Six U.S. senators support a plan to introduce legislation to promote innovation by providing science and engineering fellowships and research and development (R&D) funding, among other things.
John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat with support announced by four other senators will propose legislation that establishes 5,000 science and engineering fellowships, redirects 3 percent of government agency R&D spending to specific areas of research and provides automatic green cards for graduate engineering students, the senators said Wednesday.
The proposed legislation comes from an agenda presented by the Council on Competitiveness (COC) in December last year, The National Innovation Initiative is supported by IT and university executives, including IBM Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sam Palmisano, BellSouth's CEO, Duane Ackerman and Stanford University President John Hennessy.
The initiative defines innovation as "the intersection of invention and insight, leading to the creation of social and economic value."
With backing from the senators, COC President Deborah Wince-Smith, said she expects to see some of the key elements of the initiative translated into federal law next year.
A top priority for COC is the issue of "portable fellowships" for graduate students, which means a student has control of the fellowship and can choose where to study and with whom, as opposed to the current system, which is linked to individual schools and professors.
The council also recommends investment in multidisciplinary research. "We want to increase the overall amount of investment in basic research and development in this country. We want to, very importantly, refocus it to high-risk exploratory research," Wince-Smith said.
The senators will further propose an "Innovation Acceleration Grant" that would redirect government R&D spending into research that is riskier. They are also suggesting that the Department of Defense restore its "historic commitment" to research and reallocate at least 3 percent of the total budget for defense science and technology. Within that amount, at least 20 percent should be moved to long-term, basic research conducted at U.S. universities and national laboratories. The Department of Defense used to conduct more basic research, Wince-Smith said.
Lieberman and Ensign are spearheading the legislation process. Tennessee Republican and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar; Virginia Republican George Allen, and Nevada Democrat Harry Reid have all said they support the initiative.
The Council on Competitiveness was founded in 1986 by corporate chief executives, university presidents and labor leaders as a response to American industries losing market share to international competitors. The organization, based in Washington, D.C., regularly publishes benchmarking studies and statistics on U.S. competitiveness and also works on initiatives to build education and training programs at universities.