Strategy for American Innovation: Invest in the Building Blocks of American Innovation

Home | Executive Summary | Introduction | Invest in Building Blocks | Market-Based Innovation | Catalyze Breakthroughs | Appendix A | Appendix B | Appendix C

“Competition [in the global economy] is going to be much more fierce and the winners of this competition will be the countries that have the most educated workers, a serious commitment to research and technology, and access to quality infrastructure like roads and airports and high-speed rail and high-speed Internet.  Those are the seeds of economic growth in the 21st century.  Where they are planted, the most jobs and businesses will take root.”

- President Barack Obama, December 6, 2010

Our innovation strategy begins with critical foundations: education, scientific research, and infrastructure.  First, we must create an educational system that is internationally competitive and innovative in preparing our workforce for our increasingly knowledge-intensive economy.  Next, we must invest in scientific research to restore America’s leadership in creating the scientific and technological breakthroughs that underpin private sector innovations.  Finally, we must invest in a first-class infrastructure that moves people and ideas at 21st century speeds.  These are the building blocks of an innovation strategy that will lead America to a more prosperous future.

Educate Americans with 21st century skills and create a world-class workforce

With strong educational foundations, Americans will create the leading ideas of the 21st century and ensure that these ideas diffuse throughout the American workforce.  On many metrics, however, including grade-level proficiency and college graduation rates, America has slipped behind other countries.  We must reform our education and workforce training systems to ensure Americans are qualified for the jobs of tomorrow.  This imperative underpins the Obama Administration’s focus on education reform in general and in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education in particular.  It is also imperative to extend STEM educational and career opportunities to women and minority groups that are underrepresented in these areas, so that all Americans can find quality jobs and lead our innovative economy in the decades ahead.

Improve America's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education

The President has pledged to prepare an additional 100,000 STEM teachers by the end of the decade, with strong teaching skills and deep content knowledge.  The Administration’s Educate to Innovate campaign harnesses public-private partnerships to improve K-12 STEM education, make STEM education more accessible, move American students up the international rankings in STEM literacy, and expand STEM career opportunities.  Responding to the President’s call to action, over 100 CEOs have formed an organization called Change the Equation.  In 2011, these business leaders have committed to scale up effective STEM programs in at least 100 under-served communities, with particular emphasis on broadening participation to nurture the talents and potential of all Americans.

Reform elementary and secondary education

The Administration’s Race to the Top program uses competitive grants to leverage state and local reform in the quality of elementary and secondary education.  The Administration’s Blueprint for Reform re-envisions the Federal role in K-12 education to create the context for innovation, and the Administration is working with Congress to update and improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act).  The President’s FY 2012 budget includes support for School Turnaround Grants to drive change and improve student performance in 5,000 of the nation’s lowest-performing schools, and support for Investing in Innovation to develop and expand effective innovative strategies to improve students’ educational outcomes.

Restore America to first in the world in college attainment

America has slipped from 1st to 9th among OECD countries in the share of young people with a college degree.  President Obama is committed to restoring America to first place by 2020.  The Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act (HCERA), signed in March 2010, makes all federal loans available directly to students, ending wasteful subsidies once paid to third-party administrators.  By saving $68 billion in subsidies over the next 11 years, the direct loan program allows for both deficit reduction and investments in college affordability for low-income students, including a $40 billion expansion of the Pell Grant program.  The President will continue efforts to make college affordable and is calling on Congress to make permanent his American Opportunity Tax Credit, worth $10,000 for four years of college.  The Trade Adjustment Act invests in our nation’s community colleges, enhancing this important avenue to advanced training, which is also a critical component of the educational pipeline for many underserved students who wish to pursue further studies.  Finally, the Task Force on Skills for America’s Future will build and improve partnerships between businesses and educational institutions to train American workers for 21st century jobs.

Create a first-class system of early education

According to Nobel-award winning economist James Heckman, “Early childhood education fosters cognitive skills along with attentiveness, motivation, self-control and sociability—the character skills that turn knowledge into know-how and people into productive citizens.”  To achieve these objectives, the Administration is investing in evidence-based early learning and development, and working to hold Head Start programs more accountable by measuring classroom quality and requiring lower-performing programs to compete for funding.  In addition, the proposed Early Learning Challenge Fund will upgrade state innovation in early childhood programs through high standards and professional development.

Strengthen and broaden American leadership in fundamental research

America’s universities, federal labs, and industrial laboratories must continue to do the research that will lead to breakthrough products and new companies.  That is why the Administration has pushed for historic increases in America’s R&D investments.  Taken together, these steps will ensure that America continues to generate the most valuable ideas and that Americans have the know-how to implement these ideas here at home.

