April 27, 2009, 11:36 AM — President Barack Obama on Monday announced a goal of ensuring 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product is spent on scientific research and development.
That amount would represent the largest commitment to scientific research and development in American history, Obama said during a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.
But the president said his goal can only be achieved through a combination of government spending and contributions from the private sector. The U.S. currently spends about 2.6 percent of GDP on research and development, according to the most recent National Science Board figures, placing it second overall among the G7 countries, just behind Japan.
To encourage private sector investment in research, Obama said he wants to make the federal government's research and experimentation tax credit permanent. The credit has been extended multiple times over the years since its creation in 1981.
He also called on scientists to help improve America's education system.
"Use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation," he said. "Spend time in the classroom, talking and showing young people what your work can mean." The government must also take steps to attract and retain higher-quality science and math teachers, Obama said.
Obama repeatedly used the early U.S. space program as a framing device for his remarks, calling that period "the high water mark" of government investment in research and development.
It sparked a wide range of scientific innovation with benefits that went far beyond the historic Apollo missions, such as advancements in building materials and fire-resistant fabrics, he said.
Meanwhile, clean energy is "this generation's great project," which will be furthered by the recently formed Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), he said.
ARPA-E is being modeled on DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) created in response to the former Soviet Union's Sputnik satellite project in the 1950s, and will be tasked with performing the same kind of "high-risk, high-reward research," Obama said: "We will make renewable energy the profitable kind of energy."
Obama has proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years on renewable energy and energy efficiency.