12/19/2011 08:41 am ET | Updated Feb 17, 2012

Public-Private Partnerships Are Key to U.S. Competitiveness

Collaboration between the public and private sectors has long served as the model for addressing major challenges faced by the U.S. But in today's political and economic environment, is it a thing of the past?

During the Great Depression, FDR conceived of Social Security to provide a vital safety net for the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, widows and orphans. Termed "the biggest accounting operation of all time," FDR turned to the private sector for the technology necessary to collect and disburse program money. This established Social Security and demonstrated that public-private partnerships could roll out large-scale solutions to grand challenges.

Three decades later, NASA and hundreds of private companies collaborated to put the first man on the moon. The Apollo program also drove development of whole new technologies and industries, with far-ranging impacts on our economy and society. These include technologies such as flight computer design, integrated circuits, fuel cells, and computer-controlled machining for highly precise manufacturing, and applications such as artificial limbs, fire fighting, food safety and water purification.

Today, we face a challenge as large as establishing Social Security or flying to the moon - keeping the U.S. competitive in a global economy, as we continue to recover from the recession and face competition from countries growing and investing much faster than us.

I suggest public-private partnerships are essential to addressing U.S. competitiveness and are working today. These partnerships are grounded in the principles that drive sustainable business for the long haul - the willingness to change everything but core values, demonstrating continual forward momentum that is key to innovation, and the ability to manage for the long-term.

A good example is IBM's partnership with the The National Institutes of Health where major drug chemical firms and my company are collaborating to develop a massive, searchable database using cloud-based analytics to speed drug discovery and medical research. The database will allow researchers worldwide to quickly comb through more that 2.4 million chemical compounds from 4.7 million patents and 11 million biomedical journal articles. Openly sharing this data will drive new insights and expand new areas of research faster than if this information was held closely.

Expanding this model to include more partnerships is key to driving long-term prosperity, innovation and economic vitality that create jobs and opportunities for the future.