Obama's Reelection and U.S. Technology Policy

Article excerpt

With a contentious election in his rearview mirror and just four more years to craft his legacy, Barack Obama faces a challenging term. The sputtering economy and deadlocked Congress that hamstrung some first-term efforts remain obstacles, with the added threat of a looming fiscal crisis. President Obama's first term was marked by efforts to revitalize America's innovativeness that focused needed attention on innovation and technology policy. Efforts to revitalize the manufacturing and energy sectors laid the groundwork for further transformations in the economy and infrastructure, and Big Data projects initiated an effort to bolster the U.S. infrastructure for handling--and innovating with--big data.

The question is whether this proactive stance can be maintained through what promises to be an eventful and difficult second term. The focus of the president's administration going forward must remain the revitalization of America's innovation capabilities and economic competitiveness. But the philosophies underlying the Obama administration's approach to these issues calls for a wider engagement. Early in his first terra, President Obama declared that government needs to lead from the front in order to inspire change in the rest of society. His innovation and technology initiatives have reflected that idea, placing the federal government in the lead on a number of fronts, including the centerpieces of the administration's innovation and technology policy: developing advanced manufacturing capabilities and reconfiguring the energy infrastructure to allow for environmental sustainability and energy security.

Advanced Manufacturing

Manufacturing has long been understood as the engine that drives the American economy. A 2011 report compiled by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), Capturing Domestic Competitive Advantage in Advanced Manufacturing, highlighted the degree to which manufacturing drives U.S. innovativeness and productivity. The report estimated that nearly 70 percent of private-sector R&D spending comes from manufacturing, that manufacturers employ around 60 percent of all private-sector R&D workers, and that 60 percent of exports are manufactured goods. Given these numbers, it makes sense that growth in manufacturing would drive increased job creation.

Shortly after the release of the PCAST report, President Obama launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership to drive expansion of high-tech manufacturing in the United States. The partnership plan represents a national effort to bring together universities, industries, and the federal government to identify and direct funding toward research that will deliver advanced manufacturing innovations and jobs. Obama also created the Office of Manufacturing Policy to oversee executive policy changes to support the partnership. In January 2012, in the State of the Union address, the president outlined his Blueprint for an America Built to Last, which included several advanced manufacturing initiatives, reemphasizing his intent to move forward on this front. With a hotly contested election underway, though, actual policy changes have been lacking; however, advanced manufacturing topped President Obama's seven-point plan for getting the economy back on track.

The administration plans to continue this effort, although how far it gets depends on how quickly needed policy changes can be enacted. Planned changes for this year include a $2.2 billion investment in advanced manufacturing R&D--a 19 percent increase from last year--as well as the enactment of a 2012 proposal to create a $1 billion National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, centered around 15 manufacturing innovation institutes across the U.S. built on large-scale public-private partnerships. The pilot contract for this project will be awarded this summer, funded from $45 million of available resources drawn from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, as well as NASA and the National Science Foundation. …