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Intellectual Security in the 21st Century

Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

National Intelligence Council/U.S. Department of State
Airlie Conference Center
Warrenton, Virginia

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Convergences always create the most powerful effects — either for good or for ill. There are convergences in two arenas which set the stage for my remarks this evening. One, which is at the heart of my remarks — and which has been the subject of your prior discussions — is the Quiet Crisis — the workforce issues as described in "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," the National Academies' recently released report.

The second, which provides a context for your deliberations, is Energy Security, which lends a special urgency to the need to address the first.

Energy security is, perhaps, one of the greatest global challenges. In the past 35 to 40 years, worldwide energy consumption has nearly doubled, driven by population growth, rising living standards, invention of energy-dependent technologies, and consumerism. Energy consumption has grown nearly everywhere, with the most dramatic percentage increases in China and the rest of Asia. Coal usage has decreased marginally, but consumption of every other major energy source has increased markedly. Electricity use has nearly tripled.

If these trends continue, global energy consumption will be almost 60 percent higher in 2030 than it is now, and will double by mid-century. With global energy demand rising exponentially, the global quest, by the world's nations, for energy sources is expected to become ever more urgent.

Fossil fuels dominate, and are expected to continue to dominate the energy scene — accounting for about 85 percent of the increase in demand or consumption. Yet, the changing geopolitics of access to fossil sources drives an urgent need to diversify.

This diversification requires innovation — in technologies for discovery, extraction, refinement, and transportation for fossil sources, innovation in conservation, and innovation in the development and use of alternative energy sources.

There are many new technologies under consideration, such as hydrogen based fuel cells and hydrogen as a direct fuel, and methane hydrate, a frozen lattice-like substance, huge amounts of which underlie our oceans and polar permafrost.

A key existing — and evolving — technology is nuclear power, which currently generates about 16 percent of global electricity. In some nations — France, Lithuania, Belgium, Slovakia, and Sweden — it accounts for the substantial portion of electricity generation. But, it is Asia where nuclear expansion is centered — of the 25 reactors under construction worldwide, 17 are located either in China (including Taiwan), South Korea, North Korea, Japan, or India. Twenty of the last 30 reactors completed are in the Far East and South Asia.

Nuclear power accounts for about 20 percent of U.S. electrical generation. Growing concern for national energy security and independence has led to a resurgence of interest in nuclear power generation. Already four companies — SCANA, Dominion Resources, Duke energy, and TVA, among others — have all indicated an intent to seek licenses for nuclear plants, some on existing sites, such as TVA at the Bellefonte site in Hollywood, Alabama, and some on de novo sites.

The contextual convergence, then, is the resurgent interest in nuclear power, worldwide, against the backdrop of increasing nuclear proliferation concerns.

Humankind has had nuclear energy, including weapons, in its grasp for roughly 60 years. In that short span, what we have witnessed?

  • Five recognized nuclear weapons states.
  • The enactment of, and near-universal subscription to, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
  • The development of nuclear weapons by India, Pakistan, Israel, and (presumably) North Korea.
  • The Cuban missile crisis.
  • The renunciation of nuclear weapons programs by South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and other countries.
  • Countless changes of government on multiple continents.
  • The break-up of the USSR.
  • Multiple regional conflicts, some festering for decades.
  • The early 1990s discovery of a clandestine nuclear weapons program in Iraq — a full-fledged member of the NPT.

Turn the clock forward. Consider events of just the past five years:

  • A leap forward in the sophistication of terrorist networks — evidenced most dramatically in the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York City;
  • The war in Iraq, following an impasse at the UN Security Council over suspicions of Iraq's renewed development of weapons of mass destruction;
  • North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT, and announcement of its possession of nuclear weapons.

All of this leads one to postulate a few questions:

  • What prevents an armed theft of highly enriched uranium (HEU) at one of the 99 research reactors around the world with HEU enriched to 90% or greater uranium-235 (i.e., weapons-grade)?
  • Given that Libya obtained nuclear weapons blueprints on a compact disc, and given the enthusiasm of black-market merchants, why should we be confident that those plans were not copied and shared with other countries and sub-national groups?
  • Why should we have any assurance that the political upheavals of the next two, three, or four decades will not result in acquisition and use of a nuclear weapon by an extremist group?

