NANCY ROMAN: Hello, and welcome. I think we’ll go ahead and get started on time, in Council tradition. I am Nancy Roman, director of the Washington program here, and I am particularly delighted today to be kicking off the first in our series on the nexus of foreign policy and science and technology. We thought about doing this several months ago, and as we’ve been talking about it, and as I’ve had an opportunity to raise it with the board, there’s an awful lot of enthusiasm for just taking on these subjects and helping to advance policy discussions that raise the critical issues of science. There’s been too little of that, and we at the Council hope to advance that ball. And I would like to personally thank Julia Moore. She was the first one to hit me with the idea my first week on the job. And she is with the National Science Foundation. You have her bio. But I am personally grateful to her for her enthusiasm, energy. And some of you in this room have been helpful as well, so thank you very much.
JULIA A. MOORE: Nancy, thank you very much. And thanks to all of you for coming. I think that this initiative being taken by the Council is one that most of the people in this room would agree is one that’s long overdue, particularly when we remember Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stating once that 80 percent of all the issues she dealt with in the State Department had a science and technology component. So I want to particularly commend Nancy. I’ve actually been hitting on different Washington directors and science fellows of the Council for some years to do a series like this. And congratulations to her and to her staff, especially [Deputy Director of the Council’s Washington Program] Jackie Miller, for doing this.
As presider, I first need to take care of some housekeeping details. Please make sure to turn off all of your cell phones. And second, unlike most Council meetings, this one will be on the record. We expect a lot of time in this meeting for questions and discussion with the audience after a brief period of discussion between our speakers. But every questioner will be asked to stand, to identify themselves, and to keep their questions short and speak into the microphones that will be around the room. And finally, I want you to know that I will make sure that we end precisely at 1:30.
The most important instruction I was given as a presider is that I had one minute to introduce each speaker. In the case of Shirley Ann Jackson and Ben Wu, that is a tough assignment. You all should have their formal biographies. And if you look at Dr. Jackson’s biography, the word that most pops out is “first.” She is the president of Rensselaer Polytech and the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But she is also the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate from MIT in any subject. And she is the first of two African-American women in the United States to receive a doctorate in physics. She is both the first woman and the first African-American to serve as chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission under President [Bill] Clinton. And she is now the first African-American woman to lead a major U.S. research university. She is also the first African-American woman to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Ben Wu, deputy undersecretary of Commerce for technology, before joining the Bush administration had a distinguished career on Capitol Hill. He built his reputation mostly on leading major legislation efforts aimed at improving U.S. competitiveness and speeding up the transfer of science and new technology from the laboratory to the marketplace. While Ben has particular experience in information and biomedical technologies, he’s also somewhat noted for trying to teach the science community, at the advent of the Bush administration, to talk Texan, an ambitious undertaking, indeed, for someone who has largely spent his Capitol Hill career working for a Maryland congresswoman, Connie Morella. I’m told that Ben’s two favorite Texas phrases are: “You don’t put your boots in the oven and have them come out biscuits” and “Big hat, no cattle.”
I felt that might be as good a segue as any into our topic today, which is [the] challenge to American leadership in science. Just in the past six months, leading U.S. newspapers have featured front-page stories and national columns by people like Tom Friedman, who’s joined us today; and editorials with headlines like “U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance In Science,” “Competitive Edge of U.S. is at Stake In The R&D [research and development] Arena,” “Challengers To America’s Science Crown,” “Starving Science,” and “The Chinese Century.”
Shirley Ann, let me talk to you— or let me turn to you first. Are The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post right? Is America losing its competitiveness edge scientifically? And if so, what should we be doing about it?
SHIRLEY ANN JACKSON: Well, for shorthand, I divided the issue into four brief questions. One is, is there a problem? Second, if there is, why should we care? And if there isn’t, why should we care? Third, what are the relevant details? Those are things such as, who are our competitors, where do they compete, how is the R&D landscape changing? And the final question, of course, which is important, is what can or should we do?
Now the core message, I believe, is the following. First, the sky is not falling today. The U.S. is still the engine— leading engine for innovation in the world. We still have the best graduate programs in science and engineering, the best scientific infrastructure, and the best economic system, and the capital markets to exploit technological innovation to create new jobs, new industries, et cetera. But there is, I believe, an impending crisis in U.S. science and technology, and it’s one we have to wake up to, because today more than ever, the U.S. is in a truly global environment and as such, has global, hungry competitors. And those competitor countries, as we tend to think about them, are not only wide awake, but they are running a marathon, meaning they’re looking at the long view, and we tend to run sprints. And so the point is that, if the situation is left unchecked, that it could challenge U.S. scientific and technological pre-eminence and our capacity to innovate. But as we have done in the past, we do have the capacity for change. And the question is, will we heed the warning signs?
