National Academies Press: OpenBook
Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Academy of Engineering. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20840.
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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Academy of Engineering. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20840.
Page 4
Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Academy of Engineering. 1991. Technology Policy and Critical Technologies: A Summary of Recent Reports. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/20840.
Page 5

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Introduction Events of the decade of the eighties brought home to the American public the importance of successful competition in global markets to main­ taining national economic growth and standards of living. It was also diffi­ cult to escape the conclusion that technological advantage plays an impor­ tant role in the competitive success of firms. Many observers today are deeply concerned that the United States as a nation is not doing what is necessary to develop and use technological capabilities to sustain and build competitive advantage in global markets in the coming decades. There is an increasingly wide conviction that if present trends continue-if U . S . firms in key industries continue to lose world market share, and if U . S . technological capabilities continue to slip relative to those of other countries-the results will be slower national economic growth, fewer well-paying jobs, and a lower standard of living for future generations. Two distinct lines of activity have addressed these concerns in the last several years. One is a series of reports and statements on U . S . technology policy which offer recommendations to enhance the performance of U . S . technology-based industries. The other is a series o f reports that identify technologies which are widely believed to be critical for the future. These reports are the latest entrants in a 30-year public debate over the direction of U . S . technology policy. The U.S. approach to technology policy historically has had two major dimensions. One dimension has consisted of policies intended to create a favorable climate for technological innovation, including macroeconomic policies such as tax incentives, as well as support for basic research and science and engineering education. The other major dimension has consist­ ed of investments in research and development ( R&D ) related to specific federal missions. These investments have been heaviest in defense and space, but have also included such areas as agriculture, health, and energy. The private sector has been an important performer and beneficiary of the R&D performed in these areas. Since the 1 960s there have been warnings that the traditional U.S. technology policy has become inadequate. Many reports have been pub­ lished recommending that the federal government adopt a policy for strengthening technological capability in the commercial sector more broad- 3

ly. To mention just a few, these reports include the " Charpie " report of 1 967, 1 the final report on the Carter Administration's Domestic Policy Review on Industrial Innovation, 2 and the National Academy of Engineer­ ing's 1 988 report " The Technological Dimensions of International Competi­ tiveness. "3 The author has reviewed many of the reports that were pub­ lished in the 1960s and 1970s and documented the literally hundreds of policy recommendations that had been made up to that time for stimulating technological innovation and economic per£ormance.4 Despite this proliferation of reports and exercises, U.S. technology policy has changed very little. Some legislation has been passed-for exam­ ple, the National Science and Technology Policy Organization, and Priorities Act of 1976 ( P . L . 94-282), the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Innovation Act of 1 980 ( P . L . 96-480), and the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit which was passed as part of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 198 1. How­ ever, important elements of the first two pieces of legislation were never implemented by the executive branch and the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit has never been made permanent. A variety of reasons have been postulated for this failure to respond, including the nature of the U.S. politi­ cal system and the prevailing conservative political philosophy.5 Despite this history, conditions today may be riper than ever for obtain­ ing significant policy change. U.S. world market shares and relative techno­ logical capabilities have continued to erode. Governments of most coun­ tries with which U.S. industry competes have acted to support technology­ intensive industries regarded as strategic to their national economic inter­ ests. The fall of communism in many places around the world and the shift of technological leadership in many fields from the military to the civilian sector mean that national security may be linked more to economic chal­ lenges than to military threats . All these changes increase the need for a broad national technology policy for developing and using technology to promote U.S. competitiveness. To achieve this goal would require many things: development of a broader consensus on the importance of development and use of technology to com­ petitiveness, less rigid adherence to political philosophies that avoid govern­ ment intervention in the market, acceptance by the federal government of new responsibilities, formulation of policy options that could effectively and efficiently stimulate technological innovation and diffusion ( and improved analytical support for technology policy formulation), informed debate on technology policy options, consensual decisionmaking to adopt policies and establish programs, strong leadership at the highest levels of government, comprehensive and coordinated implementation of policies and programs, allocation of adequate resources, creation of new institutions or redirection of existing institutions, careful oversight and evaluation of programs, and sustained commitment to all of the above. This paper assesses the progress made toward a national technology policy that supports U.S. industrial competitiveness. It does this by review- 4

ing more than a dozen key recent reports on technology policy and critical technologies. It does not attempt to go beyond the reports to draw a more well-rounded or richer picture of the policy issues or extent of progress. Rather, drawing from the reports, it identifies areas where consensus has grown and areas where issues remain to be resolved. The paper is organized in the following manner. The first two sections briefly summarize key reports on technology policy and critical technolo­ gies, respectively, describing their origins, purposes, and contents. The third section describes issues on which consensus has grown. The fourth section describes issues which remain unresolved. The fifth section pre­ sents some evaluative comments on the papers as a group, and the sixth section suggests next steps to build on the reports. 5

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