Former Lockheed CEO urges $40B bailout for U.S. future
Bailing out banks and automakers, homeowners and unemployed Americans must be done, but unless government pushes science and engineering innovation, the hundreds of billions of dollars it’s spending will buy nothing more than a handful of short-term Band-Aids, said a former IT executive.
Jobs must be today’s priority, former Lockheed Martin Inc. president and chief executive officer Norman Augustine said Feb. 18 in a speech to the Ballston Science and Technology Alliance. “Twenty thousand Americans lost their jobs today, and 20,000 more will lose their jobs tomorrow and every day until we stem this tide.”
But spending trillions to build bridges and dams is only a short-term solution, without “long-term solutions that deal with two other primary issues: human capital and knowledge capital,” he said. And that means putting money — $40 billion to start — into basic research, facilities, instrumentation and education, he added.
It’s an idea Augustine has espoused since well before the current economic crisis. He chaired the committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, a 2005 venture of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering. The committee produced the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report on the dire and worsening state of U.S. technology innovation and offered 20 recommendations on how to turn the trend around. The $20 billion in funding to implement the recommendations went in and then out of the 2008 federal budget, got locked out for 2009, but has found a home in the Obama administration’s stimulus package, Augustine said.
The recommendations are “not about science or engineering, although I love those things; I think they’re an end in themselves like reading Shakespeare or listening to a symphony,” he said. “But the fact is, when push comes to shove, it’s about jobs.”
Scientists and engineers comprise only 4 percent of the U.S. population, he said, but the number of jobs they create is disproportionately large for their numbers. It is their innovation and U.S. industry’s ability to turn discoveries into products and quickly market those products worldwide that will save the economy, he said.
“Americans, even though they’re not technologists, tend to take our leadership in technology for granted,” he said. “We can’t take leadership for granted; we must keep reinventing it every day.”
Educating the scientists and engineers to do so will be a prime driver toward achieving a competitive edge, he said.
Nearly 70 percent of math teachers in grades 5 through 8 don’t have degrees or certificates in mathematics, he said. “But that’s good compared with science, where 93 percent of teachers don’t have degrees in their field.” Too often, science and math are being taught by teachers virtually unschooled in the disciplines and for whom the subjects hold no interest, he said, and transmission of that joylessness tends to override learning.
“But I’m quite optimistic,” he said. “We’ve got strong support from this administration. Right after we finished the “Gathering Storm” report, I spent more than an hour briefing then-Sen. Obama. He was very supportive, he understands.”
It’s like former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said, Augustine mused, “If you don’t solve the K-12 education problem, nothing else is going to matter all that much.”
Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.