Home » Blog » Alliance Discussion with Norman R. Augustine: Insights into the R&D Advocacy Arena from Retired Chairman & CEO, Lockheed Martin Corp.

Alliance Discussion with Norman R. Augustine: Insights into the R&D Advocacy Arena from Retired Chairman & CEO, Lockheed Martin Corp.

Norman Augustine, a leader in the decades long effort to elevate the priority of science and technology in our nation, joined us recently for an alliance discussion. The Honorable Bart Gordon, Member of Congress, 1985-2011, and Chair of the House Science Committee, 2007-2010, spoke with Norm about his storied career in federal and nonprofit service and as the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, and asked him to share insights from his influential leadership roles in the R&D advocacy arena. Here are some of his thoughts on: 

His journey to becoming a forceful advocate for science technology: 

“Well, it goes back to when I retired from my day job a little over 25 years ago. And I got wondering what I could do with the rest of my runway that might make a little difference. I’d seen a number of surveys asking people what the most important factor in their quality of life was, and throughout the world responses were overwhelmingly “to have a good job.” That led me to think about some studies that showed that 85% of the growth in American GDP or jobs was attributable to just two field advancements – science and technology. That persuaded me that science was awfully important. Then I got to thinking that you can’t have science without good scientists or good researchers.” 

How being CEO of a big company like Lockheed Martin influenced your advocacy: 

“We had at the time [I was CEO] about 82,000 engineers that worked for us, and a number of scientists. I’m an aerospace engineer, so in my career I’ve had the chance to watch engineers do some pretty amazing things. Yet, I was always acutely aware that engineers rearrange the bricks that are created by the scientists and if the scientists aren’t doing research, there’s no bricks for engineers to build things. So, it became very apparent to me that we needed a lot more in science. Particularly the industries support of [science] research has been declining for the last 20 – 30 years, at a time of booming importance for research. The reason for that is straightforward. At the time I first went into the business world, the average shareholder at a large firm in this country held their share for eight years, today, it’s four months. So, the shareholders, the owners of companies, don’t want you investing in things that take 10 or 15 years to pay off like research or like education. They want to know what you’re going to do in the next quarter. As a result, companies have stopped investing in research. I’m a free enterprise guy and [I believe] democracy is the heart of our country. But I also realize that there are some things that industry just can’t or won’t or shouldn’t do. Some of those things will be of importance to the public, where the public is a beneficiary, and that’s why I think it’s so important that the government step in and be a major supporter, particularly in funding of science and basic research conducted in our universities and our governmental labs.” 

How we can make science and technology a higher priority for federal funding: 

“The government’s support of defense has actually been wavering considerably. During the time I was CEO of a company, 40% of the people in aerospace industry lost their job who were working on defense, and we would be so much better off in research and defense and so on if we can have consistency of funding. I think the only path that we’ve got to convince the public that research is important, is to get the public to connect the benefits they receive with the products of research. I think people love their Apple iPhone. It wasn’t Apple that made the iPhone possible, it was scientists working in research labs 10, 20, 30 years ago that really produced the bricks, if you will, that made the iPhone possible. The same thing is true of GPS, of any number of other things that we all take for granted. One of the things we’ve got to do is for the public to relate the work that goes on in a research laboratory to their personal lives.” 

Effective ways to make a case to policymakers about the importance of science technology research: 

“Not long ago, I checked what the most recent data was on the number of scientists in the House and the Senate. Out of 535 members there were there were four that would be termed as having their degree in a science [other than political]. So, science doesn’t have a built-in interest group within the Congress. I find that few people disagree when I point out the importance of science and research, that’s not the problem. The problem is that it’s not number one on most of their lists. Somehow, we need to get more support built up for scientists by convincing the public that it is important. One lesson I learned was that being sort of an outsider to the science community is a great advantage because you’re not viewed as having a personal interest other than that of the average citizen and the outcome of scientific work. When I was able to speak about science, I was generally given a lot of credibility; and we should get more people who are not scientists to understand its importance and go out and talk [about it]. We need more governors, mayors, businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, and bankers out there talking about the importance of science. For scientists to say it’s important is also important, but it doesn’t have the impact that, frankly, that many of these other folks have. I should also say that most of the efforts supporting science tend to be rather periodic with government budgets at this point and that’s unfortunate. What we need are entities that have a lasting continuing understanding and support for science and research. America is a classic example of the importance of that kind of institution.” 

How to convey the importance of diversity in the science and technology research area and workforce: 

“What I try to do is point out that we handicap ourselves greatly by having minorities and women so underrepresented in science and technology. China has four times the population we do, 79% of the baccalaureate degrees China awards are in STEM and the US has 23%. Last time I checked 59% of college bachelor’s degrees go to women in this country. That’s like one and a half per man, and in many fields – law, medicine, and so on – women make up about half or even a little more, in some cases, [of all professionals]. But in science, we’re way down. It’s a handicap we impose on ourselves. I guess a logical question is why do we do that? I think one thing is that there are a lot of fathers that still tell their young daughters that girls don’t do science or engineering and that’s a very unfortunate statement. Then there’s the common thing for both men and women, and that is our K through 12 system, which I recall has us ranked about 17th in math and 29th in science among other nations but nowhere near the top. Then most of the high school graduates aren’t qualified to even start a [baccalaureate] degree in science because they skipped algebra or something along the way. So, high on the priority list of helping science is to fix the gaping hole in the system, particularly in science and engineering.” 

Responding to science research skeptics in Congress who claim federal investment in research will crowd out private investment: 

“Basic research doesn’t crowd out industry investment – it increases investment and opens doors to new knowledge. And entrepreneurs then take ahold of that knowledge and see opportunities to build companies. Many companies in this country have been built by people who took an idea that came out of a government lab, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is a great example that has brought us things that have changed everybody’s lives for the better. So, my argument is that government investment is highly leveraged in terms of getting the private sector to invest more. I think it’s the free enterprise system at work.” 

The scale of investment and state of our national R&D enterprise: 

“Unfortunately, it’s not an easy answer. In the past, since time zero, we’ve had existential questions. Today we’ve got issues of underinvestment of K through 12 education, research, climate change, China, nuclear proliferation, federal debt, pandemics, and so on down the line. The deed to focus on each of those is so important, and it’s just my belief that we’re not doing an adequate job. I get hope from the fact that we’ve risen to the occasion in the past. We can do it; we just have to get focused. I always like to say a pessimist is a person who wants to be an optimist but has a knowledge of the facts, and I think that’s kind of where I am at this point in time.” 

Watch the full discussion here