Federal support of science and technology, combined with the research and development conducted in private industry, has enabled Americans to explore the outer realms of space, create methods to control environmental pollution and develop powerful new medicines.
By making technology R&D a national priority, the U.S. federal government has played a major role in elevating America to a leadership position in innovation and industrial productivity during much of the last half century.
But this leadership may be eroding, prompting concerns in legislative and technical circles that the United States is compromising its ability to compete in the global economy. Although President Bush has stated his commitment to restoring U.S. competitiveness through R&D funding - proposing $6 billion in the coming fiscal year and a total of $136 billion over the next 10 years - it is uncertain how much federal money will be allocated to the research community.
That's because most federal funding for science and engineering comes from the U.S. government's discretionary budget, which some members of Congress want to restrain in an effort to control the current national budget deficit, currently $400 billion.
In addition to dealing with the national deficit, lawmakers also must acknowledge the pressures that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security exert on government budgets. According to policy officials, the excessive government spending on entitlement programs leaves shortfalls in other areas, including science and technology.
Myriad technology programs are at various stages of research and development and await additional funding for maturation and refinement. Programs requiring federal support include nanotechnology, plasma physics, high-speed computing and other technologies that have the potential to revolutionize industrial development and transform the 21st century global economy.
According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, high-level federal funding of the nation's R&D initiatives is critical to U.S. prosperity and global competitiveness. ASME organizes seminars and sponsors other programs that bring together government leaders and the technical community to discuss and debate important issues and work at practical solutions.