And so the focus, I then believe, on that leadership should be in two areas. One is to ensure that we continue to stimulate and to support scientific and technological innovation, particularly as it relates to investments in R&D across a broad front. And across a broad front means across the various disciplines as well as in various areas that make sense relative to those areas important to our economy and our security. But the second message, which [is] one as an educator I feel we often overlook, is we have to make the investments in the human capital in order to have the scientific and technological workforce of the future. I’m sure many of you happened to see the 75th anniversary issue of Business Week, but it pointed out something which said— which I’ll just repeat a couple of things, and then I’d like to make a couple of points and then let Ben have a chance to make a few comments.
Seventy-five years ago, we had no real antibiotics, no jet travel, no commercial TV, no Internet, computers. Actually, we didn’t have nuclear power and we certainly didn’t have the decoding of the human genome. And so for decades, U.S. investments in scientific research have produced the innovations, the products and processes that have improved our national security and our health and welfare, and have raised our prosperity, but it also has brought the world closer to us. And so the result has been that our success is not lost on other countries, and they have begun to emulate us with a vengeance. And so, for the first time in over a century, the United States faces steadily rising competition.
But beyond competition, there are any number of issues that relate to our national interests that have at them a scientific root, and you can pick an area. If you think about the ability for our companies to compete in the global environment, the various information technologies are important to that. If you think about our national security, there was an interesting article in Technology Review, which is MIT’s magazine of innovation, which talked about use of various technologies, sensors and networking, in Iraq. And while many things work well, many things did not. But in addition, there are a lot of questions that seemingly are purely policy questions that have at their root technology related input. One example being nuclear proliferation, and I hope we get a chance to talk about that.
The second area having to do with the workforce I view as a perfect storm. We have an aging scientific and engineering workforce. Half of our scientists and engineers are at least 40 years old, and over the next five to 10 years, many of them will retire. We have decreasing student interest and performance in science and math, in those areas that lead to careers in science and engineering. And in the year 2000, 24 nations awarded a higher percentage of engineering and science degrees to students than we did in the U.S.
The third point is that we’ve had a long period of dependence, but a heightened dependence over a decade in the 1990s, so that by the year 2000, those who came to us from abroad, who brought great talent to us, made up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce. When you look at employees with doctoral degrees, and 30 percent of those with master’s degrees— so you say, well, as long as we have the talent, what is the point? The point is that between 1986 and ‘99, countries in Asia increased their production of degree-holders, particularly doctorates, by 400 percent in South Korea, and 5400 percent in China. But the important piece is that people have opportunities abroad and we, then, are not the only place that those with talent look to, to come to build their careers.
And the final point, which relates to this, is that technology now allows companies to draw intellectual property and talent from anywhere, because technology crosses boundaries with the Internet, with various communication technologies and interactive technologies. And so the location of facilities matters less. They can be anywhere. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of talk about outsourcing, but I really think the appropriate way to think about it is what I call global innovation, where the companies may choose to locate high-end R&D facilities in other countries, or they may choose to mobilize global R&D networks drawing on capabilities and people in various countries. And so what really matters in the end is who controls innovation networks— who is in a position to lead and exploit innovation?
And the second key point of matter is, where do the benefits accrue relative to products, jobs, new companies’ profits, higher economic productivity— and, in other words, new companies, new industries, new jobs? And so, I would like us to be able then, Julia, to spend some time talking about this, talking about how science both impacts and can benefit our foreign policy, as well as the implications for us of the workforce demographics changing, and the implications for us of a beginning flatness in our actual R&D investments, and the fact that the investments we have made are so much more narrowly focused and not across a broad front.
MOORE: I think this is the audience to try to get at some of those questions. Ben, a looming crisis and impending storm?
BENJAMIN WU: Well, first let me say thank you for the opportunity to be here with the Council on Foreign Relations. I have had to endure— I don’t know if that’s the right word— the first term of the Bush administration, the cowboy colloquialisms. As a Marylander, it has taken a little bit of getting used to, but since we are moving to a second term, if anybody needs any assistance, please let me know. [Laughter.] One thing— one of the quotes that I unfortunately hear all the time, especially from the OMB [Office of Management and Budget], that you didn’t mention, was the phrase, “It’s time to paint your butt white and run with the antelopes.” [Laughter.] That means, essentially, just get with the program and move forward. But it’s great to be here. Thank you, Julia. You know, we think very highly of the National Science Foundation over at the Department of Commerce, so much so that we gave our director of NIST [National Institute of Standards and Technology] Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.] over to you [laughter] to become the new director of the National Science Foundation.
