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President Shirley Ann Jackson Urges Congress to Strengthen the U.S. Innovation Ecosystem

In Testimony to the U.S. House Science Committee she warns of the potential long-term threat of the looming cuts in federal support for science R& D

February 6, 2013

The health, prosperity, security, and global leadership of the United States depend on our strength in science and technology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson told a U.S. Congressional panel today, warning that looming federal budget cuts in science research and development put the U.S. at risk.

Life-changing, job-creating, security-sustaining scientific discoveries and technological innovations have rested on strong collaboration among business, government, and academia. This three-way partnership has created an ‘innovation ecosystem’ that has driven our economy, prosperity, and well-being for decades,” President Jackson said at a hearing today before the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

This, the first hearing of the Science Committee in the 113th Congress, led by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), focused on the impact of research and development (R&D) on the lives of the American people and examined policies to ensure the U.S. remains the leader in innovation.

“We remain the world leader in scientific discovery and technological innovation. But, the health of our innovation ecosystem is in jeopardy,” Jackson said, in reference to the impending cuts in federal scientific research and development funding set to go into effect March 1, 2013, due to the so-called “sequester,” the gaps in the U.S. high-skilled workforce, and other constraints to moving ideas from the lab to the marketplace.

President Jackson said a strong “innovation ecosystem” requires (1) strategic focus, (2) game-changing idea generation, (3) translational pathways to bring discoveries into commercial or societal use, and (4) capital, including financial, infrastructural, and human capital. 

She urged a particular collaborative focus on educational support to develop the next generation of leaders in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields.  

President Jackson pointed to research at Rensselaer’s Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) – which houses one of the most powerful university-based supercomputers in the world – as a collaborative model to emulate. She noted the work under way with companies of all sizes to improve their products and processes; the faculty research on a range of health, energy, and other challenges; and the educational activities under way to prepare the next generation of digital leaders.

“Nations that invest in research, educate the next generations, and make commitments to build effective innovation ecosystems will be the global leaders of tomorrow,” President Jackson said.

Dr. Charles Vest, President, National Academy of Engineering, and Mr. Richard Templeton, President and CEO, Texas Instruments, also testified at today’s hearing in Washington, D.C..

In a joint op-ed published today on Politico.com, in conjunction with the hearing, President Jackson and Mr. Templeton wrote:“....We now are on the cusp of a data-driven, super-computer powered, Web-enabled globally interconnected world. The only question is, who will lead this new technological revolution? Will it be the U.S. or another country?...”

Referencing the effective collaborative scientific research partnership among business, universities, and government in the U.S., they wrote: “Other countries have taken note of our success and are emulating our model. Governments around the world are investing heavily in energy, health care, telecommunications, and other arenas, in partnership with their colleges and universities and with existing and emerging businesses. And they are investing in their people, preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Referencing the looming across-the-board federal science R&D budget cuts – know as the sequester – they wrote: “These indiscriminate cuts may save money in the short term.....But there will be a significant, long-term, irreparable price to pay if the U.S. government slashes its support for science and engineering and for those who pursue those fields.” And they urged the Congress to act to avert the pending budget cuts.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Texas Instruments have a shared history: J. Erik Jonsson, a 1922 graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was a co-founder of TI and then became a major benefactor of Rensselaer.

Background on President Jackson

A theoretical physicist, Dr. Jackson has held senior leadership positions in government, industry, research, and academe. Her research and policy focus includes global energy security and the national capacity for innovation, including addressing what she has dubbed the “Quiet Crisis” of looming gaps in the science, technology, and engineering workforce and reduced support for basic research. Dr. Jackson was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1995 to 1999, and currently is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), co-chairs the President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), and is a member of the U.S. Department of State International Security Advisory Board (ISAB). She is a member of the British Royal Academy of Engineering, the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the American Philosophical Society, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She is a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and a member of the Board of the Council on Foreign Relations and The Brookings Institution. She is a vice-chair of the Council on Competitiveness and co-chaired its Energy Security, Innovation and Sustainability initiative. She also is a member of the Board of Directors of global companies including IBM and FedEx.

About Rensselaer

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is the nation’s oldest technological research university. The university offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering, the sciences, information technology, architecture, management, and the humanities and social sciences. Institute programs serve undergraduates, graduate students, and working professionals around the world. Rensselaer faculty are known for pre-eminence in research conducted in a wide range of fields, with particular emphasis in biotechnology and the life sciences; nanotechnology and advanced materials; computational science and engineering;  media, arts, science, and technology; and energy and the environment. The Institute is well known for its success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace so that new discoveries and inventions benefit human life, protect the environment, and strengthen economic development.

To read Dr. Jackson’s testimony go to: http://www.rpi.edu/president/speeches/ps020613-sst.html

For more information about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute go tohttp://www.rpi.edu/

Contact: Theresa Bourgeois
Phone: (518) 276-2840
E-mail: bourgt@rpi.edu