With the election behind us, one of the major issues the administration will need to tackle is how to encourage entrepreneurs to innovate and bring the country back to its position of leadership in the global economy. To spark innovation, it is time for government and business to work together in new ways, embracing President Obama’s commitment to open government. Historically, the public and private sectors have had different priorities. The private sector’s profit-centric focus favors businesses that play it safe and shy away from spending on costly infrastructure or risky R&D. The public sector, on the other hand, serves the interests of taxpayers, eschewing commercial interests and taking on public works projects, building infrastructure, and, most relevant to this discussion, funding research and development.
Occasionally the federal government invests in the private sector, with unpredictable results, such as the recent case with Solyndra. However, when the federal government and business approach one another as complementary forces – rather than as producer and consumer – there’s the opportunity for real innovation to flourish and for history to be made.
A history of public-private cooperation
Let’s rewind to the early 20th century: The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), NASA’s predecessor, operated a handful of wind tunnels at the Ames Research Center and Langley Aeronautical Laboratory primarily for use in testing aircraft developed during the World Wars. But if NACA had not also allowed The Boeing Company to make use of its research and test facilities, it would have almost certainly delayed the introduction of the first commercial airliner, the Boeing 247, by over a decade.
To a certain degree that same need for public support of private enterprise still exists today. For instance, were it not for NASA’s financial commitment to SpaceX, we would not be on the...