MOORE: And we’re very grateful.
WU: [Laughter.] Arden Bement is absolutely terrific, and I think that the president made an excellent, inspired choice. The country will benefit, and our science and technology enterprise, the nation will benefit too. Also, Kathryn Sullivan is another one who we donated over to NSF. So I think you owe us two. [Laughter.]
MOORE: I’m sure you’ll tell us what the bill is.
WU: [Laughter.] And also Dr. Jackson, Arden Bement speaks so highly of you, and it’s just a pleasure to be anywhere with you. So—
JACKSON: Thank you. Well, it’s a mutual admiration society.
WU: Well, you do a terrific job over with RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] and also with AAAS [American Association for the Advancement of Science]. And you did such a succinct, eloquent summation of all the points that, you know, I’m ready to just walk out and have some hors d’oeuvres [laughter], because I think that you touched upon all those points. But let me at least try to underscore some of those points just a bit more. You know, the 20th century was considered by many to be the uniquely American century. We evolved from the agricultural economy to an industrial economy, and we played such a major role, not just with our economy but bringing the world forward, and also as a major superpower in the world. And so the 21st century, as we move forward, has a number of challenges and opportunities. It’s a world that’s become much smaller, much more interconnected. And a lot of what’s driving that interconnectedness is technology. We’ve seen such rapid changes in the 20th century in technology that are going to be overshadowed in the 21st century, and we’re going to continue to see technology advance, and the pace of breakthrough discoveries moving forward at a rate that we couldn’t envision back in the 20th century. And so the question is, how do we respond to that, and what does this mean to us and our ability to maintain our United States technological competitiveness and pre-eminence?
And the fact that we’re looking so closely at what our next steps should be reflect not so much on what we’ve done wrong in the United States, because clearly we’re still the center for innovation. We have a world-class education system that every country tries to emulate. We have the scientists broadly focused on new developments, new innovations that are occurring in our laboratories every day in industry, government and universities. And we have everything in place that will continue to drive technology-led economic development and our economic engine. But what’s most troubling, at least one that I think that brings us some pause, is, because of technology, now the world has gotten smaller. The countries that previously had not been in a position to compete with us now suddenly are able to compete. And the labor pool, in terms of creating new technology in certain areas in research, in certain focuses— and it’s that ability that we see are— other countries moving forward so quickly and so rapidly. That’s, I think, what’s giving us pause and making us re-examine our ability to maintain a strong innovative climate. And that’s the challenge that’s left for the scientists, the engineers, the academicians, the policy-makers and the lawmakers.
And so that’s what I think we’re going to discuss today, and to talk about it in a global environment. So why don’t we go ahead and engage in discussion?
MOORE: Well, Ben, let me ask a question. In the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, Intel CEO Craig Barrett says that in order to keep up with this competition that you’ve just described, the U.S. should increase public research agency budgets by 10 [percent] to 12 percent over the next five to seven years; it should make permanent the R&D tax credit and other initiatives. With your experience on the Hill, you know how difficult it is to carve money out of that discretionary spending account for science and technology. Are you optimistic or pessimistic that we’re going to be able to follow Craig Barrett’s prescription?
WU: Well, I think that with the president’s leadership, there’s a lot to be optimistic on in terms of the investment. The president, since he took office, has continually, each year, increased the number or the amount of the R&D funding requested, up to the last fiscal year, for fiscal year ‘05, which Congress is still deliberating over. The president requested $132 billion in research and development, and that built upon the record increases that he had made ever since he took office. And that’s a 44 percent increase also, since he took office from the previous administration as well. The R&D spending right now is 13.5 percent of our discretionary spending overall, which is the highest in 37 years. Now, some people say that well, this is too much of a focus on defense. But the reality is that compared to the discretionary for non-defense versus the defense R&D, it’s a 5.7 percent ratio. And additionally, it’s the third-highest in 25 years as well. Basic research is up 26 percent.
So we are making the right investments that are necessary. The question: Can we do more? We probably would like to do more, but the reality is that we’re facing severe budget pressures all the way across the board. We have a war on terror that we’re fighting. We have a president who’s made a commitment and a priority to securing, protecting our homeland, and also to try to continue to move the economy forward. And so the president is doing everything he can in terms of R&D investment. He’s in support of the permanence of the R&D tax credit. That will give companies the ability to do much more secure long-term planning investment in R&D. And I think that you’ll still see that commitment reflected in the FY [fiscal year] ‘06 budget, which will come out in the new year, despite the really difficult budget pressures that we’re going to face. And I think that Craig Barrett would support those increases; he may want to see them higher. But in the totality, I think that the president is doing everything he can to provide the right environment, the right climate and the right investment.
