Dr. John H. Gibbons
Assistant to the President for Science and Technology
IEEE - Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society
November 3, 1994
Thank you for having me here today. I welcome the opportunity to speak to you--the engineers behind so much of this country's success and progress--of the new spirit that is driving change here in our country and around the world.
Despite the negative rhetoric being thrust on us these days, there is a level of confidence in the present and hope for the future we had almost forgotten before President Clinton focused seriously on deficit reduction, on rebuilding the American economy and creating jobs. It has been just over one year since Congress approved the President's economic plan. Remember the dire predictions of the economic nay-sayers? We are already seeing major benefits:
The economy is growing. Real GDP increased by 4.0 percent between the second quarter of 1993 and the second quarter of 1994, even as federal spending declined by nearly 6 percent.
There are more jobs for American workers. We've already passed the goal set in winter of 1993 to help create 4 million new jobs by the end of 1994. It is now at over 4.5 million.
Consumer confidence has also improved. According to a Conference Board survey, consumer confidence has surged over the past twelve (12) months.
New businesses are being started at record rates. In 1993, more than 706,000 new businesses were incorporated the largest number ever recorded in a single year.
Business investment has expanded. Over the same time span, business investment in equipment expanded by 17 percent, setting a post-war record relative to GDP.
Inflation has declined. The past year saw the lowest level of inflation in 20 years.
As part of reinventing government and reducing spending, the Administration has reduced the size of government substantially, with already 60,000 fewer workers. By 1999, federal employment will be cut by at least 272,000, thereby reaching its lowest level since the Kennedy Administration more that 30 years ago.
The annual federal budget deficit has been cut. The budget deficit for 1994 is about $100 billion less that it was projected prior to passage of the President's economic plan. This year will mark the first time in two decades that the deficit has declined two years in a row. The President isn't just talking about the deficit; he's actually doing something about it -- following what I call the first rule of the Theory of Holes: If you're in one, the first thing to do is stop digging! If we stay on course, 1995 will be the first time there have been three consecutive declines since Harry Truman was in the White House. By 1998, the deficit is projected to be cut in half, in absolute terms, from where it was projected in the absence of passage of the President's economic plan.
Moreover, most economic forecasters see a sustained period of moderate growth and low inflation ahead of us. The outlook is for a broad-based expansion that extends to all parts of the country.
Clearly, our economic plan is working.
But economic growth by itself, important as it is, is not enough. Our goal is to build a sustainable economy an economy that provides jobs, security, and a good quality of life for all Americans without so much borrowing from future generations. Our national debt hangs heavily over our future. The debt increased from $1 trillion to $4 trillion during the 1980's and early 1990's. The interest we pay on that debt is greater than the total combined federal expenditures for education, science, law enforcement, transportation, housing, food stamps, and welfare!
An important component for a sustainable future is excellent but also affordable health care. It is knowing that our transportation systems and work environments are designed to promote human safety and well-being. Environmental quality is linked to health. It is knowing that we, our physicians, and other health care providers have access to the best information on treatment and prevention. The members of this society have the opportunity to play a key role in enabling this future by making health care more cost-effective.
Of course, your track record is already out there. Biomedical engineers have played key roles in improvements to our ways of living and working. Examples that come to mind include:
Better diagnosis using imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT).
Monitoring of life functions using improved detection and transmission devices
Lithotripsy, laparoscopy, other procedures that can cut cost of treatments.
Artificial limbs, joints, and other prostheses
Improved automobile safety based on physiological modeling
Ergonomic designs for safer work sites.
Just as in the past, the future is dependent on and will be shaped by research and technology. The two are intertwined. To develop safer cars, for example, we find we need to know more about human physiology as well as materials properties. The Clinton Administration recognizes that science and technology are interconnected and form a dynamic unit which must be nourished.
Science in the National Interest, the articulation of the Administration's science policy issued in August 1994, emphasizes the needs in this area. The introduction says:
"Through scientific discovery and technological innovation, we enlist the forces of the natural world to solve many of the uniquely human problems we face - feeding and providing energy to a growing population, improving human health, taking responsibility for protecting the environment and the global ecosystem, and ensuring our own nation's security. Scientific discoveries inspire and enrich us, teaching us about the mysteries of life and the nature of the world.
"Technology - the engine of economic growth - creates jobs, builds new industries, and improves our standard of living. Science fuels technology's engine. It is essential to our children's future that we continue to invest in fundamental research."
Different sectors of our society can play different roles in reaching national goals. The Federal government not only supports research directly, but also fosters conditions that stimulate private sector investments in fundamental research and in the facilities in which competitive research and quality education are conducted. Industry, professionals - members of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society - have the creative roles in development of new products and new jobs.
One goal stated in Science in the National Interest is to stimulate partnerships that promote investments in fundamental science and engineering and effective use of physical, human, and financial resources within government; between public and private ventures and internationally. The underlying purpose of industry-sponsored research is to stimulate innovation and thereby to create new business opportunity. The Administration arises to encourage and assist industry in this process by providing opportunities for joint ventures (where public interest is clearly recognized) such as the Advanced Technology Program, the Technology Reconversion Program, Cooperative Research and Development Agreements; and through public polices that encourage innovation.
Interdisciplinary work is another form of partnership. Biomedical engineering links biomedical research and health care on the one hand, and science, engineering, and information handling on the other. It is in a unique position to bridge many research disciplines and play a key role in product development and delivery. Further, the products directly impinge on human well being and health care. Health care costs are an important component of our national economy, and containing the costs of this rapidly expanding portion of our national budget is essential to our future. Advances in biomedical engineering can help us on both these fronts -- to improve health and to contain health care costs.
Professional societies like yours also have an active role to play in making sure that the nation will "Produce the finest scientists and engineers for the twenty-first century." This goal was stated in Science in the National Interest. New, well-trained scientists and engineers are the wellspring of new ideas and new solutions to challenging problems. There are few investments with a greater social rate of return than this kind of training. There's an important role for many of you to play, since you have, yourselves, been through a "retraining" process of evolving from earlier professional life to this new one. You have been through an important transformation and are now new agents of change. Such change is not comfortable in most traditional academic places. You can help teachers and students alike to understand the challenges, excitement, and vitality that can accompany a change in direction, and in interdisciplinary work.
The program of this meeting lists themes that run through developments in health care and industrial safety. Even the titles of the sessions are exciting and give a hint of the extraordinary correct vitality of biomedical engineering.
Better use of lasers and optical techniques
Improved devices and training for rehabilitation
Biomechanics to measure human performance and enable better physiological modeling for human safety
Biomaterials and tissue engineering
Improved neural system sensing and modeling
Improved imaging modalities
The challenge to you will be to continue innovation in cost effective ways. The necessity is to ensure that America has the human and infrastructure base to assure similar innovations in the future.
We are at a critical point in technology development. Yogi Berra advised, "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." The decisions we make today will deeply influence whether we leave to future generations an attractive, livable world or ever-escalating problems and degraded opportunities. More than ever, we must work vigorously to advance the twin goals of improved health and economic progress. Our success will depend, in no small measure, on innovative partnerships between federal and state governments and industry, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations. And we applaud the work you are doing to promote these interactions.
Times of tremendous challenge bring with them the potential for opportunity and change. Those of you here today have the power to help bring about change the power to help build a healthier and safer future. I look forward to working with you to achieve that goal, and I hope you will work closely with us in the months ahead as we work to advance science and engineering in support of the national interest and health economics.