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Obama enlists Microsoft, Google execs to help in push to boost R&D spending

Schmidt and Mundie named to science and tech advisory council; Obama calls for increasing research spending in the U.S. to 3% of GDP

April 27, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama moves to increase spending on research and development in the U.S., two of the people who will help him shape the government's science and technology policies are top executives from Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc.

Obama today appointed Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. PCAST is the president's top scientific advisory body, and its 20 members include executives and academics with a wide range of business and scientific expertise.

In a speech at the National Academy of Sciences here today, Obama outlined a plan to increase overall R&D spending to more than 3% of the U.S. gross domestic product. Obama made a sweeping case for boosting research investments, citing everything from the role of science in fighting the swine flu outbreak to the ability of the U.S. to compete globally.

"We will not just meet but we will exceed the [spending] level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science," Obama said.

As a whole, the U.S. spent $368 billion, or about 2.66% of GDP, on R&D in 2007. Private-sector investments account for about 1.95 of those percentage points, which means that the government will need to get help from the corporate world in order to increase R&D spending to the level desired by Obama, said Al Teich, director of science and technology policy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Obama himself made the same point in today's speech. And one thing he wants to do to help encourage the private sector to spend more on research is to make the R&D tax credit permanent. The president has included $75 billion to fund the tax credit in his proposed budget for the next federal fiscal year.

Robert Boege, executive director at the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America, said the research community is elated with Obama's plan to boost R&D spending. "Would we be in this economic predicament that we think we are in now," he asked, "if we had made those adequate investments [in research] over the last generation? I don't have an answer, but I suspect it would be a much different world."

Boege claimed that the U.S. is losing market share in a wide variety of strategic industries and professions because the country hasn't made the necessary R&D investments. "We were asleep at the switch policy-wise," he said.

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