US must reform taxes, education to regain edge, officials say

Major reforms in tax policy, education and immigration policy are needed to make the United States more competitive, a panel of government and industry experts said.

“If we don’t sustain a culture of risk and innovation, we won’t have the right inputs,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said. “I think we will overcome partisanship to pass legislation for expanding American creativity.”

Coons was a member of a panel at an event sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held June 23 in Washington, D.C.

“Long-term structure decisions need to be made now, before we fall off a cliff,” said John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and former governor of Michigan.

He also called for improvements in education strategies to boost students’ interest in science and technology.

Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra agreed that education is essential for jump-starting American innovation and, in turn, the economy. He added that entrepreneurialism is another important component.

“Human capital is key,” said Chopra, citing President Barack Obama’s goal of raising U.S. college graduation rates to the highest in the world by 2020.

Furthermore, nearly all the panelists agreed that immigration reform is essential to improving American innovation. They said that by training students from other countries but not allowing them to stay in the United States, we are hurting the country’s drive toward competitiveness.

“America has national-securitized the immigration system,” said Edward Luce, Washington bureau chief at the Financial Times.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the H-1B non-immigrant visa, which allows foreign workers temporary employment in specialty fields, is fraudulent and harmful to progress in American education and industry.

“These aren’t temporary workers; we need them permanently,” Issa said. “It’s time for real immigration policy reform.”

“Immigration reform and keeping talent in the U.S. is a given,” Engler said. “We need to make the U.S. the best place for a company to be headquartered.”

Panelists also said an antiquated tax system is hurting the United States.

“We need new tax policy.… We need to tax consumption, not investment,” Issa said. “A great deal of our prosperity is untaxed because it’s overseas.”

Engler proposed a corporate tax structure similar to Canada’s rate of 15 percent and said the United States must stop wasting taxpayer dollars on unnecessary legal expenditures.

“We need to stop litigating everything in America,” he said. “We have 4 percent of the world’s population doing 96 percent of the world’s litigating…and that’s a tax we don’t need to be paying.”

Ron Blackwell, chief economist at the AFL-CIO, said reform hinges on the private sector and investment in the right places. He added that the critical condition the country finds itself in is an opportunity for reform.

“Our future depends on our companies and our country to innovate.… Without better products and services, we won’t succeed,” Blackwell said. “Our country is not competitive. We need a world-class workforce.… Instead of investing [in education], we’re taking away Pell grants. It doesn’t make sense. We need to publicly invest in the skills of workers and in our infrastructure…to build a sustainable, high-growth economy.”

However, although officials recognize those needs, the critical work of implementation remains, Luce said.

“The needs are not in dispute,” he said. “What’s in dispute is the ability to do these things.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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