Box 5 - Major changes in American S&T policies

Americans now understand that the world has radically changed. But the paradigms on which the post-war S&T policy consensus rests are still firmly planted in many people's heads, especially in Washington, and the institutions of government that will be needed to implement a new consensus have changed hardly at all. But three major changes in the U.S. will require not only a rethinking of technology policy, but changes in institutions and new international linkages as well:

(a) Recognition that defense priorities will no longer dominate the U.S. federal government's technology policy. Instead defense must face a drastically shrunken production and weapons acquisition base, will have to increase the fraction of the defense budget devoted to exploratory development and prototyping, even as the defense R&D budget decreases. Because the technologies critical to the new force structure will increasingly fall into areas in which commercial industry is ahead of defense industry, especially the information and communications technologies, defense agencies will have to gain access to commercial technologies. This will require radical change in defense acquisition policies and practices.

(b) Recognition that progress in modern, science-based engineering depends increasingly on a publicly-provided infrastructure of basic technical knowledge, tools, materials, and facilities. Between the realms of basic science and proprietary technology there lies a large domain of public good technology, whose value in application is clear but in which firms under-invest because of low appropriability of the benefits. Much of this "infrastructural technology" supports the creation and improvement of design and process technologies. Such capabilities concurrently support military, commercial, and environmental goals. But reliance on "spinoff" from mission-oriented government R&D, on generation by hard pressed private investors, and on technology-forcing through administrative and tort law does not provide the nation with the long term capability to remain both a technological and economic leader. In short, we need a publicly supported technology base, supporting industry's capability to create technologies for all three areas of national need.

(c) Recognition that economic performance in a competitive world economy rests primarily on how well the society uses the existing base of technology, skills, and scientific understanding, and only secondarily, and accumulated over time, on annual additions to this stock of capability. It follows, then, that the government's technology policy must give much greater emphasis to the diffusion of technical knowledge and skills. The primary elements of a diffusion strategy are: aggregating, evaluating, communicating, and absorbing non-proprietary information. The primary mechanisms are through education, mobility of technical personnel, and networks (both facilities and institutions) for promoting cooperation and sharing. The states, as well as federal agencies, have major responsibilities here, especially for industrial extension services.

Lewis Branscomb, 1993.