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Answering Bush's competition challenge

The State of the Union speech throws down the gauntlet, and Cisco CEO John Chambers says America must respond with alacrity.

For the past several years, some of us in the high-tech community have stated that our competitive edge has slipped and that we, as a nation, aren't doing enough to ensure that our economy remains the most innovative and dynamic in the world. President Bush's State of the Union speech on Tuesday night placed a focus on U.S. competitiveness and laid out a road map. Now it is up to the high-tech community to speak with a clear voice to support this agenda that the president has set for the country. And it's time for Congress to turn the president's vision into initiatives that strengthen the innovation and competitiveness of our country.

The House Democrats' "Innovation Agenda" confirms that the issues that need to be focused on are not Republican ideas or Democratic ideas, but American ideas.

So, too, not every good idea on American competitiveness will come from Washington. Governors from both major parties, including Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley, are pursuing pro-job policies that will help American companies compete abroad. Cisco Systems and other leading U.S.-based companies need to get behind these efforts as well.

It is no longer accurate to say America is falling behind on education. We have fallen behind.

There are certain areas where some very clear steps can be taken right now to turn words into action:

• Education and research. It is no longer accurate to say America is falling behind on education. We have fallen behind. We are slipping on nearly every international metric on math and science. Congress must ensure that funding for K-12 math and science education is a national priority. And if we prioritize federally sponsored research at universities while making it easier for foreign graduate students to stay in the United States, we will keep the best and brightest here.

• Health care information technology. Technology has transformed industries and society, but the health care industry has been slow to embrace it. The value of health care IT was evident during Hurricane Katrina, when the Veterans Administration was able to use electronic health records to provide continuous care to patients who were transferred hundreds of miles away.

By modernizing our health care system through electronic health records and information sharing, we can improve the quality of health care and cut costs. To do this, Congress must remove the existing regulatory barriers and provide financial incentives for doctors and hospitals to accelerate the adoption of health care IT.

• Interoperability. Government at all levels needs to make sure that our police, firefighters and other first responders have the means to communicate in times of crisis. As the Sept. 11 terror attacks and Hurricane Katrina taught us, we have failed to create a system that works effectively in emergency situations. Congress has already stepped up with the allocation of wireless frequencies dedicated to public safety. But more remains to be done. Starting now, Congress, the executive branch, and state and local governments must insist that dollars directed toward public safety are responsibly used to begin solving the interoperability problem nationally through the power of new technologies.

• Patent litigation reform: At the heart of American innovation is the right of inventors to benefit from their creativity and hard work. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous operators are abusing the system by purchasing patents and then filing nuisance lawsuits. These "patent trolls" are not inventors but opportunists. We must have patent litigation reform to ensure that American innovation continues to flourish while protecting the rights of true inventors.

Those four priorities alone won't ensure the United States keeps its competitive edge, but they are a foundation by which we can keep our economy strong and dynamic. Clearly, broadband deployment and spectrum policy play a large role in the success of these polices and our nation's competitiveness and we must continue to focus on them as well.

It's also not just up to the government to highlight these issues. For too long, the high-tech community has talked about education but not focused on it as a priority. At Cisco, it's something we take seriously.

We know that we have to rethink our approach to education. That is why, after Katrina's devastation on the Gulf Coast, we committed ourselves to rebuilding schools and making them models for 21st century learning.

Starting in Mississippi, Cisco is funding a $40 million program to provide technology, world-class curriculum, process changes and professional development for teachers. The ultimate goal is to use technology to create a new classroom experience where students will find that learning is a way of life. Imagine what would happen if every Fortune 500 company adopted a local region or school system?

Using the bully pulpit as only a president can, George Bush has thrown down the gauntlet on what America needs to do to remain competitive: namely, a good education system, supportive government, focus on innovation and the proper infrastructure. The metrics for success are clear. Now it's a matter of doing it.

Congress must be resolute in embracing these priorities. As a high-tech community, we must put our energy and support behind these efforts.