MOORE: Shirley, are you confident that we’re making the right investments?
JACKSON: Well, I can believe that the intent is surely there. And Ben and I have had a chance to— the secretary— talk a little bit about this.
I think the real points are these: one, in inflation-adjusted dollars, where are we really? And I think one would have to argue that there is a flattening. The second, which is a harder one, what we’ve seen is the doubling of the NIH [National Institutes of Health] budget, and with that a concomitant increase in support for basic biomedical research. And now we’re just at a point with respect to the ability to take that further and to exploit it, where there’s a coming realization that we’re at a point in biomedical research where we’re much more data driven— where, in order to exploit the technologies, we have to make use of the physical and information sciences and engineering, and those are just the fields that have been suffering in a relative sense for some years now. And the agencies which support a lot of that work, sans defense focus, are themselves suffering— the National Science Foundation, et cetera.
Let me try to kind of set the stage a little bit in the following way. Many people will tell you that one of the biggest changes that has really allowed us to get more productivity out of our economy, even though the actual major capital and other investments by business have not been there, has had to do with the ability to exploit the information technologies that include the Internet— I put all of those together. But those technologies really came out of work and investments that were done years and years before— work in fundamental physics, work in computer science, in mathematics, in electrical engineering. And so, I think sometimes what we end up doing is seeming like we’re arguing, but we’re really not, because the truth is that I could accept everything Ben said, but I sit and know that all of the technologies that will strengthen and have strengthened our economy, that pertain to our national security, have very long tails, and if we don’t keep that in mind, then as we look 10, 15, 20 years down the line, we could be in a much more disadvantaged position than we may think we will be at this— sitting here today.
And let’s take nanotechnology, which is such a big focus. There’s a National Nanotechnology Initiative. Well, I spent my early career at Bell Labs, and 10, 15 years ago, people were doing sub-micron-level technology, doing what we are calling nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, as well, is inherently interdisciplinary, so it’s something that— where the physical sciences, the material sciences all come into play. And so, we’re kidding ourselves if we think that, you know, we’re moving down a new path called nanotechnology without understanding that it has its roots in work and fundamental research that went on 10 and 15 years ago, and that that research occurred across a broad disciplinary front. And so I think that is the warning, if you want to call it that. But I think one could ask the following and could challenge any administration this way. Certainly there are those who rightfully would make the argument that a lot of the work that gave a focus to the physical sciences and computational sciences and mathematics also had a root in security. And it’s really a question of how, then, that support is applied, and whether built into it is a competent support for human resource development. And those are things I think are very important to keep in mind.
MOORE: Well, I think we’ve laid out the big issues. Why don’t we open the floor now for questions from the audience? In the back? And again, please identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: My name is Tom Friedman, The New York Times. I wanted to ask Dr. Jackson. I think you made a very important, and from my point of view correct, point that the issue is not outsourcing, it’s global sourcing. The playing field is out there and you can source anywhere you want. And I want to get you to elaborate, though, on why it is so important— if that’s the case, why is it still important that the companies [who] do it be headquartered here? What else does that drive? After all, if you can do it anywhere from anywhere with anyone, why is it so important that it continue to happen here?
JACKSON: Well, I think in the end, we all are concerned about the quality of life in our country. We’re all concerned about global leadership of the United States, obviously, as an overall world leader, as a military power, as an economic power. And as I said in my earlier remarks, a question becomes, who is in a position to control, or to lead, or exploit well global innovation? That then says there has to be some critical mass of activity in this country that’s led and driven from this country in order to have the ability to spawn the kinds of industries that created so much wealth in the 1990s, created new jobs and new career paths for people. And so I think that is the reason why it matters. But I think it’s unrealistic to think that it’s all going to be ours. I mean, that’s the whole nature of the global innovation enterprise. The real question is, do you have a token or we have some tokens to play with, and that is why it’s important to have that here.
MOORE: Ben, do you want to take a stab at that?
WU: Sure. Secretary [of Commerce Donald L.] Evans has said many times that he believes that economic security equals national security. And the ability for American companies to move to the markets that they need to, to be closer to their customers, and to play on a global stage, is very critical for American economic development for these companies and for our ability to make sure that we can get back the benefits of global sourcing, or of companies’ decisions to move to other areas they believe is in their best interest to do so. Early on, McKinsey did that which said that for every dollar that an American company puts overseas, they get $1.14 back, and that’s money back to American tax base, that’s money back to the pockets of Americans who can then purchase things. And so we’ll lure back the benefits from global sourcing if the companies believe that this is in their best interests to do so.
