Obama announced two new research hubs in Chicago and Detroit, where the government will join universities and businesses to train workers and develop new technologies.
But it would take an act of Congress to pay for the network of 45 hubs that Obama would like to set up around the country.
"I'm really excited about these four hubs," Obama said. "The only problem is, Germany has 60 of them."
Obama made his remarks before a crowd in the White House, where members of Congress, and state and local officials from Illinois and Michigan gathered for the announcement. The federal government will devote $70 million to get the institutes going in each of the two communities, money that will be matched by local businesses and academic centers.
His administrative orders can only accomplish so much, Obama acknowledged. For weeks, he has been issuing orders, mostly small-bore ones, and calling on lawmakers to turn them into major initiatives. Meanwhile, he said, he'll continue to do what he can by his own power.
"Congress, I think, has an opportunity to really expand these in a significant way," Obama said. "In the meantime, while Congress decides on what it's going to do, we're going to go ahead and take some action to launch more of these hubs this year."