Technology Lag in America

January 5, 1972

Report Outline
Concern over Status of U.S. Technology
Federal Support for Science Activity
Directions for Technology in Seventies
Special Focus

Concern over Status of U.S. Technology

Fear of Slippage in U.S. Superiority; Nixon Plan

American leadership in science and technology has been accepted almost without question since World War II. Salk vaccine, the digital computer and the moon landings are proof of the scope and vitality of research and development in the United States. Yet the argument is growing that the U.S. leadership is slipping away, jeopardizing American trade and prestige abroad. There is now a broadly based effort, centered in the White House, to revitalize the research establishment. President Nixon has promised to recommend “new tax proposals for stimulating research and development of new industries and technologies” this month, possibly in his State of the Union address to Congress. The President stressed the need for greater research in his economics statement of Aug. 15. After the return of the Apollo 15 astronauts, Nixon told Congress Sept. 9 that “the remarkable technology that took these Americans to the moon can be applied to reaching our goals here on Earth.” Business technology will be one of four major topics discussed at a White House Conference on The Industrial World Ahead, planned for Feb. 9–11.

To coordinate the effort, Nixon appointed William Magruder, formerly manager of the Supersonic Transport project, as a special consultant in charge of the New Technology Opportunities Program. John Pierson, writing in The Wall Street Journal of Dec. 14, 1971, said the program “could become the centerpiece of Mr. Nixon's election-year domestic strategy.” Still under study is how government will promote scientific endeavor—whether through tax cuts, loans, grants, or cost-sharing proposals.

Debate on a science policy has been sharpened in recent months with concern over the nation's first deficit since 1893 in its foreign trade—$1.7 billion for the first 11 months of 1971. There is also concern over slow economic growth and heavy unemployment among scientists and engineers. Nicholas Wade of Science magazine believes these factors will probably lead to “a significant effort by the administration to invigorate the national R & D [research and development] enterprise” during 1972. According to many observers, it is high time that something was done.

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