Now our— I think our concern is when we can go out— we go out and tell companies that they’re not going to be able to do that, or they’re going to be given disincentives to do global sourcing, even though it may be in the best economic interest for them, and also it may make sense from the marketplace standpoint. And one of the big issues that was discussed in the previous campaign was what to do with the companies that were looking to be global. [Former democratic presidential candidate] Senator [John] Kerry on the campaign trail called some of these companies— or their CEOs— Benedict Arnold CEOs, which caused a lot of concern because these CEOs were not Benedict Arnold companies, who didn’t have any faith or support in the country. They were trying to do what was best in their shareholders’ interest and in their business interest. And Senator Kerry put out a proposal which would create tax disincentives, essentially would raise the cost of business for a number of these companies that were trying to move into the global marketplace. And that was very problematic for a number of reasons, and even a number of the senator’s economic advisers on his campaign retreated back from that— [former U.S. Treasury Secretary] Bob Rubin and [former Chairman of the National Economic Council] Laura Tyson. It would put American companies at a disadvantage, and it would only give benefit to the foreign multinational corporations.
That may not have been the right direction to go, but we’re still trying to struggle with what is the right direction as we try to address this phenomenon of global sourcing. We know that the trend will probably continue, so we need to better understand it, and we need to get better data. We need to understand the full implications. We need to make sure that those who may be displaced have adequate education and training so that they can be back and be an effective member of the workforce. We need to look at everything holistically. And so creating tax incentives is not the right direction, perhaps, but looking at the issue from a much more macro sense in how we address it is, I think, ultimately what we need to do.
I was telling Tom earlier, before we started, that I went to school at NYU [New York University], and I was just teaching a class there a couple weeks ago, and it was a class of MBA students on global sourcing, basically teaching them how to do this in an effective manner. And that, quite frankly, scared the bejesus out of a lot of people, especially American workers, who understand that if this trend is going to continue, then they perhaps may be next. It’s an issue that resonated in the campaign. It’s an issue that will need to be addressed. We need to get better data. We need to move forward. But we also need to do it in a way that makes sense for the nation from an economic security standpoint as well as from a marketplace standpoint.
JACKSON: May I make a quick comment?
JACKSON: My concern has to do with maintaining our ability to innovate and our ability to be at the leading edge in certain important areas and technologies. I think we all accept that corporations, the ones that are going to compete particularly at the leading edge, are inherently going to be competing globally. It’s going to make sense for them to have certain of their operations in other countries because that’s where their customers are. Seventy percent of the commercial airplane sales that Boeing makes are to other countries. And so these things are things people have to accept.
But I think one also has to accept that there’s a line— it’s not a straight line, obviously— that has to be walked in terms of the not disadvantaging, in fact advantaging our corporations to be able to compete globally, but worrying about the real issues of the workforce and quality of life in the United states. And that’s why I stay focused on our capacity to innovate, which is rooted in support for high-end research and development, and in the development of those with the kinds of science and engineering skills who in fact are in the position to ensure that the benefits of this global innovation enterprise inure to this country as well as abroad. And I think that’s really a key part of this.
WU: Yes. Absolutely. The ability to innovate is the most critical issue, because just that’s how we get back our— the benefit back, and that’s what makes our nation and our economy as sound as it is.
MOORE: Let’s get some other comments from our audience. Down here. Anne Solomon.
QUESTIONER: Anne Solomon, and I’m with CSIS [Center for Strategic and International Studies]. Dr. Jackson, as president of a university, do you have any— we’ve been talking about this problem of young Americans not going into science and engineering for a long time. Do you have any sense of why our young people are not going into science and engineering? And also, Secretary Wu, from the companies that the Department of Commerce deals with, are they raising any issues regarding the visa policy that may be hampering the desire for young people from abroad to come to American universities?
JACKSON: Well, let me talk about the issue of young Americans. I’m not sure that we totally know why that is. Some have said that science and math and engineering don’t appear very glamorous. But I make the point to people that if we look across, certainly, the decade of the 1990s and before, the mega-millionaires and the billionaires who lived very glamorous lifestyles were essentially people who were in the technology sector. Not all of them were scientists and engineers, but many of them were and are.
I think the second has to do with the fact that we don’t do very well in math and science, at least on a comparative basis certainly with other industrialized nations, and even with a number of emerging economies. And so it’s very difficult, then, if young people do not have the early preparation to come over that hump. And I think attracting— and the ability to attract talent from abroad remains critical for us. Equally important, is the ability of our own scientists to interact with their counterparts from abroad, because things change so fast and technologies move so fast that it is easy— in fact, easier to get behind today than ever.
