The federal government has traditionally played an important supportive role in the development of innovative clusters around the country. Federally funded research and military procurement have been instrumental in the emergence of clusters that have formed around major research universities.3 And through legislation, such as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, Congress has encouraged universities and national laboratories to commercialize federally funded research.4 Unlike many Asian and European nations, however, the United States has traditionally not adopted explicit national policies to promote development of particular industries in specific regions.

The federal role is now evolving. In recent years, support has grown in Washington to a more direct federal role in assisting and accelerating innovation clusters around the country. In part, the impetus for change has come from a National Academy of Sciences Report, Rising Above the Gathering Strom, which warned that the United States is in danger of ceding global leadership in technology and innovation to nations with more ambitious and comprehensive policies to enhance their competitiveness.5 Citing this report, Congress in 2007 passed with bipartisan support the America COMPETES Act, which included authorization—but not funding—to boost the development of innovation clusters.6 The impetus for change has also come in response to the recent economic downturn—the most severe in decades. Recognizing clusters as important catalysts for creating good paying jobs, growing new small businesses, and forming new globally competitive industries, the government has actively sought to develop federal-regional partnerships to foster their development.7


3 For an analysis of the military role in the origins of Silicon Valley and the high-tech industry in Boston, see Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science: The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex at MIT and Stanford, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

4 The Bayh Dole Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-517, Patent and Trademark Act Amendments of 1980) permits the transfer of exclusive control over many government-funded inventions to universities and businesses operating with federal contracts for the purpose of further development and commercialization.

5 National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2007.

6 The America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69), signed by President George W. Bush on August 9, 2007, directed national laboratories owned by the Department of Energy to establish Discovery Science and Engineering Innovation Institutes to co-develop applications for technology with universities and industry. On January 4, 2011, President Barak Obama signed P.L. 111-358, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. Section 603 of this act authorizes $100 million annually for the Commerce Department to implement a “Regional Innovation Program.”

7 National Economic Council, Council of Economic Advisers, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, A Strategy for American Innovation: Securing Our Economic Growth and Prosperity, Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President, February 2011. Access at <>.

Consistent with this strategy, recent interagency clusters efforts, led by the Economic Development Administration, include the Jobs & Innovation Accelerator Challenge (implementing COMPETES Sec. 603) (<>); the i6 Challenge (<>) and the i6 Green Challenge (<>).

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