Earlier this week, the House Science and Technology Committee began hearings for kick off the reauthorization of the America COMPETES ACT. The first hearing had representatives from the Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Council on Competitiveness. All of them supported reauthorization. So did the ranking Republican on the Committee. Thus, it looks like this may move forward in a bipartisan fashion–as the original bill did. One part of the testimony of the head from the Council on Competitiveness, Debra Wince-Smith, especially resonated:
The Council on Competitiveness strongly urged the creation of a President’s Council on Innovation and the legislation included such a provision, yet the reality has not matched the intent. What became clear as we sought the input and advice from leaders within government and the private sector was that the government’s innovation policy was fragmented, poorly coordinated and often running at cross purposes between agencies and departments. We would urge a fresh look at this provision.
The utilization of this Council is something that I have been advocating for some time (see Crafting an Obama Innovation Policy).
The President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness (PCIC) was created by Section 1006 of the America COMPETES Act of 2007 as a mechanism to “develop a comprehensive agenda for strengthening the innovation and competitiveness capabilities of the Federal Government, State governments, academia, and the private sector in the United States.” The statutory Chair of the Council is the Secretary of Commerce and is made up of the heads of 16 departments and agencies (a nonexclusive list).
As the House S&T Committee summary of America COMPETES Act puts it, the legislation “establishes a President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness (akin to the President’s Council on Science and Technology).” It is important to note use of the phrase “akin to.” The intent was clear that this Council would be a high-level activity.
However, subsection (e) of the bill allows the President to delegate the responsibilities of the Council to an existing entity. In early April 2008, President Bush delegated this responsibility to the Committee on Technology (CoT) of the National Science and Technology Committee (NSTC) in OSTP – which established it as a Subcommittee. While the NSTC is a Cabinet-level organization, neither the CoT nor its subcommittees are “principles” committees. In other words, the issue of innovation and competitiveness was relegated to a subcommittee of a committee of a committee.
Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has not activated this Council or changed the Executive Order. It might be a good idea for the House S&T Committee take up Ms. Wince-Smith’s advice and “take a fresh look at this provision.” One change should be to designate the President as Chairman, similar to the NSTC, and make the Vice President a member.
But we don’t have to wait for legislation to do this. The President could make these changes and get PCIC up and running with the stroke of a pen (through a new Executive Order).
We need to be crafting the next generation innovation policy. That was the explicit charge to the PCIC. In an earlier posting, I outlined the tasks PCIC needs to take on to craft such a policy. But first of all, the Administration needs to activate the Council–now!