Although the United States continues to possess the world’s strongest science and engineering enterprise, its position is jeopardized both by evolving weakness at home and by growing strength abroad.71 Because our economic, military, and cultural well-being depends on continued science and engineering leadership, the nation faces a compelling call to action. The United States has responded energetically to challenges of such magnitude in the past:
Early in the 20th century, we determined to provide free education to all, ensuring a populace that was ready for the economic growth that followed World War II.
The GI Bill eased the return of World War II veterans to civilian life and established postsecondary education as the fuel for the postwar economy.
The Soviet space program spurred a national commitment to science education and research. The positive effects are seen to this day—for example, in much of our system of graduate education.
The decline of the US semiconductor manufacturing industry in the middle 1980s was met with SEMATECH, the government–industry consortium credited by many with stimulating the resurgence of that industry.
Today’s challenges are even more diffuse and more complex than many of the challenges we have confronted in our past. Research, innovation, and economic competition are worldwide, and the nation’s attention, unlike that of many competitors, is not focused on the importance of its science and engineering enterprise. If the United States is to retain its edge in the technology-based industries that generate innovation, quality jobs, and high wages, we must act to broker a new, collaborative understanding among the sectors that sustain our knowledge-based economy—industry, academe, and government—and we must do so promptly.
Note that some do not believe this is the case. See Box 3-2.