Seeking to build on a national innovation strategy that she helped craft 10 years ago, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo urged a second round of strategic development centered on technology and Silicon Valley during a conference at Stanford University on Tuesday.
Eshoo, who was flanked by House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, said the country must continue to move forward through enhanced education and immigration reform if it wants to stay ahead of the global pack. On Tuesday, they met with Bay Area academics, students, entrepreneurs, high- and bio-tech leaders and venture capitalists to discuss Innovation Agenda 2.0.
The new agenda, which is in the early stages of crafting, will build on the 2007 Innovation Agenda 1.0, a 22-point program that included legislation that advanced renewable energy and efficiency projects, reduced reliance on foreign oil, created the largest college-aid expansion since the 1944 G.I. Bill and increased funding and investment for scientific research and small business and technology development.
The program also expanded fiber-optic cable to nearly 26,000 schools and hospitals and trained 4 million Americans to use high-speed broadband, connecting more than 670,000 people to high-speed Internet for the first time.
House Democrats have led forums across the nation in the past two years with business and technology leaders to develop programs and legislation to advance American business and economic leadership and improve national security, Eshoo said. Tuesday's meeting kicked off a new round of forums expected to take place during the next three months.
The Stanford meeting, which was not open to the media, was "a diamond in the rough," Eshoo said. With expanded programs and a more refined agenda, she hopes to build the country's innovation prowess so that "at the end of this century it will be the American Century," she said.
Eshoo, Lofgren and Pelosi were short on specifics, but encouraging American students to get science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees was the prominent topic during the discussion, they said. As a result of Innovation 1.0 legislation and policies, 527,000 American students took Advanced Placement exams in math or science in 2013, a 33 percent increase from 2008; and 818,000 students graduated with bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in science and engineering that year, a 28 percent increase from 2007. The agenda also encouraged the passage of legislation to provide funding for teacher training in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions. American women's progress in these fields was also a topic at the 2.0 roundtable, they said.
But one of the biggest topics of the day centered on immigration, which was second in importance only to education, the congresswomen said.
"There was a universal expression of disappointment that we have not managed immigration reform -- the driver of our country," Lofgren said.
Eshoo and Pelosi echoed that sentiment, adding that the country can only remain exceptional by incorporating the best ideas in the world. The congresswomen said that roundtable participants were steadfast in their concern for immigration reform and the need to expand admission of foreign-born workers. Currently, all of the country's H1B visas, which allow foreign professionals to work in the U.S., are filled inside of a week, Eshoo noted.
According to the 2016 Silicon Valley Index, 75 percent of tech workers in Silicon Valley are foreign born. With the national debate and rhetoric among some groups turning sour on imported labor, the congresswomen said that immigration should not be considered a threat but a necessity toward continued economic prosperity, to keep America on the cutting edge by bringing in the best and the brightest with their innovative ideas.
Eshoo said that it is those ideas, not immigration based on religion, race or ethnicity, that should be the basis of the debate on immigration reform.
"To continue or to attempt to stop it the latter really tears at the fabric of the country," she said. To "tear at that very DNA" of America, a country built on immigrants, would be to contribute to its economic decline, she added.
"Having worked on immigration reform, (I think) there is a real mischaracterization of the challenges. At the roundtable, there was more discussion about the education of American students than immigrants. We need both," she said.
"If Google was founded absent of immigration, it would have been founded in Moscow," she said, referring to co-founder Sergey Brin, a Russian-born computer scientist who started the company in Menlo Park.
The congresswomen said that Innovation 1.0 achieved legislation and advanced policy in 21 out of 22 planks. By the numbers, here is their brief rundown of its achievements:
#149; 4 million Americans trained to use high-speed broadband
#149; 114,697 miles of fiber-optic cable laid
#149; 25,768 schools, hospitals and other institutions connected and became hubs for high-speed broadband in rural and underserved areas
#149; 19.5 gigawatts of new solar energy capacity since 2007. More solar was installed in one week in 2013 than in all of 2006
#149; 54.4 gigawatts of new wind energy, a 300 percent increase since 2007
#149; $850 million in private investment for clean energy and efficiency technologies
#149; A 33 percent increase in students who took AP exams in math or science in 2013
#149; A 28 percent increase in graduates with four-year college or higher degrees in science and engineering since 2007
Research and development, since 2006:
#149; A 49 percent increase in funding for the Department of Energy's Office of Science
#149; A 42 percent increase in funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology
#149; A 34 percent increase in funding for the National Science Foundation