Following World War II, the U.S. national security strategy was to ensure technological superiority in all critical military capabilities. Superiority was achieved through commitments to fundamental research in science and engineering and to creating superior weapons systems. Staying ahead technologically required (1) a superior STEM workforce within DOD, its private sector contractors, and academe; (2) significant and continuous investment in research and development; and (3) the development of rapidly deployable, high-quality systems, goods, and services. Throughout the Cold War, this strategy, albeit not always perfectly implemented, proved effective because the United States had both the commitment and the resources to maintain the superior technological infrastructures and capabilities needed, and because the compelling national security mission and technical challenges attracted top STEM talent. Many new technologies were created to serve national security purposes. Remarkably, this overarching strategy did not change for nearly half a century, the longest enduring strategy in U.S. history.
However, in the 1990s a stream of global changes disrupted this strategy of complete technological superiority. Though these changes derived from different sources, they were often interrelated and carried by the irrepressible current of globalization. A major change in national and regional relationships and alliances followed the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact and the substantial expansion in the number of contributors to and customers in the global economy. Relationships between countries could be collaborative or adversarial depending on the particular issue. The Internet became the primary and inexpensive means of communication and commerce, and search engines such as Google made information freely accessible to essentially everyone worldwide, a departure from the goal of information control during the Cold War. The globalization of talent, business, and markets became the norm whereby even the smallest businesses could become global players. The rise and strength of emerging economies became significant attractors of businesses, markets, and growth in a tightly connected, interdependent global economy. China became the world’s second largest economy in 2010, 3 years after a prediction published in Rising Above the Gathering Storm that it would occur 10 years hence in 2016 (NAS, NAE, IOM, 2007, Figure 9.1 and p. 206). Accelerating change shortened the life cycle of goods, services, and knowledge and pressed industry to move products to the marketplace more quickly, placing a premium on having a workforce prepared with needed capabilities. Accelerating change required the military to respond more quickly, more often, and in new ways to combat new and often unknown, non-state adversaries.
Since the 1990s, scientific and technological developments for national security are increasingly not located in the United States (National Research Council, 2009; NRAC, 2010). The United States and DOD do not control
all of the technology used for military purposes. In fact, this technology is increasingly originating in commercial endeavors. The news media remind us almost daily that information, even ostensibly secure information, can no longer be controlled reliably.
The United States does not lead in all areas of science and technology, and it may not be possible to regain that leadership. The impact factor of research publications has long been held up as an indicator of a nation’s leadership in science and technology. After ranking first globally in research publication impact for decades, the United States slipped to third in 2011, following the United Kingdom and Germany (Figure 1-1) despite maintaining the highest national investment in research (Marshall and Travis, 2011). The 2010-2011 World Economic Forum in Davos ranked the U.S. economic competitiveness fourth among 139 countries after it had ranked second a year earlier and first a year before that (World Economic Forum, 2010, pp. 21 and 421). The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation ranked the United States sixth in global innovation and competitiveness in 2009, down from first in 1999 and earlier (Atkinson and Andes, 2009).
In 2008 the percentage of engineering graduates among all university graduates in the United States remained among the lowest in the world, at 4.4 percent. The percentages of engineering graduates in some other countries are as follows: Germany (12 percent), U.K. (6 percent), Finland (15 percent), France (14 percent), China (31 percent), Japan (17 percent), S. Korea (25 percent), Taiwan (24 percent), Israel (10 percent), Russia (10 percent), and Singapore (34 percent). The global average percentage of engineering graduates among the 93 countries shown in an analysis by the National Science Foundation (NSF) (National Science Board, 2012, Appendix Table 2-32) is 13 percent, three times the U.S. rate. Among all 93 countries in the referenced NSF data, Mozambique most closely resembles the United States, with engineering graduates at 4.5 percent and science and engineering graduates at 32 percent. Only 14 countries in the NSF analysis graduate a lower percentage of engineers than the United States: Bangladesh, Brunei, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Cuba, Gambia, Guyana, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland.
Since WWII, attracting the very top students from abroad to enroll in U.S. graduate programs and then stay on in the United States to develop their engineering careers has largely compensated for the shortfall in U.S.-born
FIGURE 1-1 Global research publication impact.
NOTE: Counts are national averages and are normalized to the average number of citations in the respective research discipline.
