science and technology breakthroughs.  You can read more about those efforts in Time Magazine this week, which calls the Recovery Act "the most ambitious energy legislation in history," and also looks at key investments in broadband, high-speed rail, science and tech, education, and health IT.  As the Time article points out, "Any of those programs would have been a revolution in its own right." 

While getting up to speed on the report, you may also come across a “fact-check” story the Associated Press is running on it.  Unfortunately, the only thing AP’s “fact check” seems to be missing is… the full facts.  Here’s the scoop:

  1. Increasing Renewable Energy: The AP questions whether we’re on track to double renewable energy generation and manufacturing capacity.
    1. Doubling U.S Renewable Energy Generation Capacity: The AP acknowledges that the Recovery Act has “helped increase renewable energy,” and their own expert says that “the U.S. could probably meet the… goal.” 
    2. Doubling U.S. Renewable Energy Manufacturing Capacity: Here, the AP does not doubt that we will make our goal, but instead denigrates the significance of it.  Nevertheless, we believe that compared to the last decade in which we’ve fallen severely behind, more renewable energy manufacturing in America is a good thing.
  2. Cutting the Cost of Solar Power: While the AP’s expert says “there was too much uncertainty in the world to make such a prediction,” this doesn’t fundamentally change the ability for our goal to be achieved.  Our investments in the solar sector - coupled with continued support through the tax code – already are and will continue to accelerate the pace of commercial deployment in the U.S., driving down costs significantly over the next five years.  What’s more, contrary to the assertion of their expert, the Recovery Act is driving technological innovation to lower these costs.
  3. Quicker, Cheaper Genetic Mapping: The AP agrees that we will make our goal, and says “many specialists believe the price may drop to less than $1,000 in a few years,” and also goes onto mention the worthiness of this goal:  “The more sequencing scientists do allows them to better explore variations that contribute to disease.”
  4. High Speed Rail: Here, the AP does not attack the report’s claim that our investments are laying the groundwork for high speed rail in America.  Instead, they point to some investments that are upgrading existing lines and say that building high speed rail is “a difficult, multiyear effort.”  We agree that it will be “a difficult, multiyear effort" and, in fact, have long said so.  But with the $8 billion we are investing through the Recovery Act, we are doing two things:  1) making upgrades to existing lines that are needed in order to equip them for supporting faster trains and 2) supporting actual high speed rail projects like the San Francisco to Los Angeles line cited by the AP. 
  5. Health Information Technology: Again, the AP says nothing about the claims espoused in the report.  In fact, the AP agrees that there are “economic dividends from greater efficiency and fewer costly medical mistakes” and only says that they could be “years away.”  We agree that it will take several years to transform health IT in American hospitals and doctors’ offices and, again, have long said so.
  6. Electric Vehicles: Again, the AP says nothing disputing our goal of cutting the cost of batteries by 70 percent between 2009 and 2015, and in fact acknowledges that “strides are being made.”  Instead, they criticize our efforts as “overly optimistic” and cite the price tag of the Chevy Volt.  One of the main factors in the costs of electric cars today is the price of the electric-vehicle batteries - $33,000 in 2009, the majority of the cost of the car.  Recovery Act investments are scaling up production as well as investing in new technologies – both ways to drive down prices. The battery is expected to hit a price of $10,000 by 2015, and continue to decline after that.  With a price slash of $20,000, electric vehicles will be well on their way to competing with similar non-electric vehicles.

No doubt, there may be varying opinions as we transform the American economy.  That’s what innovation is all about – a wealth of good ideas.  But based on the facts we’ve laid out above and in the report, there’s no reason to believe that with dedication and resources America can’t achieve these ambitious goals we’ve set.  Bottom line: After eight years of failed economic policies that devastated American science and innovation, we make no apology for setting ambitious targets to make American workers the most competitive in the global economy - and putting the resources behind achieving those goals.

Liz Oxhorn is the Recovery Act Communications Director