Technology leaders say the United States is losing its competitive edge to developing countries in Asia.  As VOA's Mil Arcega reports, they're turning to Washington lawmakers for help.

Top business leaders told a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation that America's lead as a technology giant is eroding.   The latest figures show the U.S. trade balance in high tech goods fell from a surplus high of $33 billion in 1997 to a deficit of $27 billion in 2003. 

Norman Augustine, former C.E.O. and Chairman of the U.S. aerospace firm, Lockheed Martin, said the big winners have been countries such as China and India. "This has been brought about partly because of our own inaction in many instances, but partly because the rest of the world is getting better and its often getting better by copying the things we used to do well."

Among them, scientific research.  Senator John Ensign, a Republican Party senator from Nevada, is co-author of the National Innovation Act.

He proposes doubling the nation's investment in scientific research and improving math and science education in classrooms.  "Unfortunately, in the disciplines that foster innovation in the 21st century, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, America is steadily losing its global edge."

Here's why.  Last year, 500,000 engineers graduated in China, in India the number was 200,000 and in the U.S. -- 70,000.

Senator Ensign predicts, "If this present trend continues, 90 percent of all scientists and engineers in the world will be living in Asia by the year 2010."

Despite the declining numbers in science and engineering degrees, U.S. gross domestic product remains among the highest in the world.

Deborah Wince-Smith is president of the Council on Competitiveness, a national organization that tracks international business trends.  "Per worker, Americans are five times more productive than workers in China.  We still lead the world in manufacturing output as well as manufacturing value-add, yet the challenges are real, systemic, and if ignored, will undermine our foundation of strength and leadership."

Democratic Party Senator Max Baucus, of Montana says the U.S. remains strong, but the time to make policy changes is now. "We're still ahead in creativity       and innovation, maybe not in other areas, but in creativity and innovation -- and I'm not too convinced how long that's going to last, frankly."

He plans to introduce a bill later this year that will focus on education, energy reform and health care to ensure that Americans can sustain their standard of living despite increasing global competition.