WHITE HOUSE FELLOWS LUNCHEON
APRIL 30, 1997
I am very pleased to be here and I want to congratulate each of you on being chosen for a White House Fellowship. I will let you in on a little intra-office advice regarding my invitation to speak here today. When invitations arrive there is a sheet on which all pertinent information about the event is recorded in concise, "sound-bite" language. This sheet then serves to point out such logistical things as a possible conflict in my schedule as well as such sensitive things as events that provide important opportunities at which to appear. In the section headed "comments/special instructions on the sheet for today's invitation it said, "a good chance to meet with the upcoming 'best and brightest'. So let me say that I am indeed honored to be here with you.
And I want quickly to allay your fears about being victims of a "droning talk." I have been audience to many of them and my remarks will be very brief so that we can have a genuine dialogue and I intend to take away more than I have brought.
In fact, I hope that I adhere to the advice on speeches that the comedian George Jessel (whom you are all too young to remember) would often give. He said, "If you haven't struck oil in your first three minutes, stop boring!" So this may be even briefer than I intended.
Let me first say that the public policy arena, in which I am now a three-year novice, is a fascinating and wholly unique experience. I have learned things that I'm sure I could have not learned anywhere else. Some of these things I could have happily lived a long life not learning. Some of you may feel the same way.
I will limit my remarks to some over-arching comments which may provide a partial context for your time here in Washington. You might have heard or noticed that last week was National Science and Technology Week. If you didn't, we'll make sure you do hear of it next year. This is an annual event that has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation for over a decade. The theme of this year's event was Webs, Wires, and Waves: The Science and Technology of communications. The "three Ws" all represent ways to communicate and are all unique applications of science and technology.
The importance of this theme was made clear to me by a story I recently heard.
A person rushes into a TV repair shop, looking frantic and hassled, and breathlessly asks, "Can you replace the batteries in my TV remote control? It hasn't worked for three days." The repair clerk replies, "Certainly, I know how tough it is to watch TV without a remote." The customer then says, "That's not the problem. I just want to turn the darn thing off!"
In our society today, we know that many of us are invigorated by the advances occurring in science and technology in general, and more particularly in information technology. Many of our friends and neighbors--like the customer in the story--are intimidated by them. But, no one of us can deny the impact they are having on our lives--or the promise they hold for the future.
Just last week, I was able to catch up on some reading and came across the cover story from the March 31st issue of Business Week. It's entitled "The New Business Cycle," and it opens with this observation: "It used to be housing and autos. But the economic expansion of the 1990s has been fueled by the strong growth of the information technology industry."
Although many of us use terms like "post-cold war economy" and the "information age" with frequency and ease, we have not necessarily paid enough attention to the far reaching implications of their meaning. Or, indeed, if they are the right terms to use.
With that sense of change and dynamism, let me just throw out a few ideas that we can chew on together in the remaining time.
First, the end of the Cold War, just over seven years ago, was unpredicted. It did not even show up on the radar screens of foreign policy experts and political gurus. It caught the world by happy surprise. No one, however, had imagined or planned for a global landscape without the Free World/Soviet rivalry of the previous forty years.
Among other things, the end of this anomalous period in world history set an already complex world economy into a state of heightened transition. We are currently immersed in a somewhat volatile but also opportunistic period that will likely continue for quite some time. The new openness in the world political and economic arena has created a system "in flux" where different leaders, as well as different losers, can emerge.
For example, in the area of research and development, with which I have to grapple each day, the future is both exciting and confusing. Japan and South Korea, among others, are making strong investments in both a science and engineering workforce for the future and in R&D programs that they believe will pay of in high economic value. And the speed and determination with which China is moving in these same directions makes it perhaps the most formidable competitor for the future.
This is exciting in terms of human benefit and global progress. It is confusing in terms of trying to help position America to be a leader and not a loser in the future.
Second, this transition period is also characterized by an explosion in the form and function of "information technologies." The emerging economies of southeast Asia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan, have quickly grasped the value of these technologies as a critical driver for technological and manufacturing capability. They are heavily focused on educating so-called "information" engineers for this new direction.
Third, in order for America to compete in the wake of such focused competition, we need to be able to forge a "critical mass" of knowledge, skill, and infrastructure. It should include, but not be limited to, public and private schools, colleges and universities, industry and small business, government at all levels, and the talented personnel from each sector. It must be guided by a collective vision of where we need to go as a nation and a collaborative spirit of how we can get there.
In essence, we must recognize the need for collective effort, for collaborations where each partner has something to offer and each has something to learn.
We no longer live in an era where academe can provide an autonomous career, sheltered from society's needs and problems. We no longer live in a time when U.S. industry believes it has nothing to learn from other nations or other sectors, an attitude that persisted for too long. We no longer live in the luxury of succeeding on first-rate higher education and mediocre K-12 education. We no longer live in the industrial age when a modestly skilled assembly-line workforce could propel the nation.
And fourth, we can no longer expect public support in the form of a blank check and an undefined agenda for any idea, no matter how good it sounds.
My generation of engineers and scientists was among the first to flourish under the new and generous government support of R&D at the start of the Cold War. One might even label that first-time historical period of serious federal funding as a time of public innocence. Most funds were appropriated under the rubric of national security, and that was often the sole dictate for the research. Oh, how times have changed. Your generation of graduate student found a much leaner and more competitive environment.
Today, those providing the funds not only require more accountability from those who are asking, but there is increasing pressure to use scarce public funds solely for the support of public goals. Federal dollars will increasingly be viewed as a quantifiable investment.
Key to this issue is the realization by both the electorate and their policy makers that the 21st century will be dynamic, doggedly competitive, and dramatically more collaborative. That may, at first, sound like a contradiction in terms. But, if you think about it for a minute, it's not very different from the way families or siblings have to function in order to get along and also succeed individually.
And so as a nation, we will increasingly be partners in a growing number of initiatives with our most aggressive economic competitor nations. And, for the long-term, both developed and developing countries will have to work together to be shepherds of our planet habitat.
The vast shifts in global political alignment, economic expansion, and their accompanying social change are already creating "domino effect" in government, in industry, and even slowly in our universities. This is, I believe, just the beginning. And information technologies will provide a hastening catalyst.
We are living in the infancy of what scholars and song writers all term the "Information Age," despite the fact that there are no adequate definitions of what an information age means. We may, in fact, face an era quite different from the word "information" that we are using with impunity. The period before us is much more than computing power, digital transmission, global communication, multimedia integration, and the Next Generation Internet.
Information systems and learning tools are powerful but still somewhat enigmatic mechanisms. We know what they can do today, but we cannot actually imagine what they will enable us to do tomorrow.
We do know from the history of medical imaging systems, the Internet, the World Wide Web, and countless other technological marvels that they have enormous potential to transform all our lives.
Well I promised to talk for just a few minutes and perhaps this was a few minutes too long. To summarize, with the end of the Cold War we have entered a period of accelerated transition where pitfalls and possibilities abound. We must be astute observers and students of the shifting global landscape. We must agree on a collective vision and plot a path together to reach our goals. We will be overtaken if we think each sector can operate independently, as in the old days. We must be bold and experimental in developing and leading this yet undefined, and likely misnamed, information age. We must rekindle the optimism of the American pioneers and delight in the challenge of the journey. And we will especially need the insight and perspective of the "best and brightest" among us. Welcome aboard. We have much to learn from you.