MOORE: And those visa policies?
WU: Well, Anne, first let me say thank you for doing that biodefense industry report. I don’t think I’ve had a chance to see you since you did that, and it’s wonderful. Really appreciate that.
For years, India, Taiwan, other countries like that, lamented the brain drain that they had of people who left their countries to go to the United States. And their brain drain was our brain gain, and we were able to benefit tremendously from that. And there’s no question that foreign students who chose to remain in the United States have been strong players in creating our technology economy as we know it. Just look around at some of the major high-tech companies, and you see a number of their founders, managers and executives who are foreign-born students. There is a concern that now that there are students who are choosing— much more in terms of percentage— to return back to their homeland. And part of that is driven by the fact that they see their homeland not as economically or as opportunely disadvantaged as it used to be. The feeling for people— for example, my father came to study in the States, and his view in staying in the United States was that the United States was the land of opportunity, and he could do much more for his family by staying here and taking advantage of all the opportunity. And now, as the world is becoming smaller, as countries are moving forward economically, there is a feeling that they can go back to their homeland, utilize the connections, utilize the expertise that they have gained here and be successful, perhaps even more so than if they stayed here in the United States.
Irrespective of what the trend may be, it seems clear to me that we need to continue to make sure that we have a robust pipeline of new talent, foreign students coming in that can help this country continue to be innovative. Dr. Jackson’s school, and universities all around the country, especially in the graduate level, require and need these foreign students, and have relied on them for several years to make sure that they do the kind of research that’s necessary that can then be cultivated and brought into the marketplace. And that’s where we reap our economic benefit in commercialization. So we need to make sure that we continue to keep that pipeline open.
However, in a post-9/11 world, there have been new restrictions— new limitations placed on students coming into the United States getting visas. It’s a problem that we’re trying to correct. The Department of Homeland Security that now has jurisdiction and control over the immigration and visa issue have been very receptive. They understand what we tell them is at stake— our potential future competitiveness for the country— and they’re trying to do what they can to be helpful. But it’s a new paradigm, [a] new world post-9/11. And so we will continue to do what we can to allow those that want to study in the United States to encourage them to apply and go through the immigration and visa status. And the hope is that these top talents will choose to remain here, or if they don’t choose to remain here, will continue to work collaboratively in partnership with the United States.
MOORE: Shirley, on the ground in Albany, are you seeing a kinder, gentler Homeland Security immigration situation with your foreign students?
JACKSON: I think what has happened is that many of the international students— I don’t like the word foreign, by the way— many of the international students have made their own adjustments in the sense that it is still hard for those who are coming for the first time to come— and maybe some slight improvement, but we think a lot of that has to do with the work we put in as well with our own State Department and the relevant embassies. The other is that those who do come then do not leave, so as to avoid the difficulties of getting back in. Because of that, many of them then do not see their families for many years. And I happen to think that’s a tragedy.
The other point, though, which is embedded in what Secretary Wu just said, is that there are opportunities in their home countries for these young people. In addition, other countries are working to attract them. I know with the many students from the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] nations— we’ve traditionally had students from Malaysia in particular; Australia has gotten to be quite aggressive with recruiting those students, as well as Canada. And so, in fact, they’re going to those places. But to be honest, we still have a robust pool of international students, particularly on the graduate level. But it’s a longer lead time to get them cleared.
WU: And to follow up on Dr. Jackson’s point, other countries are being aggressive in trying to recruit the best and brightest from other countries. But it’s my understanding [inaudible] if I’m wrong, Dr. Jackson, people still want to come here, and they still want to be a part of the American educational system and take advantage of all the resources that we have. The key is to make sure that that opportunity for them still exists.
MOORE: There’s been a very patient questioner in the back row.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. [Inaudible] from Microsoft. I wanted to follow up on this point about [inaudible] talk about an outsourcing problem. We train them, we spend the effort to train them, and they have no choice but to go back out of the country to do their work. And of course, where the talent goes, many companies will have to follow. But our preference in Microsoft would be to hire many of these people in the United States, and we can’t do it, because they can’t get visas to stay here.
Now this is an immediate short-term crisis, I would suggest, that could probably be fixed with a specific targeted increase in the H-1B visas [for temporary employment in a specialty occupation] for that category of people. And you know, it’s an immediate attempt to address the outsourcing issue, which otherwise has the obvious implications. And I wonder whether that would be possible, Secretary Wu, to get through.
WU: Well, Congress will have to raise the caps on H-1B visas statutorily. But my understanding is that the targets hadn’t been hit for the past several years on H-1Bs, and so the opportunity is still there, if you want to pursue that angle.
