In an earlier posting, I noted that the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act contained a provision requiring the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a study on the on economic competitiveness and innovative capacity of United States and develop a National Economic Competitiveness Strategy. That study is now underway with a Request for Information (RFI) issued by the Office of the Chief Economist at the Commerce Department (see the project’s website). [Update: For some reason, the project website does not link to the full request, just the notice of a correction to the email address. Here is the link to the request as published in the Federal Register.] This first RFI specifically asks for comments on the Administration’s Innovation Strategy and their A Strategy for American Innovation. [For my general comments on this document, see my earlier postings.]
The RFI also sets out a number of interesting and intriguing questions that go well beyond the scope of the strategy:
(1) Government research and development: How can the economic impacts of basic research funding (e.g., NSF, NIH) be better measured and evaluated? What methods can the Federal Government use to prioritize funding areas of basic research, both within an area of science and across areas of science? How can existing Federal government institutions (not just organizations, but also programs, policies, and laws) devoted to basic research and innovation be improved? Are there new institutions of these types that are needed to achieve national innovation goals? How could the government increase support for industry-led, pre-competitive R&D?
(2) Entrepreneurship: Through what measures can government policy better facilitate the creation and success of innovative new businesses? What obstacles limit entrepreneurship in America, and which of these obstacles can be reduced through public policy? What are the most important policy, legal, and regulatory steps that the federal government could take to expand access to capital for high-growth businesses?
(3) Intellectual Property: What are the key elements of any legal reform effort that would ensure that our intellectual property system provides timely, high quality property rights and creates the best incentives for commercial innovation? How can the intellectual property system better serve the dual goals of creating incentives for knowledge creation while also ensuring that knowledge is widely diffused and adopted and moves to its best economic and societal uses?
(4) Education: How important is catalyzing greater interest and training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields? What strategies can be most effective on this score? Can educational technologies be better utilized to this end? What are the critical opportunities and limitations to the creation and adoption of effective education technologies? How can investments in community colleges better leverage public-partnerships to better train Americans for the jobs of today and tomorrow?
(5) Incentives to innovate: How could the government better use incentives (including but not limited to procurement, Advanced Market Commitments, incentive prizes, and aggregation of demand) to promote innovation? Are there other economically-sound incentives that the government should provide?
(6) Manufacturing: What is the role of advanced manufacturing in driving American economic growth and international competitiveness, and what are the key obstacles to success at advanced manufacturing? In which manufacturing industries will our nation have comparative advantages?
(7) Exports: How could the government better assist small and medium-sized domestic firms sell their products abroad? What policies can be pursued that would help all U.S. businesses increase their exports?
(8) Implications of changes in the innovative process: In recent years, some experts have noted that the innovation process itself is changing, and that approaches such as user-driven innovation, open innovation, design thinking, combinatorial innovation, modularity, and multi-disciplinary innovation are growing in importance. What are the policy implications of these and other changes in the innovation process? Should policy makers be thinking differently about our approach to industrial organization and competition policy in light of these changes?
(9) Innovation in the services sector: What sectors of the economy have gained less from innovation in the past and–to the extent that innovation could have sustained competitiveness–what are the obstacles to their progress? What are the policy issues that are raised by the nature of innovation in the service sector?
(10) Enhancing the exchange of ideas: How can public policy better promote the exchange of ideas among market participants–that is, support ”markets for technology”–that enhance the social value of innovations? Similarly, how can the government assist in the diffusion of best practices? Given that ideas and knowledge cannot be traded as readily as are physical goods, what is the government’s role in supporting more effective markets?
By raising these questions, the project should help propel the debate on competitiveness and innovation in to new areas — areas it desperately needs to explore, such as the changing nature of innovation. I doubt the final report will be able to discuss all of these areas in any detail. But I do hope the Commerce Department will find some way to capture the richness of the coming debate. They do promise that “In the coming months, DOC will create additional opportunities for the public to comment on a range of related topics, such as those specifically identified in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act but not mentioned in the Strategy.”
I’m hoping that this is the beginning of a fruitful new discussion on our innovation and competitiveness strategy. It is long overdue.