improved between the invention of the riding stirrup and the discovery of stealth materials and shapes. Indeed, looking back 40 years—or even 10 years—few would have predicted the technology that is available today in either the military or the civilian spheres. Further, the pace of technological progress appears to be accelerating, not stabilizing or slowing.

The relatively small fraction of U.S. citizens graduating with first degrees in a STEM field (National Science Board, 2012, p. O-7), combined with our demonstrated inability to forecast sudden increases in demand for specialized STEM workers to support national security needs, can place the nation in jeopardy.


Two fundamental changes—ironically, both are driven by advancements in science and engineering—have further complicated the above already complex situation. The first of these is the phenomenon described by Frances Cairncross: distance is dead (Cairncross, 1997). Indeed, globalization means that for many human endeavors distance is no longer significant, whether it is offshoring software development or attacking targets in Afghanistan using robots operated from Nevada. The second fundamental change is that for the first time in history individuals or small groups of individuals acting alone can profoundly impact the lives of very large groups of people.

But the revolutionary change now being experienced in both civilian and military affairs does not stop with these two groundbreaking developments. Other lesser but still profound changes affect DOD’s need to recruit and retain high-quality scientific and engineering talent. These include:

• New technological opportunities and threats that are appearing with ever-increasing frequency (National Research Council, 2012b).

• The fact that for many technologies the most advanced work is no longer being conducted in the United States (National Research Council, 2006, 2010c; Naval Research Advisory Committee, 2010),

• The further fact that for most technologies, the most advanced work is no longer being conducted within the Department of Defense or its contractor community (Defense Science Board, 2012).

• The growing hazard to U.S. security posed by failed states (U.S. Department of Defense, 2010).

• The erosion of the concept of deterrence based on possession of superior military weapons because of so-called asymmetric threats and, potentially, further nuclear proliferation (Drell, 2007; Economist, 2012).

• Inability to control knowledge because information penetrates porous geopolitical borders literally at the speed of light (National Research Council, 2006).

• Expansion of national security demands, with the real threat of conventional conflicts in places such as Korea, the Middle East, and possibly the Arctic and with the vastly different type of conflict introduced by terrorism (Jordan et al., 2009).


The increasing importance of STEM in maintaining a strong economy and providing national security makes it imperative that America have available a substantial, high-quality STEM workforce. However, as compared with the young people of many other countries, American youth seem less interested in pursuing careers in STEM fields. In the recent past this development has been substantially offset by attracting foreign-born individuals to America’s research universities and then making it possible for them to remain and contribute to America’s well-being and to their own quality of life. Of the current science and engineering workforce outside academia, one-quarter are foreign born (National Science Board, 2012, p. 3-48).

Today, more than one-half the PhD’s awarded by U.S. engineering schools go to non-U.S. citizens. Of those non-U.S. citizens who graduated with science and engineering doctorates in 2004, 38 percent had left the United States 5 years later (National Science Board, 2012, p. 3-51). The fraction of master’s degrees awarded to temporary visa holders is smaller but increasing (Figure S-1). Bachelor’s degree holders constitute half of DOD’s STEM workforce, and non-U.S. citizens have consistently earned 3 to 4 percent of U.S.-awarded bachelor’s degrees, although in certain fields, such as electrical and industrial engineering, the fraction is higher, at 9 percent (National Science Board, 2012, p. 2-22).

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