Future innovation needs public-private balance

Each generation has experienced its own brand of mini-tech booms, spurring start-up companies, providing jobs, producing capital and propelling us further down the road for the next innovative wave. We prospered because we embraced policies of supporting critical research without stifling free-flowing market growth. We promoted public and private partnerships without picking winners and losers. That was the path that led us into the 21st century. Yet, some of the most recent technological strides made have been in spite of, rather than because of, government forces.
 

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In the clamor for increased R&D spending in today’s struggling economy, it is important to note this public-private balance holds the key for future successes. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with current NASA operations. Even in the face of slashed budgets, NASA is balancing development of our next-generation rocket system and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle while supporting commercial cargo launch efforts to the International Space Station. Developing a mutually beneficial relationship between NASA and commercial industry can enable commercial providers to carry human crews to low Earth orbit in the near future.
 
This will have major impacts for our nation’s space presence in the world alongside the emerging space tourism industry, which promises to be a billion-dollar economy within the next decade. This is good news at a time when we depend on Russia’s space program to send astronauts to the International Space Station, and as China emerges as a space leader. We cannot cede hard-earned American leadership to other nations due to our own neglect.
 
Some would say that our decreasing investment relative to competing nations threatens our place as a technological leader and hinders the kind of economic growth we so desperately need right now. And others would say the government has a responsibility to stimulate that kind of growth using federal dollars to pave the way. However noble our intentions might be, we must ensure that we invest wisely in a way that promotes real economic growth, rather than pushing a pointed agenda using taxpayer dollars. Yes, investment means risks, but allowing a politically motivated agenda to drive R&D dollars to unproven technologies is no investment at all. It is simply bad policy that costs us more in the long run. I’m all too convinced that the story of Solyndra represents the current administration’s rule rather than the exception.
 
The economic benefits of a technological boom are undeniable, as is the need for increased R&D investment. But we need so much more than increased spending — we need responsible R&D investment driven by organic, marketplace solutions, with real promise, carefully balanced between public and private capital and influence. Only then can we ensure the best chance for economic success and lasting recovery. Otherwise, we risk continuing down the path of playing the Solyndra game of government picking winners and losers. And we all know how that ends.

Rep. Palazzo (R-Miss.) serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee, where he also serves as chairman of the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee. In addition, he serves as assistant Republican whip.