An even more fundamental question is:

  • With the rapid pace of technology morphing from discipline to discipline, what is the likelihood that, based on one of several next generation wireless technologies, a nuclear weapons control system could be hacked, leaked, or even sabotaged by a disgruntled "insider"; or an outsider, for that matter?

With recent history as a backdrop, and with these and other scenarios as potential future challenges, the critical question is — how do we ensure that we will stay ahead of the game, look in all the right places, catch up with catastrophes before they happen, and apply limited resources to areas of greatest risk?

This requires new technological tools . . .

But, fundamentally, it requires people . . . .

A few weeks ago, I spoke to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) workshop on new technologies for safeguards, which brought this convergence clearly to the fore. Even the IAEA is facing challenges with respect to its workforce.

For a decade or more, the IAEA safeguards workforce has been aging. While the number of inspectors and other professionals has increased, the percentage of those between age 55 and the mandatory retirement age of 62 has increased disproportionately. Over the same period, the percentage of IAEA inspectors holding science and engineering doctorates has decreased — from 32 percent in 1985 to 18.6 percent in 2000. And, recruitment is getting harder. A smaller pool of candidates with the necessary expertise means that the IAEA must compete with governments and private enterprise to hire individuals with the proper skills, despite offering inferior compensation packages, long hours, and hectic travel schedules.

These trends come at a time when the scrutiny of the work of the IAEA has increased, and where technological advances, new policies (most notably the Additional Protocol to comprehensive safeguards agreements), and even globalization have added additional burdens of specialization and scope. The inspector of yesterday headed to the field with a calculator, a notepad, a few seals, a few rolls of film, and an Improved Cerenkov Viewing Device (ICVD). The inspector of today carries a GPS device, a digital camera, a laser tool for precision measurements, and a universal radiation detector. But more importantly, the nature of the inspection and the sheer volume of information to be digested have changed.

The challenge in the United States is not dissimilar to that of the IAEA, and the effects are being felt throughout all government and corporate sectors:

  • Impending retirements of a large portion of our skilled science and technology professionals;
  • Global economic forces, and new U.S. visa policies, have combined to make universities and jobs elsewhere attractive to the foreign-born students and scientists, who traditionally have come here to study and, then, have joined our science and engineering enterprise;
  • American students are not sufficiently engaged in science and engineering study to replace those who will retire. The decline in graduates, increasingly, is felt in industry and in government, and in the university sector, I might add.
  • U.S. demographics have changed, creating a "new majority," comprised of women and minority and ethnic groups traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering. This is the talent pool we also must tap for the next generation of scientists and engineers, while spurring the interest of all of our young people.
  • Government investment in basic research has declined by half since 1970 as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP).

This convergence of trends comprise what I have termed "The Quiet Crisis" — a "Gathering Storm" — which is threatening American innovation, and the vitality of our economy, upon which rests our quality of life, our national security, and the world we will leave to our children.

I have spoken, publicly, to this issue over the past four years, saying that we must have a national conversation to develop a national strategy and approach, and the national will to make it happen. That conversation has begun, as evidenced by your presence here, today.

It is evidenced by a report released late last year by the Council on Competitiveness, deriving from its National Innovation Initiative. That report declared that "innovation will be the single most important factor in determining America's success through the 21st century...", and that ..."over the next quarter century, we must optimize our entire society for innovation..." Not mincing words, the Council's "Call to Action" was subtitled "Innovate or Abdicate."

It is evidenced by a report released four months ago by fifteen of the nation's most prominent corporate chief executive officers — spearheaded by the Business Roundtable, entitled Tapping America's Potential: The Education for Innovation Initiative. The report expressed "our deep concern about the United States' ability to sustain scientific and technological superiority through this decade and beyond. To maintain our country's competitiveness in the 21st century, we must cultivate the skilled scientists and engineers needed to create tomorrow's innovations."

The report's goal — printed on the front cover — is to "Double the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics graduates in the next ten years," and, that the issue be a national priority, supported by national and state investments in research and innovation to strengthen U.S. competitiveness in the worldwide economy.