MOORE: Fred, am I wrong? I thought the cap this year at least was hit in the first couple of days. Fred? It was. There are no more H-1B visas and haven’t been—
MOORE: For this year. OK, Dave Beckler.
QUESTIONER: I’d like to turn the discussion to a somewhat broader issue, namely the problem that arises at the interface between the research and society. More than before I believe that there are problems at the interface, and three areas come to mind.
First is nuclear power. In this country, the nuclear power industry has been greatly restricted by popular opposition, and this feeds back into whether or not new avenues for nuclear power development are being pursued. The second concerns genetic modification of crops, which has become an immense issue between the United States and the European Union. The third deals with embryonic stem-cell research, which, if the present policy is pursued by the government, could turn the bases for that research to overseas, teams leaving the United States in order to have more flexibility in the conduct of that research. The recent balloting in California, which is really unprecedented, where a huge amount of money now has been approved, puts California in the forefront of embryonic stem-cell research, replacing the United States government.
Now I wonder if you have some comments on the problems at the interface. We can’t generate more research unless there is a receptivity for the products. And public understanding, both at the general level and at the policy level, is critical to whether or not we can pursue these avenues to their full potential.
MOORE: Shirley, would you address that first?
JACKSON: Sure. Let me comment primarily in the nuclear area, but I’ll make a comment about stem-cell research. As you know, there’s not been an application to build a new nuclear power plant in this country since the late ‘70s, since about 1978, and the last nuclear power plant that was licensed was licensed in about 1993, interestingly enough in Texas. And— but the issues of why nuclear power has not progressed further in this country than it has relates partly to the history of how those— that whole enterprise got started. On the corporate side, the lack of a standardization of approach to building the plants, probably a bit of over-exuberance in terms of the cost and what would come out of it. And third, that then on the non-business side, the regulatory environment early on, some felt was not strong enough, but then in the aftermath of the accident at Three Mile Island [nuclear power plant] the feeling was, it went too much the other way and kind of stifled the growth and development.
But today, the nuclear industry actually has pretty good performance and has come a long way, and there’s more consistency in terms of the performance. As a consequence, the regulatory environment and the business environment have come together in the following sense: namely, that at least for the short- to intermediate-term, what is happening, as you probably know, is the renewal of the licenses of existing nuclear reactors, and I believe there are 103 that currently still operate. And the expectation is that more than half of those, if not most of those, will seek to renew their licenses for an additional 20-year term, which would give them 60 years of operating life.
There also are some nascent efforts in the Department of Energy to look at next-generation nuclear technologies, but the actual amounts of money that are going into that are not very large. And because of that, it is not a big motivator for the universities to develop research programs, because there’s not enough to support a whole lot, and it does not motivate students a lot to study these fields. And so, without the human resources and the work on the next generation, it is difficult.
But let me just finish my comments on nuclear in this way. You know as well that a big issue has to do with spent nuclear fuel. And it has been the policy of our government for many years, although there’s a discussion about moving potentially in a different way, not to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. And as a consequence— and even if we did reprocess, there still is this consequence that one has to deal with the nuclear— high-level nuclear waste issue. And we’ve not gotten anywhere on what’s going to happen in that regard. And so I think that until and unless that occurs, it’s going to be hard to move ahead.
Now, there will be those who jump in immediately and say, Ah, but there are newer technologies on the nuclear front. And as you know, South Africa and, I believe, China, are working on the so-called pebble bed modular reactor. But that will not eliminate the creation of fission products of spent fuel. And so, in the end, whether— even if there’s a volumetric decrease in how much spent fuel there is, we still are going to have to face the issue, because I don’t believe the public will accept new nuclear plants until we’ve dealt with the spent fuel legacies of the existing fuel—
MOORE: Why don’t we ask Ben to address the genetically modified food and stem-cell portion of Dave Beckler’s question?
JACKSON: But I have a comment about stem cells as well. But let me let Secretary Wu—
WU: Well, let me just say that one of the most awkward things about working on technology policy is that the science and the technology don’t wait for the policy that needs to be developed. It moves far ahead, oftentimes far, far ahead, before the lawmakers and the policy-makers have an idea about what to do. We saw that with human cloning. We see that with genetic testing; we see that with GMOs [genetically modified organisms] and a number of other issues.