Enact the largest R&D increase in our nation's history

With $18.3 billion in research funding, the Recovery Act was part of the largest annual increase in research and development in America’s history. The President’s FY 2012 budget provides additional support for science and basic research, delivering on the President’s commitment to double funding for three key basic research agencies—the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories.

Set national goal to invest three percent of GDP in R&D

The President has set a goal for America to invest more than three percent of our GDP in public and private research and development.  This investment rate will surpass the level achieved at the height of the space race, and can be achieved through policies that support basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in national priority areas, and improve STEM education.  

Build a leading physical infrastructure

In the 20th century, the United States built highway and aviation networks that transformed the country – connecting our markets, businesses, and workers to fuel rapid economic expansion.  Today, new transportation investments are needed to support economic growth and keep America competitive in the global economy.  Efficient transportation systems facilitate trade and collaboration, and help workers find well-matched but distant jobs.  By integrating our markets, infrastructure investments create the scale that attracts innovation and the competition that causes best practices to spread.

Fulfill a new transportation vision with high-speed rail

President Obama has set the ambitious goal of connecting 80% of Americans to the high-speed rail system within 25 years. To accomplish this he proposes sustained investments that build on the Recovery Act and would help create an efficient, high-speed passenger rail network of 100- to 600-mile intercity corridors that will better connect communities across America.  This vision builds on the successful traditional highway and aviation development models with a 21st century solution that focuses on a clean, energy-efficient option.

Develop the next generation of air traffic control

The Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is a game-changing investment in our national airspace system to make air travel more convenient, dependable, and energy-efficient, while ensuring flights are as safe and secure as possible.  President Obama’s FY 2012 Budget increases funding for this critical innovation.

Create a National Infrastructure Bank

The President has proposed the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank, which will provide a new way to leverage investments in the nation’s highest priority infrastructure projects, supplementing reformed formula-grant transportation programs.

Develop an advanced information technology ecosystem

Just as our physical infrastructure provided a foundation for decades of economic growth, so will America’s information technology ecosystem catalyze growth for decades to come.  By investing in broadband and a modernized electric grid, securing cyberspace and ensuring the efficient use of our wireless spectrum, the U.S. is laying the groundwork for sustainable economic growth, well-paying jobs, and global competitiveness, while enabling innovations that today cannot even be imagined.

Develop a nationwide, state-of-the-art communication network

The Administration is committed to facilitating the development and deployment of a next-generation wireless broadband network that can reach at least 98% of Americans and enable public safety to have access to a nationwide and interoperable wireless network. A key component of catalyzing investment and innovation in state-of-the-art wireless technology is freeing up more spectrum for wireless broadband.  To that end, the Administration is sharply increasing, from 50 MHz to 550 MHz, the amount of wireless spectrum that will be made available for commercial use.  The Administration’s ten-year plan will avoid “spectrum crunch” and facilitate the ongoing torrent of innovation seen in smartphones, netbooks and tablets, and the applications that run on them.

Expand access to broadband

Approximately 100 million Americans still do not subscribe to broadband at home, leaving one-third of our households operating with 20th century infrastructure in a 21st century economy. The Recovery Act provided $6.9 billion to substantially expand broadband access for households, businesses, schools, libraries, public safety providers, and hospitals across America. 

Modernize the electric grid

By setting standards for smart grid technologies and making information technology investments, the Administration is bringing the nation’s electricity grid into the 21st century to reduce energy waste.  In particular, federal investments and policy leadership in this area serve to help consumers and utilities optimize the timing and sourcing of electricity use, which promises to reduce costs, increase reliability, and limit blackouts, while improving the security of the electricity system and enabling it to better use clean energy technologies.

Secure cyberspace

The National Security Council and Homeland Security Council have provided President Obama with a strategic framework to enhance cyber security.  Under the leadership of the White House Cyber Security Coordinator, the federal government is working to secure our information infrastructure through new protocols, improved detection capabilities, and game-changing research and development.

Support research for next-generation information and communications technology

The Obama Administration is dedicated to keeping the U.S. on the cutting edge of IT developments.  In addition to the Administration’s support for wireless innovation, the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program funds research in areas such as high-speed networks, next-generation supercomputers, cyber-physical systems, software engineering, and information management.  Recently, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has identified research directions that will help foster the next revolution in information technology, and transform healthcare, energy efficiency, education, and transportation.