The National Laboratories, administered by the Department of Energy, are among the crown jewels of research in the United States. These seventeen labs began as a result of the increased funding for scientific research during World War II. The most well-known lab is Los Alamos, where the research into and development of the atomic bomb took place. But there is a long list of notable scientific and technical discoveries across all the labs, including the discovery of twenty-two chemical elements, the running of thirty-two of the five hundred fastest supercomputers, the provision of computational infrastructure for the Human Genome Project, and the development of GPS.151
Each year the National Labs receive roughly $12 billion in funding and produce nearly 1,500 inventions and 700 patents.152 The labs also support the training of graduate students, with resources unavailable anywhere else, including supercomputers and equipment required to study high-energy physics, like advanced particle accelerators.
The effectiveness of the Trump administration’s management and oversight of the labs has been called into question. It has recommended a 30 percent cut in funding for the National Labs. However, the labs’ scientific track record continues to be strong, and cuts to funding would irreversibly harm the foundation these institutions provide to both national security and American technological competitiveness.
In line with this report’s recommendations, funding to the National Labs should be increased. The Department of Energy should aggressively develop and recruit leaders to invigorate the National Labs with new models of research and continue to attract the best talent.
—DJ Patil, joined by Alana Ackerson, Steven A. Denning, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, and Jerry Yang
The Task Force report keenly articulates the importance of bonds between the innovation and national security communities, but an additional emphasis on the human element is warranted. The growing civil-military divide, particularly in coastal technology hubs, has long-term implications for the United States’ ability to compete. If its public- and private-sector leaders have not walked in one another’s shoes, how can they navigate thorny issues such as the ethics of AI or collaborate closely in times of conflict?
This divide cannot be solved solely through business contracts, and the United States needs to restore opportunities for human connections between military members and technologists, with the hope that many of the latter will choose to serve in uniform for some period or at least maintain relationships with those who do.
Organizations like the Defense Digital Service and Defense Innovation Unit have done a tremendous job attracting civilians for short tours of service, but to operationalize innovation, the United States needs uniformed members to combine tech nativity with the authority inherent under Title 10.
Unfortunately, officer accessions from leading American computer science and engineering programs have dropped precipitously. In 1960, Stanford and MIT each graduated over one hundred ROTC members; today, they graduate less than a dozen per year. While these elite schools do not hold a monopoly on talent, it is concerning that the U.S. Armed Forces cannot attract a meaningful number of graduates from top institutions.
In 1980, 64 percent of members of Congress and 59 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were military veterans. Today, those numbers have fallen to 19 and 6 percent, respectively. Military service in the United States has become hereditary: according to the DOD’s reporting, 80 percent of new recruits have veterans in their extended family and 25 percent have a veteran parent. Given that less than 1 percent of the U.S. population currently serves, the United States risks its military service being dominated by a narrow class of society; similar trends have historically not contributed to democratic stability. Further, most of the United States’ military bases in major population centers, such as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, have been shuttered. As a result, nearly half of all military recruits hail from southern states.
If these trends go unchecked, the United States will lack the human bridges between innovation and national security necessary to maintain competitiveness. I submit two specific recommendations to renew those bridges:
- Reopen military bases in technology centers, such as Boston and San Francisco. The human relationships between military families and their civilian neighbors are a powerful way of exposing technologists to the military and helping cut through false narratives. This is my personal story: I was the first in my family to join the armed forces, and the fact that I grew up in a town with a large air force base is not a coincidence.
- Expand the size of the reserve component, including each branch’s reserves and the Army and Air National Guard. The flexible career paths offered by the reserve component can be quite attractive for recruits who are interested in uniformed service but also have significant private-sector opportunities.
—Raj M. Shah, joined by Alana Ackerson and Steven A. Denning
Innovation is crucial to U.S. national competitiveness and national security. The United States needs to invest significantly more in research and development, and it must do so quickly. A moonshot approach linking greater investment to solving major societal challenges will both garner the necessary public support and foster the essential precompetitive partnerships among government, industry, and academia. One of these challenges is climate change, which is now recognized by the national security establishment as a major risk. The United States used a moonshot approach to respond to the Sputnik challenge and to win the race to the moon. Now it needs a moonshot approach to save the planet, and time is running out.
Climate change is another area of research in which the United States and China share common interests and can work together to defuse escalating tensions. China has become both a formidable economic competitor and a growing national security concern for the United States. China’s goal is to become a global leader in transformative technologies like artificial intelligence, 5G, advanced semiconductors, and quantum computing, and to shape both the global economy and national security in the future. The United States can only succeed in mitigating the dangers posed by China’s industrial policies if it innovates faster. Weaponizing restrictive trade and foreign investment policies may slow China’s technological advance but will not stop it. Indeed, such an approach is likely to cause China to redouble its efforts to reduce its dependence on U.S. technology, and will certainly impose sizable costs on U.S. companies and the U.S. innovation ecosystem. Given the deep economic ties developed between the United States and China over the last thirty years, U.S. efforts to decouple the two economies to restrict China’s technological rise should proceed with extreme caution, using only selective national security restrictions on trade and investment in targeted technologies deemed essential to national security. Such restrictions should be imposed not unilaterally but in cooperation with U.S. allies and through the WTO and other global institutions.
A smart competition policy with China should be a mixture of competition and cooperation.153 During the Obama administration, the United States and China developed a constructive collaboration on climate change. Indeed, the success of the Paris Agreement was built on a bilateral U.S.-China agreement on carbon emissions targets. Tragically, the United States, by unilaterally withdrawing from the agreement, abandoned its leadership of the strongest current global effort to address the huge costs and risks of intensifying climate change and dismantled one of the most fruitful areas of U.S.-China research and technology cooperation. Fostering technological breakthroughs to stem climate change should be the focus of one of the cooperative technology partnerships or alliances recommended in this report, and the United States should invite China to participate.
Finally, it should be noted that for technologies deemed of critical importance to national security, a reliable supply chain is essential. For some products, that may mean that the United States will have to develop its own supply sources, in some cases relying on production in U.S. locations by U.S. companies or companies headquartered in allied countries. For technologies critical to national security, the United States should rethink its reliance on dual-use or multipurpose technologies developed and produced by American multinational companies that are deeply embedded in global supply chains and depend on global production facilities and trade for significant shares of their global revenues.
—Laura D’Andrea Tyson, joined by Alana Ackerson, Steven A. Denning, and Jerry Yang