Bill Gates Asks Congress to Act Now to Maintain U.S. Innovation Lead

WASHINGTON — March 12, 2008 — Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates will testify before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology today at 10 a.m. EDT on the future of innovation and U.S. competitiveness. At a hearing to commemorate the committee’s 50th anniversary, Gates will focus on issues of U.S. competitiveness, including education and work-force development, the need for immigration reform to allow highly skilled workers to remain in the U.S, and the need to continue to invest in basic research.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates during his testimony before the Committee on Science and Technology, United States House of Representatives. Gates spoke about the need for improving science and math education, the future of technology innovation and H-1B visa reform. Washington, D.C., March 12, 2008.

“I know we all want the United States to continue to be the world’s center for innovation. But our position as the global leader in innovation is at risk,” Gates said. “If this nation is to continue to be the global center of innovation, Congress, the current administration and the next president must act decisively.”

In his testimony today, Gates will address the following important areas:

  • Science and math education must be improved. Gates argues that U.S. companies face a severe shortfall of scientists and engineers with the skills necessary to develop future innovative technologies. “If we don’t reverse these trends, our competitive advantage will continue to erode. Our ability to create new high-paying jobs will suffer,” Gates said. “Companies like Microsoft and organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cannot address these issues alone. Only the government has the resources to effect change on a broad scale.” Gates praises Congress for passing the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science Act (COMPETES Act) of 2007, but says it now must follow through by fully funding the legislation’s educational initiatives. He also urges Congress to increase the use of data to measure student improvement.

  • U.S. immigration policies need to allow American companies to hire the best talent. Gates calls on Congress to reform immigration policies to allow more highly skilled professionals to work for companies in the U.S. “At a time when talent is the key to economic success, it makes no sense to educate people in our universities, often subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, and then insist that they return home,” he said. “To address the shortage of scientists and engineers, we must … reform our education system and our immigration policies. If we don’t, American companies simply will not have the talent they need to innovate and compete.” Gates urges Congress and the White House to address this problem by extending the period that foreign students can work in the U.S. after graduation, raising the cap on H-1B visas, creating a clear path to permanent residency for high-skilled foreign-born employees and increasing the number of green cards. “The shortage of scientists and engineers is so acute that we must do both: reform our education system and reform our immigration policies.”

  • Funding for basic research should be increased. Gates believes basic research funding is an essential part of keeping American companies competitive and sparking new industries. “Even though we know that basic research drives economic progress, real federal spending on basic research has fallen since 2005,” he said. “I urge Congress to increase funding for basic research by 10 percent annually for the next seven years.” Gates said that federal funding for basic research supports the education of the next generation of scientists and engineers, and provides the raw material that U.S. companies transform into commercially successful products.

Gates said he is optimistic that information technology will continue to transform business productivity and the quality of our day-to-day lives, adding that private companies alone cannot ensure that the U.S. will remain the pre-eminent force in innovation. “Without leadership from Congress and the president … and the commitment of the private sector to do its part, the center of progress will shift to other nations that are more committed to the pursuit of innovation,” Gates said.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

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