The unmatched vitality of the US economy and science and technology enterprise has made this country a world leader for decades, allowing Americans to reap the benefits from a high standard of living and national security.

But in a world where advanced knowledge is widespread and low-cost labor is readily available, United States advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology has now begun to decline. A coordinated and comprehensive federal effort is urgently needed to bolster our pre-eminence and competitiveness in these areas so that the nation will consistently gain from the opportunities offered by rapid globalization, says a new report from the National Academies.

Given the US history of economic and scientific pre-eminence, it is easy to become complacent about these complex issues, the report says. Following are some indicators that illustrate why decisive action is needed now:

  • Last year chemical companies closed seventy facilities in the US and have ear-marked forty more for closure. Of 120 chemical plants being built around the world with price tags of $1 billion or more, one is in the USA and fifty are in China.
  • For the cost of 1 chemist or 1 engineer in the United States, a company can hire about 5 chemists in China or eleven engineers in India.
  • United States twelfth graders recently performed below the international average for twenty one countries on a test of mathematics and science general knowledge. In addition, an advanced mathematics assessment was carried out on students in fifteen other countries who were taking or had taken advanced mathematics courses, and to United states students who were taking or had taken pre-calculus, calculus, or Advanced Placement calculus. 11 countries outperformed the USA, and 4 scored similarly. None scored significantly below the United States.
  • In 2001 U.S. industry spent more on tort litigation than on development and research.
  • In 1999 only 41 percent of U.S. 8th-graders had a mathematics teacher who had majored in mathematics at the undergraduate or graduate level or studied the subject for their teacher certification — a figure that was considerably lower than the international average of seventy one percent.

Without a major push to strengthen the foundations of America’s competitiveness, the United States could soon lose its privileged position. The ultimate goal is to create new, high-quality jobs for all citizens by developing new industries that stem from the ideas of exceptional scientists and engineers.

The congressionally requested report — written by a twenty-member committee that included university presidents, chief Executive Officers, Nobel Prize winners, and former presidential appointees — makes 4 recommendations along with twenty implementation actions that federal policy-makers should take to create high-quality jobs and focus new science and technology (S&T) efforts on meeting the nation’s need for affordable, clean, and reliable energy. Some actions will involve altering existing laws, while others will require financial support that would come from increasing or reallocating existing budgets. The committee believes that ongoing evaluation of the results should be included in all of the measures.

“America must act now to preserve its economic and strategic security by capitalizing on its knowledge-based resources, particularly in science and technology, and maintaining the most fertile environment for new and revitalized industries that create well-paying jobs,” said committee chair Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., Bethesda, Md. “The building blocks of our economic leadership are wearing away. The challenges that America faces are immense.”

A brief overview of the 4 recommendations follows, with a sample of proposed actions to implement them.

Ten Million Minds, 10,000 Teachers.

Increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education.

Read more: Among the recommended implementation steps is the creation of a merit-based scholarship program.

Many nursing scholarships are distributed strictly to needy or low-income students. A good place to start for these types of nursing scholarships is with the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

All women—even those not looking for scholarships for single mothers—should fill out a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

The recipient of science scholarships has a great future ahead of him if he can just stick it out until graduation. Just about every science-related field is in high demand with scientists in short supply.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!