SOURCE: Marshall and Travis (2011).
engineering talent available to the workforce. The United States was able to attract the most qualified international talent by being the most technologically advanced country, by having a growing economy, by possessing a disproportionate share of the world’s finest research universities, and by committing to a world-leading higher education and research culture with strong financial support by the U.S. government (e.g., through research assistantships, funding for basic research, and support for research equipment). With less than 5 percent of the global population but a quarter of its economy, the United States had the rare opportunity to attract the very best of the global science and engineering talent pool to its workforce, and it capitalized on this remarkable, though unsustainable, circumstance. In 2006 the most likely undergraduate alma mater of a U.S. PhD graduate in science and engineering was Tsinghua University in Beijing, followed closely by Peking University (Mervis, 2008). The University of California, Berkeley, ranked third after having held first place for all earlier rankings. Ranked a close fourth, and rising rapidly, was Seoul National University in Korea. In 2010, the most recent year for which data were available, Berkeley had regained the top spot, principally because students from Tsinghua and Beijing Universities, graduating the top students in China, are not enrolling in U.S. PhD programs as they did earlier (Figure 1-2). The 2010-2011 World Economic Forum ranked the U.S. undergraduate higher education system 26th out of 139 countries and secondary education in mathematics and science 52nd (World Economic Forum, 2010, pp. 21 and 421).
The United States is no longer the beneficiary of uncompetitive higher education and job opportunities abroad that had earlier inspired large numbers of international students and scholars to come to and remain in America. As the standards of higher education and job opportunities abroad continue to rise, the competition in recruiting top talent to the United States can only increase. The emerging economies of China and India now offer attractive opportunities for wealth and professional growth for scientists and engineers. International universities and businesses are recruiting international students (and faculty) with first-class research facilities and opportunities, a force with which the United States has never had to compete. And while the numbers of students from India and China coming to the United States for graduate study remain high (Figure 1-3) and while they often pay their own way, a look below the surface shows that those attending U.S. universities are no longer at the very top of their national talent pool as they once were.1 Attractive opportunities in other countries have made recruitment of the top talent a competitive challenge that the United States did not face in the past.
An April 2011 report from the Kauffman Foundation (Wadhwa et al., 2011) points to indicators that Indian and Chinese residents in the United States are returning home in increasing numbers because of economic opportunities, access to local markets, and family ties. The Chinese Ministry of Education estimated that the number of overseas returnees to China in 2009 increased 56 percent over the previous year, and in 2010 the number increased another 33 percent over 2009 to a global total of 134,800 (China Daily, 2010, 2011). Over 80 percent of Chinese returnees and 70 percent of Indian returnees indicated that the opportunity to start a business was more favorable at home than in the United States. Many other countries, such as Taiwan, Singapore, and Ireland, are recruiting high-quality S&T talents from abroad.
The challenges for the United States in the 21st century environment outlined above are significant, though until recently the U.S. public and government tended to look inward and did not show evidence of comprehending the seriousness of such challenges.
In this rapidly changing world, the technologies of importance to the military are created globally in increasing numbers, including those widely employed in U.S. weapons systems. The development of a weapons system— including all components, tools, and raw materials—entirely in the United States is uncommon if not altogether nonexistent. Efforts to predict the technologies that will be most needed by the military beyond the near term have always been unreliable. Resource limitations and the expanding range of S&T developments globally will nonetheless require DOD to select the S&T areas where it will maintain technological superiority. However, it will also be important for DOD to retain the capacity to ramp up programs quickly to become competitive in
1 For example, the number of graduates from India’s premier technical university, the Indian Institutes of Technology, who seek graduate study and research opportunities in the United States declined from 80 percent in 1997 to just 16 percent in 2011. See the Times of India (2011).
FIGURE 1-2 Baccalaureate origins of PhDs from the largest feeder schools, 2001-2010.
SOURCE: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, National Science Foundation.
emerging areas by making targeted R&D investments to maintain core competencies and to be highly adaptable in its management practices.
The environment for the DOD STEM workforce, including its military and civilian employees and its private sector contractors, has changed radically since 1991 and the end of the Cold War. During the nearly half-century of the Cold War, the DOD STEM workforce took on the clear and compelling national security mission to maintain technological superiority in weapons and military systems. National security was widely accepted and supported as the highest priority for the United States. No other national issue has galvanized public support over such an extended period. The national security mission attracted a career-committed workforce with the highest technical
FIGURE 1-3 Foreign graduate students enrolled in S&E fields, 2009.
SOURCE: National Science Board (2012), Appendix Table 2-24.
FIGURE 1-4 Total budget authority of DOD military programs, 1985-2009 (in constant 2005 dollars).
NOTE: Includes base budget and overseas contingency operations.
SOURCE: OMB historical tables. Available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/budauth.xls.
capabilities and devotion to the security challenge. Because the newest technologies often served national security needs, the technical work itself attracted STEM employees of the highest technical capabilities.