It is evidenced by federal agencies with a stake in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, especially the U.S. Departments of Education, Homeland Security, Commerce, Labor, Energy, and Defense. In August, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Michael W. Wynne, speaking to the DARPA Systems and Technology Conference — "DARPA Tech" — noted that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), along with the vast defense industry, must fill vacant STEM positions with top secret "cleared" or "clearable" STEM professionals [i.e. U.S. citizens], and readily acknowledges that it is increasingly difficult to do so. Nearly one in three DoD civilian science, technical, engineering, and mathematical employees is eligible to retire. In seven years, nearly 70 percent of will be of retirement age. Replacing them is a real challenge.

Further confirmation of defense-related needs is presented in a very recent report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), entitled "Waiting for Sputnik!"

STEM workforce adequacy is inextricably linked with two additional key factors. The first is funding for basic research. While the U.S. still spends more money than any other nation on research and development, as a percentage of GDP, spending for basic science research in physics, mathematics, computer sciences and engineering has decreased steadily since 1970. Overall, U.S. research spending has been stagnant, while other nations are increasing their research capabilities. China, for instance doubled its research spending from 1995 to 2005.

Fiscal year (FY) 2006 began on October 1, but as this audience knows the FY 2006 budget is far from finished, and the prospects for federal research and development (R&D) funding are uncertain. The burgeoning costs of responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have not only delayed the FY 2006 appropriations process but have also set off a scramble to find offsetting domestic spending cuts that could hit R&D programs. At the moment most R&D funding agencies are likely to receive flat funding or modest increases falling short of inflation. One bright spot may be the inclusion of a Senate approved amendment to the FY 06 Department of Defense appropriations bill that would increase the DOD SMART/National Defense Education Program by $10 million and provide an additional $30 million for university-based competitive research programs in the Army, Navy, and Air Force University Research Initiatives (URIs) and to the DARPA University Research Program in Computer Science and Cybersecurity. This bill is now in conference.

The second key factor is educational excellence. We need:

  • Individuals with strong analytical skills, who can understand and solve complex problems;
  • Individuals with multicultural understanding, who can operate in a global context; and
  • Individuals with intellectual agility, who can see connections across a broad intellectual milieu.

These are important educational outcomes, if we are to tap the complete talent pool — domestically and globally. We must educate our own students for excellence — to become technologically sophisticated individuals who will function effectively in the global arena, and who can work on behalf of our government abroad.

On the other hand, international students and scientists, attracted to study and to work here, learn our culture, become our friends, and often return home to positions of leadership in their governments and leading commercial enterprises. We need these people.

Rising Above the Gathering Storm
At their joint meeting last winter, the Councils of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering discussed their concern over the steady weakening of science and technology in the U.S. — expressed repeatedly by corporate CEOs, university presidents, members of Congress, Cabinet secretaries, governors, Nobel Laureates, labor leaders, and scientists, mathematicians, engineers, researchers, and educators on prestigious commissions and panels, and individually.

In May, the National Academies received bipartisan requests, from Senators Lamar Alexander and Jeff Bingaman, with the endorsement of the leadership of the House Committee on Science, to identify top actions federal policy makers could take so the U.S. can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the 21st century.

With unusual urgency, the National Academies gathered top U.S. science, business, and educational leaders. Led by Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, the committee met over a single summer weekend. The committee began by identifying two key challenges which are inextricably linked to scientific engineering prowess — creating high-quality jobs for Americans, and responding to the nation's need for clean, affordable, reliable, and secure energy.

Gathering data and communicating electronically, committee members completed the report within a matter of weeks — yet adhering to regular National Research Council procedures, including review by 37 experts, customary reference to scientific literature, and consensus committee member views and judgments.

The result is "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," which makes four recommendations supported by 20 specific implementation actions. The four recommendations focus on K-12 research, higher education, and economic policy. Let me review them, briefly, for you.

One: Ten Thousand Teachers, Ten Million Minds
Increase America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education. Actions proposed include:

  • Annually recruit 10,000 teachers; Educate 10 million minds:
    • Competitive 4-year, merit-based scholarships for BS in sciences, engineering, or math with concurrent K-12 science & math teacher certification in exchange for 5 years public service teaching in K-12 public schools.
  • Strengthen 250,000 current teachers' skills:
    • Summer institutes, Master's programs, AP/IB (Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate) training.
  • Enlarge the Pipeline:
    • Create opportunities and financial incentives for pre-AP/IB and AP/IB science and math courses,
    • Statewide specialty high schools,
    • Summer institutes and research opportunities for inquiry-based learning.

