In his first major science address since taking office, President Obama promised today to increase U.S. public and private spending to historic highs for science research and development.
"I'm here today to set this goal: We will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development," Obama said during a speech at the National Academy of Sciences.
He added, "We will not just meet, but we will exceed the 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 became the first president since John F. Kennedy to address NAS during his first year in office, and Obama referenced Kennedy and his call for a massive increase in research funding in the area of space exploration during his address.
"A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation; to invest in education, in research, in engineering; to set a goal of reaching space and engaging every citizen in that historic mission," Obama said. "That was the high water mark of America's investment in research and development."
Continuing, "I believe it is not in our American character to follow -- but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again."
At the forefront of that anticipated increase in science funding will be energy research, though Obama said finding a solution to the country's energy and economic problems may prove more daunting than the space race challenge that forced the last massive increase in science spending.
"The fact is, there will be no single Sputnik moment for this generation's challenge to break our dependence on fossil fuels," Obama said. "In many ways, this makes the challenge even tougher to solve -- and makes it all the more important to keep our eyes fixed on the work ahead."
Obama used much of his speech to tout the investments his administration has already made in science and energy research through the economic-stimulus law and other increases that it anticipated as part of the budget resolution.
Specifically, the White House said the stimulus bill provided $21.5 billion for research and development and the fiscal 2010 budget proposal includes $150 billion over 10 years for renewable energy research as well as $75 billion to make permanent the research and experimentation tax credit.
And Obama announced today his administration intends to launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) -- a new Energy Department initiative modeled after the Defense Department's DARPA initiative.
The White House said it will provide $400 million for the initial funding of ARPA-E, and those dollars have already been provided through the stimulus bill. The project will provide grants for development of "breakthrough" technologies in areas such as reduction of foreign oil consumption and energy-related emissions, and improvements in energy-efficiency.
The White House also said that it plans to commit a total of $777 million to support 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers, which will solicit roughly 1,800 researches and students from universities, national labs and elsewhere to address "current fundamental scientific roadblocks to clean energy and energy security."
About a third of the funding for those centers will come from stimulus funds, according to the administration.
And Obama said this morning that DOE and the National Science Foundation will launch a joint initiative aimed at urging American students to pursue career in science, engineering and entrepreneurship related to clean energy.
Obama also promised that ideology will no longer be involved in driving scientific decision -- an obvious jab at the policies of the Bush administration.