Government R&D can be a catalyst for technological progress

We are living in an era where innovation, agility and imagination are all essential in order to keep pace with exponential technological transformation taking place in our society. In government, federal agencies are playing catch-up from years of underfunded research and development (R&D) impacted by economic constraints and sequestration, while other nations have increased their public and private R&D investments at a faster rate. There is a longstanding notion that R&D is the backbone of a globally competitive, knowledge-driven economy. In 2010, economist Gary Becker stated that "modern economies are based on the command of knowledge and information."

In 2016, there are reasons for optimism. In the omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2016, R&D has been rejuvenated. Next year, it is estimated that $148.6 billion of the federal budget will be allocated for R&D, up 8.1 percent from fiscal 2015. This includes $68.1 billion for non-defense R&D and significant increases for basic and applied research. This is good news as the government invests and partners in programs and solutions for some of our greatest challenges, including cybersecurity, Smart Cities, big data, quantum computing, sustainable energy, space exploration, health and medicine, and the Internet of Things.

Despite limitations, the federal government has spent more than $300 million on Internet of Things-related research in the past five years. Cisco estimates that, in the next 10 years, the Internet of Things will be valued at $4.6 trillion for the public sector. The Creating IT Futures Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association), recently published the "Federal Technology Convergence Report," which identifies the potential impact that converged technologies — social media, mobility, analytics and cloud — could have on government communication, cooperation and the ability to address the nation's most significant issues across sectors.

Government R&D investment is part the equation. Private-sector investment is a major component of building a successful pipeline and bringing innovative and scalable products to market. A public-private partnership that funds projects in closer coordination with government is the best formula that will allow for more focused and more capable technology development to benefit all citizens. There are an amazing array of technology innovations that have stemmed from R&D investment. Where would we be without the Global Positioning System (GPS) to guide our way? Without the $4.5 million in National Science Foundation grants, two Stanford University graduate students would have never stumbled upon a new algorithm that later turned into the Google search engine. The list of innovations goes on and on.

Private-public sector collaboration is critical. The government funds research programs that directly provide grants to academia and institutions, especially for basic and applied research that will create the next generation of ideas and inventions. Many government agencies, especially the Department of Defense, NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Health and Human Services all have critical R&D functions. The research arms of the Department of Defense (including DARPA, the Defense Advanced Projects Agency) have also invested greatly in the development of technologies, especially related to national security and the warfighter. The Science & Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security helps fund lab programs with a priority on "leap-ahead technologies" for homeland security. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, a $3.8 billion federal investment to launch the Human Genome Project, jointly conceived and executed by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy, has resulted in an estimated economic impact of $965 billion between 1988 and 2012.

The government also funds the national labs and Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs). These are nation's R&D incubators and have compiled a treasure trove of technologies and applications for defense and the civilian interests. The national labs, a reservoir of specialized skills and capabilities, are composed of some of the best and brightest scientific minds on the planet. Aside from the investment and talent, the labs also have the best state-of-the art facilities for testing and evaluation of technologies. They also have a deep knowledge and accessible database of both classified and unclassified technologies. The benefits of the labs' role include experienced capability in rapid prototyping of new technologies ready for transitioning; showcasing; and commercialization.

Increased R&D funding coupled with recent congressional action to make the research and experimentation tax credit permanent will help drive America's global competitiveness in the years to come. As noted by CNBC, "Innovations in science and technology 'are the engines' of the economy of the future, said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson." That innovation can and will be stimulated by our government's continued willingness to make federal R&D funding a national priority.

Brooks serves as the vice president for government relations and marketing at Sutherland Government Solutions. He is also vice chairman of CompTIA's New and Emerging Technologies Committee. Brooks served at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science and Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Follow him on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks and on LinkedIn. Logsdon is the senior director of public advocacy for CompTIA. In this role, he runs the association's New and Emerging Technologies Committee (focused on the policy surrounding social, mobile, big data/data analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things, and smart cities). He was also the staff lead for CompTIA's federally focused technology convergence commission, which examined the impact on the public sector when social, mobile, analytics and cloud converge. Follow him on Twitter @DJLSmartData.