By Ed Bernstein, IRI President
While sitting in a meeting about innovation on Capitol Hill, I noticed that the Congressional leaders in attendance agreed that no mechanism for establishing an innovation policy existed. I was struck by the oddness of this notion considering President Obama’s own “Strategy for American Innovation” report was issued back in 2011 and included rather clear recommendations about which policies addressed this topic. But I also saw this as an opportunity to expand the way these leaders thought about what represents innovation policy.
During the 2012 elections, IRI developed a proposal which included a call for industry and government agencies to step forward and collectively establish an Innovation Economy 2020 initiative, modeled after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Healthy People program. Healthy People 2020 is the fourth edition of their 10-year program, which began with a report titled Healthy People 1979, followed by a 1990, 2000, and 2010 metric-based program, each with similar yet gradually advancing goals. One agency appears to lead the program—HHS—but many others are involved, along with private businesses and the public at large.
My thought, then, was why Congress cannot see the potential of such a program to apply to other large, cross-discipline policy areas like innovation. The precedent already exists. Healthy People is a wildly successful initiative that is changing the way we address health in this country. With a similar concept for innovation, aptly named Innovation Economy 2020—signifying a repeatable, metric-based, 10-year initiative—our government could take the lead in transforming America alongside business, industry, academia, and the public.
Innovation Economy 2020 is not a panacea that will solve America’s problems. It is an initiative that will help create a mechanism to address the areas that concern innovation. Innovation is not one aspect of an economy that can be covered by one policy; it is an underlying structure, like “health,” which supports the economy as a whole and includes a wide array of policies stretching across departments and agencies. Innovation Economy 2020, therefore, creates a system where each element can be incorporated into a larger whole. The policy areas involved are two realms that intersect at multiple points: our workforce and our business environment.
Improving our workforce involves a change to our educational system, from the first day of kindergarten through high school graduation day and on into trade schools, military technical schools, community colleges, four-year universities, and graduate and postdoc research institutes. We need to elevate how creative and intelligent our workforce is by giving them better education, but also by offering retraining opportunities later in life.
We also need to do our best to attract and retain the best and brightest minds from around the world, which involves adjustments to our immigration laws and regulations. These are no small feats. Education and immigration policy changes will involve years of adjustments, studies, debates, and further adjustments as the system is gradually inched in the direction we need it to go. We must be patient, but we must also be vigilant in ensuring that this gets done. Innovation Economy 2020 gives us the opportunity to push and pull these realms to where we want them to go in digestible, pre-planned, and metric-based 10-year chunks.
The steps being taken to improve our workforce are only half the picture, however. We need to also emphasize the importance of producing the conditions necessary to encourage healthy business growth. This involves ideas like making the R&D tax credit permanent, more effectively opening up the federal lab system to business and industry, and enlarging small business support programs, all while continuing to foster healthy public-private relationships that can be used to minimize venture investment risk. This also includes how we regulate imports and exports and how we monitor and enforce patent protection to ensure creativity and innovation get properly rewarded.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this should not be seen as an impediment, it should be seen as a tremendous opportunity to control how our future unfolds. We can transform our economy to be forever at the cutting edge, it only takes the right leadership to step forward and recognize that this can be done under the proper policy umbrella.
Innovation Economy 2020 is that umbrella. Step into its refreshing shade.
You can read the entire recommendation involved in IRI’s Innovation Economy 2020 initiative by clicking here. You can also read IRI’s position statement on U.S. economic and technology policy, endorsed by its 200+ member companies who represent a significant portion of America’s economic and innovative output.