George Mason University’s growing research portfolio is a prime example of how the partnership between academia and the federal government has contributed to the security of the nation and the economic vitality of the region. Research awards received by Mason in 2011 represent an 18.5 percent increase from 2010. Of this funding, 85 percent of the research activity was supported by federal funds, which in turn provided support for more than 400 jobs in the region. Of those, nearly 56 percent supported the next generation of scientists and engineers, as well as graduate and undergraduate researchers. This partnership has resulted in advanced cancer and Lyme’s Disease research, a new facility for detecting, preventing, diagnosing, and treating infectious disease that result from biological terrorism, advances in STEM education for human capital development in the Commonwealth, improved energy efficiency through new nanotechnology research, and many more.  

We believe that America’s innovative potential remains the foundation of our future prosperity. New Democrat Coalition members emphasize the importance of strategic investments in R&D to ensure that our country gets the full benefit of American ideas and innovation through both private-sector led growth and public-private partnerships. They are working together with like-minded colleagues across the aisle to try to advance our shared goals. Smart government policies can nurture promising infant industries, provide entrepreneurs with skills and capital, allow American companies to be globally competitive and help American workers succeed. For example, according to a study by Biotechnology Industry Organization, university-based inventions contributed $450 billion to the U.S. gross industrial output and created 280,000 new high-tech jobs between 1999 and 2007. New Democrats understand that an invention or discovery by federally-supported scientists could lead to more jobs, economic growth, and cutting edge treatments that can save lives for years to come. In fact, ongoing research in the human genome supported 310,000 jobs and contributed $67 billion to the nation’s GDP in 2010. The federal government was an early partner in that research, and the positive return on that investment is still being felt a decade after the federal government’s financial support for the project ended.

Investing in and incentivizing R&D only lays the foundation for economic competitiveness. To succeed in this global economy, we also must provide the right environment to promote innovation and entrepreneurship based on that research. By providing strong and predictable support for R&D, the federal government is incentivizing the higher education community and private sector to capitalize on these investments in innovation. Now, more than ever it is imperative for sound public policy to emerge from Congress that does not jeopardize America’s long-term competitiveness, and working with the private sector, will support a regulatory system that reduces red tape, incentivizes R&D and provides an avenue for economic prosperity.

The federal partnership with George Mason University is an investment that is having ripple effects throughout our nation by improving personal health, creating jobs, and promoting our national security. These kinds of partnerships with our universities and the private sector not only must be maintained but also replicated to ensure America’s economic competitiveness and prosperity for future generations.

Rep. Connolly (D-Va.) co-chairs the New Democrat Coalition’s Task Force on Innovation, Competitiveness and Tax Reform. Stough is the vice president for research and economic development at George Mason University.