And so the goal or the— the best thing to do is try to have them moving in parallel. That’s what we’re trying to do with the National Nanotechnology Initiative. As we move with new discoveries on the nanotechnology front, in manipulating atoms on the nanoscale, we want to make sure that we have public acceptance, consumer confidence, and a regulatory and legal environment that allows for these new technologies and breakthroughs to be commercialized, because really that’s where we get our benefit from. And so the National Nanotechnology Initiative tries to do that by focusing a great deal of time and energy on all of the regulatory, legal and societal, behavioral and ethical impacts.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been that good on some of the others; in fact, that— we’ve haven’t recognized the policy needs before the science and technology has been developed. But on nano and a number of others now, we’re trying to— we’re creating challenges for science and technology enterprises in this country. We’re trying to make sure that those move in concert with each other, so that we don’t have suddenly a loss of consumer confidence or countries banning certain products just because they’re not— or they’re not sure of what’s going on. And then plus Michael Crichton’s book, “Prey,” is now being turned into a Hollywood movie, too, so who knows what the public impact is going to be on that as well?
MOORE: Shirley, on stem-cell research.
JACKSON: You know, I thought this might come up. [Laughter.] So I looked at what had happened in about the last two years on the stem-cell front, particularly with countries making commitments in areas that— and I know it’s a difficult issue— include human embryonic stem-cell research. And I came up with Sweden, Israel, China, the U.K., South Africa— which is including developing Africa’s first stem-cell bank, using umbilical cord-derived stem cells— India, France, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. And I’m sure that’s not the whole list. And so I think this is a difficult question. I’m going to accept it as such, even though I have the point of view that we have to move along the line of allowing and supporting human embryonic stem cell research. But the real question— point is, that this is an area where we do have to come to some resolution beyond where we are on the public policy [inaudible].
WU: Yeah, there’s a need to make sure that what we promote, from a science and technology standpoint, is one that we’re all comfortable with also, from a philosophical pint of view. It is also very important, too, for ultimate confidence in the way we do our business, in government, and also in terms of whatever products are created. And so trying to balance it out, especially on something that’s difficult as that issue, is— it’s tough.
But you know, I think what shouldn’t be lost sight of, is the fact that even though the president, you know, as somebody argues, should do more on stem-cell research, the fact is, he has allowed more stem-cell research than ever before. Even President Clinton didn’t do the steps that President Bush has done on stem cells.
And there isn’t a ban, only on federal funding for stem cells. I understand it’s nuanced, and it may not satisfy everybody in the scientific community, but there is at least something that— a step forward that maybe we can build upon.
MOORE: I think we have time for one more question. Right there in the aisle. Please stand and identify yourself.
QUESTIONER: Yes, Dave Ahearn with Defense Today. Dr. Jackson, as far as defense research and development, if that’s outsourced, do we have a problem— security problem? And also, if we are not competitive with other nations, can we find that the most advanced systems, weapons platforms and others, are being designed, and created, and built abroad, and that we are suffering a loss of leadership in the defense area?
JACKSON: Well, let me thank you for raising that question because that’s the other side of the coin to what we’ve been discussing. Certainly, from a national security perspective— homeland security perspective— there are certain technologies and certain types of sensitive positions that only United States citizens, in fact, can have. And that leads to a broader need to look at the talent pool issue. And so what we really have to have is a balance of being able to access talent abroad, have our own scientists able to interact with compatriots abroad, but we also need to look to develop our own science and engineering workforce. And I’m always amazed when there are these discussions that we have that we never talk about developing the domestic talent pool. And the area in which you speak is one that begs that need. And so we need to engage, to encourage, more of our young people to pursue careers in these areas, but we also need to ensure that those who traditionally have been underrepresented in these fields— namely, women and minorities— are in fact encouraged, nurtured and educated in these fields, because your point is an important one, that the whole security dimension implies an ability to maintain and develop a certain capability here.
But I will say, though, that again, because of the pace of technological change, we still need to have an ability not just to operate in isolation, but in key, sensitive technologies, then we have to have more of a U.S. focus.
WU: Yeah, I would wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Jackson’s point about the talent pool.
WU: But this issue about national security came up during Y2K [year 2000] when FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]— it was found out afterwards— had outsourced a lot of— whole chunks of their air traffic control legacy system over to India to solve the Y2K issue. And that raised some concerns, obviously, especially something as sensitive and important as a legacy system for air traffic controls. And Congress has been quick to try to address this issue, and you see it in the defense authorization bill, too, in which you’ve got language prohibiting some of the outsourcing for some of the sensitive defense projects.
MOORE: I want to, unfortunately, close this session by thanking everyone for attending. I think Shirley Jackson started us off with a set of questions, and it’s clear by this one hour that we have only begun to address the challenges that she’s raised for us here. So thank you. And I’ll look forward to seeing all of you at future meetings on this very important topic of science and technology.
JACKSON: Thank you.
WU: Thank you. [Applause.]
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