Signs of U.S. decline in global competitiveness over the past five years suggest that Americans must not abandon future innovation in hard economic times, according to a report announced today (Sept. 23).

Investment in American innovation is necessary to ensure the economic strength to provide health care, social security, national security, and other basic services for citizens, said the report commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.

Their call to action comes at a time when many in the United States still feel economic hardship, despite an official end to the recession. The recent financial crisis slowed private investment and helped increase the national debt over the past five years from $8 trillion to $13 trillion.

But the report, titled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5," points to several trends that supposedly signify a gloomy forecast for U.S. prospects.

  • In 2009, 51 percent of U.S. patents were awarded to non-U.S. companies.
  • China has replaced the United States as the world's number one high-technology exporter and is now second in the world in publication of biomedical research articles.
  • Between 1996 and 1999, 157 new drugs were approved in the United States. In a corresponding period 10 years later, the number dropped to 74.
  • Almost one-third of U.S. manufacturing companies responding to a recent survey say they are suffering from some level of skills shortage.
  • The World Economic Forum currently ranks the United States 48th in the quality of its math and science education.

Congress did pass the America COMPETES Act in 2007, which included recommendations from a 2005 "Gathering Storm" report. Funding for the Act's measures lagged until the passage of the U.S. government's stimulus package in early 2009.

That package included a boost in federal funding for K-12 education and scholarships for future math and science teachers. It also funded the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) – a nimble new agency designed to quickly hand out funding to transformational research projects on energy.

Still, the America COMPETES Act is set for expiration this year, and its funding from the presumably one-time stimulus package is also nearing expiration.

The report not only urges reauthorization of the Act, but also asks that the "Gathering Storm" recommendations or others become regular parts of the legislative debate in deciding on funding and policy changes.

Metaphors aside, the report makes clear that the issues go beyond having exotic gadgets or wild science – U.S. innovation is necessary to form the foundation for a stronger economy.