Second Order Effects

Posted By lex, on January 7th, 2012

Even those who have not traditionally been counted among DoD’s allies are waking up to the idea that budget cuts, and the consequent drying up of defense-driven research and development innovation could have transformational effects – in the wrong direction:

The Navy, which started budgeting for research in 1946, counts 59 eventual Nobel laureates among the recipients of its financing, including Charles H. Townes, whose pioneering work in the development of lasers laid the groundwork for compact discs and laser eye surgery. The other armed forces claim similar numbers of laureates, albeit with considerable overlap.

The results of this research played a key role in the blossoming of high technology as a driver of the nation’s economic growth…

Companies with names like the Science Applications International Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and CACI International built large campuses employing thousands of workers, mostly around the growing Tysons Corner crossroads. Other local technology companies with roots in military research focused on the broader market and became household names, including famous flameouts like AOL and MCI…

Professor Sarewitz, who studies the government’s role in promoting innovation, said that the Defense Department had been more successful than other federal agencies because it is the main user of the innovations that it finances. The Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health, which also finance large volumes of research, are not major consumers of energy or healthcare. The Pentagon, which spends billions each year on weapons, equipment and technology, has an unusually direct stake in the outcome of its research and development projects. “The central thing that distinguishes them from other agencies is that they are the customer,” Professor Sarewitz said. “You can’t pull the wool over their eyes.”

Another factor is the Pentagon’s relative insulation from politics, which has allowed it to sustain a long-term research agenda in controversial areas. No matter which party is in power, the Pentagon has continued to invest in clean-energy technology, for example, in an effort to find ways to reduce one of its largest budget items, energy costs.

I’m sure that DoE will pick up the slack.

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Filed under Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Politics

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