Innovation and the Obama Presidency

During his presidential campaign, President-elect Obama was quoted as saying, “America risks being left behind in the global economy: Revolutionary advances in information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and other fields are reshaping the global economy. Without renewed efforts, the United States risks losing leadership in science, technology, and innovation.” Unfortunately, the numbers corroborate words; American Federal investment in Science and engineering research has been cut in half since 1970.

Clearly President-elect Obama is aware of the dwindling level of federal money that is ending up in venues that are likely to help fuel innovation. His record in the Senate shows his awareness of technology and science-related issues, and the type of reform he is likely to enact governmentally and technologically will hopefully be a platform for innovation.

To this effect, President-elect Obama seems to be set on encouraging a degree of openness and transparency which he seems to feel the Bush Administration has lacked: “The Bush Administration has been one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history. Our nation’s progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside information -- all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest.”  Obama claims that he will be able to use technology to reverse this destructive trend, improving the exchange of information between government and citizen.

President-elect Obama and Senator Tom Coburn paired up in 2006 to make a stand for openness and equality in Washington’s technology policy (they also worked closely with McCain). The law they attempted to pass (the heralded S. 2590) hoped to “lift the veil of secrecy in Washington,” by creating a Google-like SE that would allow “ordinary Americans” to track “federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans.”

Obama has also said that he will create America’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO), as well as hatching schemes to invest tons of money in renewable energy research, stem cell research, and others. He hopes – by investing in tech, energy, and biomedical research – to create the grounds for innovation in these fields and eventually the ability to save money on healthcare, green technology, and the other sectors that will play important roles in our nation’s future.

The President-elect is bent on reforming the Bush Administration’s reputation as being one that has aggressively avoided investment in science and technology qua innovation, “Changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology.”

With the struggling economy and two foreign wars, it will be difficult for Obama to live up to his claims –at first. But I think we can be confident that behind the Obama Administration’s policy will be a philosophy that promotes (and relative to administrations past, evangelizes) research and innovation in the fields of science and technology, which we all know is integral to international competition and national welfare and progress.

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