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Obama's Innovation Advisory Board Meets For First Time


There's been a growing chorus of voices both in the federal government and in Silicon Valley over the past several years worrying over the U.S.' state of competitiveness.

The worry is that a toxic mix of outdated tax, immigration, and intellectual property policies, among other things, are weighing the U.S. down as developing countries and even industrialized, "socialist" countries like Sweden race ahead with more money invested and better tax structures aimed at encouraging innovative economic activity.

The 15-member board focused on four specific ares of discussion on Monday, as they began work on a report on how to overhaul U.S. policies. The report is due the first week of January 2012.

The four "discussion groups" lead on Monday by Acting Deputy Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank focused on: macroeconomic conditions and regional infrastructure issues; manufacturing, services and international trade; education, immigration and 'other' workforce issues and entrepreneurship; intellectual property; commercialization and knowledge markets.

"Today, the innovation advisory board members met for the first time and laid out a roadmap for completing a study of America's economic competitiveness and innovative capacity by January 4, 2012, as required by the America COMPETES Act," Blank said in a press statement. "The board will help us identify critical issues and policies that impact U.S. innovation and competitiveness and measure our performance against our global competitors."

Monday's meeting was closed to the press. Its members were made public just last month.

Some of them are familiar names who speak or write frequently about the US' need to change its policies: Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the think tank the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Abby Joseph Cohen, of Goldman Sachs; Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America; Judy Estrin, author of "Closing The Innovation Gap," a book on the decline of the culture of innovation in the United States and CEO of JLabs; Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, Arthur Levinson, Genentech's chairman, and others.

President Obama stated outright during his 2011 State of the Union speech that the U.S. needs to be more competitive. The question of whether his administration has the wherewithal to implement the ultimate recommendations of this panel, however, is an open question.

The 15-member board's role is an advisory one. Commerce's economics and statistics administration will play the lead role in compiling the report that's due in January. It will also be working with the National Economic Council to come up with the recommendations.

It's doubtful that any of the report's final recommendations will come as a surprise, since the U.S. innovation policies have been criticized at length by many people both in Silicon Valley, in the DC think tanks and beyond.

The upshot of these out-of-date policies, noted Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in his prepared remarks delivered at the meeting Monday, is that "national job growth in the 2000s was the lowest of any decade stretching back to the 1940s. That's true even if you stopped measuring before the recession started."