Bush May Pump Tech in State of the Union Address

By Roy Mark

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In five previous State of the Union addresses, President Bush has spoken more than 30,000 words and only made fleeting references to technology. He has never used the words "Internet" or "broadband" in a State of the Union speech.

That may change tonight.

According to sources contacted by internetnews.com, the president is expected to call for new programs and/or funding to regain America's lost global lead in information technology.

"I think the president will use the bully pulpit to make competitiveness a part of the national debate," said Tom Galvin of Washington-based 463 Communications, which works closely with both Congress and the White House on technology issues.

Another source with close White House connections, who asked to remain anonymous because Bush's Tuesday night speech is not final, said, "[Competitiveness] is still in [the State of the Union address] now."

America's flagging global IT leadership is most famously characterized by the country's current rank at 16th in the world in broadband deployment.

According to a report issued last month by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is no longer the global leader in exporting information and technology goods.

China has taken that lead, exporting $180 billion worth of tech goods and services in 2004. The United States followed at $149 billion. In 2003, the United States was the world leader, with $137 billion in sales.

More disconcerting to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, however, is Americans' declining interest in math, science and engineering, three benchmark disciplines of technology.

On average, U.S. colleges and universities now annually turn out approximately 1 million graduates, but only 70,000 of those degrees are in engineering. By contrast, China and India churn out 6.4 million college graduates a year, with almost 1 million of those in engineering.

"In 2006, it doesn't really matter how many times [Bush] uses the words, it's how he takes the leadership on competitiveness," Galvin said.

Lawmakers are waiting in the wings for Bush to take that leadership, recently introducing legislation designed to revive U.S. IT fortunes.

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