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Research and development spending in the United States has dropped to "perilous" levels, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Science Board (NSB), the policymaking arm of the National Science Foundation.

"If trends continued, it would be fatal to the technological competitiveness of the US," says Arden Bement, a TRW Inc. vice president and co-chairman of the NSB committee on industrial support for R&D.

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The US commits 3 percent less to total R&D spending than one group of its trade competitors - Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Sweden. For nondefense industrial R&D, the US spends about 25 percent less than that group.

In addition to falling behind major trade competitors in overall R&D spending, the US allocates resources poorly, the report says. It blames bad management practices and corporate financial pressures for the R&D slowdown.

"There continues to be a steady erosion of US industrial R&D," says Roland Schmitt, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and co-chairman of the NSB committee.

"At danger is our ability to generate pioneering discoveries and pioneering inventions,' Dr. Schmitt said at a press conference announcing the report. "If you look back at the record, most of [the discoveries] that have led to new industries have come out of corporate laboratories or research universities. Both of those institutions are under stress today."

The report says that cutting the lead time for bringing new research into the marketplace is essential to keeping US industry competitive. Also, industrial R&D currently tends toward product research instead of process technologies.

"The Japanese take 25 percent less time and about 50 percent less investment to bring new products into the marketplace," Dr. Bement says.

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