The foundations of national security

By Nancy Salem

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Speaker Norm Augustine laments low US value given education, research

Peppering his sobering remarks with wry humor, apt quotes, and sometimes surprising statistics in a speech at Sandia, retired Lockheed Martin chairman and CEO Norm Augustine delivered an analysis of America's declining state of readiness to compete educationally, economically and, eventually perhaps, technologically in the international arena.

The solutions he proposed were increased funding for research and education, and a social adjustment that would value academics over athletics.

In terms of funding, he said, “Once when I advocated for more funding for research, [a colleague on a panel] warned me that the country has a serious budget problem. I told him that when I was a young engineer, I worked with a lot of airplanes too heavy to fly in the design stage, but none ever flew by taking out the engine.”

Among his comments regarding education, he said, “Teachers should be the heroes but you get what you celebrate. The highest paid employee [at some universities] is the football coach.  What message does that send?”

$20,000 a pitch

He reported calculating that top baseball pitchers get $20,000 for every strike they throw.

"A pessimist," he said, "is an optimist who sees the facts.”

He quoted a statement from Bill Gates: “When I see our high schools and compare them with what I see when traveling abroad, I’m terrified for our nation.”

His Feb. 11 talk, titled “The Foundation of National Security,” was part of Sandia’s National Security Speakers Series. It was presented in Steve Schiff Auditorium and videolinked to Sandia/California and to Sandia’s Washington, D.C., facility.

Augustine, a man with a resume that VP 1000 Rob Leland described in his introduction as "enough for any three men," has had a wide view of American life. Among his many achievements and honors, he’s been under secretary of the Army, chairman of the Council of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Red Cross, and president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Boy Scouts of America. He’s taught at Princeton and served for 16 years on the Presidential Council of Science and Technology. He has been presented the National Medal of Technology by the president of the United States, and five times received the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Public Service award.

He also chaired a prestigious National Academies group that produced the paper, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which advocated more than a decade ago for increased attention to education and research. 

Citing Russia’s recent experience, he said that “without a strong economy, there could not be a strong defense,” because taxes from the economy pay for research that translates into defense.

Among his solutions was to lower corporate taxes — “the highest in the free world” — to encourage corporations to bring to the US profits stored abroad that have already been taxed in their countries of origin.

Draconian increases in tuition

He said one executive had said that if America couldn’t get its educational act together, he was going to take his company “where the high IQs are.”

Augustine presented a number of statistics that seemed to show that US students are achieving less than they did decades ago, that the number of students getting degrees in science and engineering are far too few, and that  US “world class research institutions” like Bell Labs are declining in number. He criticized cutbacks in government funding that have led universities to increase tuition costs for science and engineering students on the grounds that an engineering education costs more. The long-term result of job creation, he said, should restore parity in tuition.

In California, he continued, “Draconian cuts in budgets have led to draconian increases in tuition. There’s been a 65 percent increase in tuition in a three-year period.”

Now, he said, “Student debt exceeds the debt for credit cards in this country.” Student tuition fees have been increased, not only to make up for cutbacks from state government but  because federal Pell grants have declined in effectiveness.

Further, “If we sustain present spending directions, in a decade or two we will only be able to pay our entitlements and the national debt.  This is the front end of the gathering storm. It’s popular to blame China, but does China decide how much to pay our teachers, run our schools, decide how much to invest in research?”

He said that “Instead of paying teachers what they deserve, states can lower their educational standards, and most states are doing the latter.”

He advocated that the national labs find ways to reach out to the private sector as well as contributing nationally, to better show their worth to the tax-paying public. “We need better bridges between the government and universities and industry,” he said.