Two: Sowing the Seeds
Sustain and strengthen the nation's traditional commitment to the long-term basic research which has the potential to be transformational, maintaining the flow of new ideas that fuel the economy, provide security, and enhance the quality of Life. Actions proposed include:

  • Increase federal investment in long-term basic research:
    • 10 percent per year over next 7 years for physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, information sciences, and DOD basic research funding.
  • Provide early-career researcher grants
    • 200 grants at $100,000 per year over 5 years.
  • Institute a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure:
    • $500 million per year over 5 years, for universities and government laboratories.
  • Catalyze high-risk, high-payoff research
    • Technical program managers allocated 8 percent federal research agency budgets for discretionary spending.
  • Create ARPA-E:
    • A DARPA-like agency within the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Institute Presidential Innovation Award
    • Identify and recognize persons who develop unique scientific and engineering innovations in the national interest.

Three: Best and Brightest
Make the United States the most attractive setting in which to study, perform research, and commercialize technologic innovation so that we can develop, recruit, and retain the best and the brightest students, scientists, and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world. Actions proposed include:

  • Increase US citizens earning science, engineering, and math degrees:
    • 25,000 new 4-year undergraduate scholarships per year.
    • Increase U.S. citizens in graduate study in areas of national need.
    • 5,000 new portable graduate fellowships per year.
  • Encourage continuing education of current scientists and engineers: Federal tax credits to employers.
  • International students and scholars
    • Less complex visa processing and extensions.
    • New PhDs in Science and Engineering: 1-year automatic extension and (if they find work) automatic work permit and expedited residency status.
    • Skills-based, preferential immigration points system to prioritize US citizenship; Increase H1B visas by 10,000.
  • Reform "deemed exports" policy: Allow access to information and research equipment except those under national security regulations.

Four: Incentives for Innovation
Ensure that the United States is the premier place in the world to innovate, invest in downstream activities, and create high-paying jobs that are based on innovation by modernizing the patent system, realigning tax policies to encourage innovation, and ensuring affordable broadband access. Actions proposed include:

  • Enhance intellectual property (IP) protection for global economy, while allowing research:
    • Sufficient resources for Patent and Trademark Office.
    • Institute "first-inventor-to-file" system and administrative review after patent granted.
    • Shield research uses of patented inventions from infringement liability.
    • Change IP laws that impact industries differently.
  • Increase Research and Experimentation tax credit from 20 percent to 40 percent of qualifying increase.
  • Provide financial incentives for U.S.-based innovation. Corporate tax rates, purchase of high tech R&D equipment, capital gaines treatment, long-term innovation investments.
  • Affordable broadband access.

The National Academies committee remains, "deeply concerned that the scientific and technical building blocks of our economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength." A world-wide strengthening would benefit the world's economy — particularly in the creation of jobs in countries which are far less well-off than the United States.

And, there remains concern about the future prosperity of the United States. Because the nation has led with preeminence for so long, it is easy to assume that U. S. will always be a world leader in science and technology. But great minds and ideas exist throughout the world. The committee fears, "the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost — if indeed it can be regained at all."

Now that the national conversation on the "Quiet Crisis" — the "Gathering Storm" — has begun, we must focus on action — action to build the intellectual security which will assure our national — and global — energy security.

I have spoken to the issues and proposed solutions in terms of a convergence — the converging trends of the Quiet Crisis and the convergence of issues related to nuclear energy. Whatever the rallying point, or whether or not one agrees that the National Academies committeeís specific recommendations are enough, we must do something.

The fundamental convergence we need is to have consensus among various parts of our government over strategies to rise above the "Gathering Storm," and to develop a shared commitment to implement the strategies. Then our government would be in a position to partner with industry and universities, to have a linked national approach to assuring our intellectual security.

Almost 50 years ago, the United States was jolted to action by the Soviet launch of Sputnik. That event launched the "space race" which was, in actuality, a "science race." Many of today's scientists and engineers — the ones whose retirement I have described this evening — were inspired to careers by Sputnik, their studies made possible by federal support.

The urgency of national, and global, "Energy Security" is the "space race" of this millennium.

What we have done before, we can do again.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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