The culture of the DOD STEM workforce during the Cold War was set by the widely understood, long-standing foundation of continuous national support, workforce stability, workforce quality, technical challenge, and national service. Those recruited to the workforce knew what to expect and what was expected of them. That stable foundation was disrupted by the stream of global changes noted above following the Cold War. The United States shifted national priorities toward domestic and social issues rather than foreign policy, and within foreign policy toward economic rather than political and military issues (Auger, 1997). Some of the concerns that received increasing attention included the demands of expanding populations for social services, the decline of the industrial base, the retraining of the workforce, the rebuilding of cities, the provision of clean, affordable energy, the protection of the environment, needed attention to addressing race, gender, and class inequalities, and the ability to compete in international markets (Crotty, 1995). Military spending declined substantially between 1985 and 1993, remained relatively flat until 1999, and then increased dramatically following the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 (Figure 1-4). The reductions in DOD workforce and programs in the early 1990s signaled a transition to a new, as yet undefined culture for DOD S&T and its workforce, with a recent study finding that in the Air Force “career fields requiring a STEM degree may have experienced below-average retention or promotion rates” (National Research Council, 2010). The recession of 2008, the ongoing troop withdrawals from the Middle East, and the current national debt crisis will result in substantial DOD budget and program reductions, thereby adding uncertainty to the new culture for DOD S&T and the DOD STEM workforce.
The greatest emerging threat to U.S. national security today is not as universally apparent and as compelling as the possibility of thermonuclear war was during the Cold War. The possible future adversaries, their geographical region, and the type and the scale of conflicts are also less certain. The stability of the adversary, the technical challenges, and the compelling mission that characterized the national security culture throughout the Cold War do not characterize today’s environment. Adaptability has replaced stability for today’s challenges in workforce preparation and technical focus.
This study by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Research Council (NRC) was requested by the Honorable Zachary J. Lemnios, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Over an 18-month period, the NRC’s Committee on STEM Workforce Needs for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Defense Industrial Base (Appendix A) convened four meetings dedicated in part to open, information-gathering sessions and two closed meetings dedicated to deliberation and writing. Among the former was a workshop held on August 1 and 2, 2011, in Rosslyn, Virginia, to gather a broad range of views from the public and private sectors, including major defense contractors and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), all of whom are stakeholders in the future STEM workforce. A report issued in November 2011 summarized the views expressed by individual workshop participants. An interim report was issued in June 2012 for the purpose of assisting the ASD(R&E) with its fiscal year (FY) 2014 planning process and with laying the groundwork for future years (National Research Council, 2012). Overall, this 18-month study has assessed the STEM capabilities that DOD needs in order to meet its goals, objectives, and priorities; to assess whether the current DOD workforce and strategy will meet those needs; and to identify and evaluate options and recommend strategies that the department could use to help meet its future STEM needs. The statement of task for the study is given in Box 1-1.
A joint National Academy of Engineering (NAE)-National Research Council (NRC) study committee will assess the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) capabilities that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) needs to meet its goals, objectives, and priorities; assess whether the current DOD workforce and strategy will meet those needs; and identify and evaluate options and recommend strategies that the department could use to help meet its future STEM needs.
The study work scope will involve five major tasks:
- Review the current and projected STEM workforce demands over the next five years relevant to DOD needs and to the needs of the industrial base supporting DOD programs and missions, including an overview by science and engineering discipline, quality, and skill level.
- Provide an assessment of current limitations to meeting these needs over the next five years and an analysis of observations by recognized experts on the forces shaping limitations on future needs.
- Review alternative options for overcoming identified limiting factors and other impediments to fulfilling near-term DOD STEM needs.
- Identify emerging science and technology fields that will likely have significant impact on the DOD and national needs over the next 5-15 years and where targeted national investments could have the most impact on developing human resources in the identified fields.
- Provide an overview and analysis of expert views on the capacity of the nation’s higher education enterprise in meeting the necessary scale and scope of the STEM workforce needs for DOD and the U.S. defense industrial base.
The study committee will convene a two-day public workshop on U.S. defense-related workforce needs. The workshop will feature invited expert presentations and discussions. The committee will develop the workshop agenda, select and invite speakers and discussants, and moderate the discussions. Experts to be invited to participate in the workshop will be drawn from the membership of prior NRC studies and related activities, the public and private sectors, and from academic organizations. Following the conclusion of the workshop, a summary report of the event will be prepared by the committee. There will be one administrative progress report and one interim report, as well as a final consensus report based on the committee’s work on the five study tasks, including the information presented in the workshop.
The balance of this report is organized as follows: Chapter 2 discusses rapidly evolving areas of science and engineering having potential for significant impact on DOD planning and operations. Chapter 3 elucidates trends in the overall STEM labor force and discusses most likely future scenarios for DOD. Chapter 4 discusses the limitations faced by DOD and the industrial base in meeting its STEM workforce needs. Chapter 5 discusses the educational institutions that feed and maintain DOD’s STEM workforce and some impediments DOD faces within this enterprise. Lastly, Chapter 6 offers a perspective on ensuring an adequate workforce capability in an uncertain future.
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