After making revisions to gain Democratic support, the House Science
Committee unanimously passed a package of education and competitiveness
bills, by voice vote, on June 7. The "Science and Mathematics Education
For Competitiveness" Act (H.R. 5358), would enhance science and
math education programs, primarily at NSF, while the "Research
for Competitiveness" Act (H.R. 5356) would combine two prior committee
bills (H.R. 5356 and H.R. 5357) authorizing early career awards and
fund-matching awards for young scientists and engineers.
While the bills were originally introduced with only Republican sponsorship,
enough changes were made to satisfy Science Committee Ranking Minority
Member Bart Gordon (D-TN), who signed on as a cosponsor on the latest
round. In a press release, Gordon thanked Committee Chairman Sherwood
Boehlert (R-NY) and other committee members for working with him to
combine provisions from Gordon's own education and competitiveness legislation
with the majority's bills, and to bring "the scope and funding
levels authorized" closer to the recommendations of the National
Academies' report on competitiveness, "Rising Above the Gathering
Storm." Gordon also joined with Boehlert (R-NY) in a letter to
House appropriators, urging support for the programs and authorization
levels in the committee's bills.
Provisions of the Science Committee bills as originally introduced
can be found at http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/065.html.
Changes made to attract Democratic support and enable unanimous committee
passage of the bills include the following:
H.R. 5358: THE SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS EDUCATION FOR COMPETITIVENESS
Language on the Robert Noyce scholarship program, which provides scholarships
to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) undergraduates
who commit to teaching after graduation, is now more specific about
the programs that recipient universities must provide to students, including
field teaching experience. Authorization levels in the latter years
of the bill (FY 2010 and FY 2011) would be increased from $90 million
per year to $110 million and $130 million, respectively.
NSF's Mathematics and Science Partnership program would be renamed
the "School and University Partnerships for Science and Mathematics
Education." The focus would not be narrowed to strictly teacher
improvement - as it would have under the original bill - although grant
applications that emphasize teacher training would be given preference.
Authorization levels for this program would be significantly increased
over the original bill, ranging from $63 million in FY 2007 to $103
million in FY 2011 instead of remaining at a steady $50 million per
The creation of centers on undergraduate education would be incorporated
into the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion
Program (STEP). Provisions were added to the bill requiring NSF to study
laboratory equipment donations to elementary and secondary schools by
institutions of higher education, and to assess its education programs
in a manner that would enable comparison of effectiveness with other
federal agency education programs.
H.R. 5356: THE RESEARCH FOR COMPETITIVENESS ACT:
The original bills for early-career research grants (H.R. 5356) and
award-matching grants (H.R. 5357) at NSF and DOE's Office of Science
were combined. The size of the base grant for the award-matching grant
program would be increased from $50,000 to $75,000 per year, while the
requirement for matching funding from industry would be reduced from
$50,000 to $37,500 per year.
The revised bill would provide authorization levels for NSF's Major
Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program (climbing from $94.2 million
in FY 2007 to $123.4 million in FY 2011), and would expand the range
of awards under the MRI program to between $100,000 and $20,000,000.
The bill also authorizes an NSF program to fund cross-disciplinary
research relevant to both the physical and nonbiomedical life sciences,
and authorizes NSF to support research on the process of innovation
and the teaching of inventiveness. It includes language expressing the
sense of Congress that NASA should participate in competitiveness initiatives
within the spending levels in its 2005 authorization act.
"These measures represent an intelligent middle-ground between
those who want to create scores of new, untested, expensive programs
and those who argue that all that's necessary is to increase overall
funding for basic research and leave everything else to chance,"
said Chairman Boehlert. In a June 8 speech, Boehlert was hopeful that
the bills might reach the House floor before the end of this month.
He also expressed optimism that the Science Committee's bills could
successfully be combined with competitiveness bills in the Senate, possibly
leading to a presidential signature by winter. Selected quotes from
Boehlert's speech will follow in FYI
However, White House support of such competitiveness legislation is
not yet assured. In a June 5 letter to Boehlert, Office of Science and
Technology Policy Director John Marburger reportedly criticized the
high authorization levels in the committee's bills and charged that
they might dilute the impact of President Bush's American Competitiveness