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FYI Number 125: October 19, 2006

Bipartisan Senate Competitiveness Bill Introduced

Thirty-nine senators are cosponsors of an extensive bill that would authorize major changes in federal support for research and development, and science education. While this legislation is unlikely to reach President Bush's desk before this Congress adjourns, it will help position similar legislation in the new Congress which will convene next year.

S. 3936, the National Competitiveness Investment Act, was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader William Frist (R-TN), and is cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV.) The bill is cosponsored by an almost equal number of Democrats and Republicans spanning a wide ideological spectrum, representing some of the nation's most populous and industrialized states, as well as its most rural and agricultural states (see a list of cosponsors at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:SN03936:@@@P ).

This 31,000-word bill was introduced on September 26 and encompasses many of the provisions that were in the Protecting America's Competitive Edge bills introduced in January (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2006/013.html.) The PACE bills were based on recommendations in several competitiveness reports, most notably the National Academies' "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/155.html.) S. 3936's provisions are wide-ranging, covering topics such as the convening of a National Science and Technology Summit, release of scientific research results to the public, NASA's inclusion as a full participant in interagency activities such as the American Competitiveness Initiative, NASA workforce, NASA's basic research programs, NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program, the establishment of a NOAA/NSF coordinated program of ocean and atmospheric R&D, the authorization of the doubling of DOE Office of Science funding, the authorization of a wide range of DOE education programs – including a nuclear science education program, an "Advanced Research Projects Authority - Energy," a grant program for a high-risk/high reward DOE research program, math and science education assistance programs at all levels, double authorization levels for the National Science Foundation, and NSF education programs. S. 3936 does not include tax provisions.

In introducing the bill, Frist explained "This truly is a bipartisan bill. It reflects the fact that when it comes to our country's economic future, there is wide bipartisan support for those policies that will keep the United States competitive in this ever changing, dynamic, global economy of the 21st century. The bill we are introducing today is a product of many Senators who have come together . . . who put aside political affiliations . . . to craft a broad comprehensive bill. The legislation has evolved over the course of the 109th Congress." He continued, "The U.S. today has the strongest scientific and technological enterprise in the world, including the best research universities. But there is growing evidence and recognition that our educational system is failing in those areas that have directly underpinned our strength – science, engineering, and mathematics. We must invest for the future in those areas if we are to maintain our technological edge in the world."

Later, he stated: "While the legislation does not address all of the issues raised in the various studies - it is doubtful any one piece of legislation could - it nonetheless is a start, it is a good first step, and of course it is a bipartisan first step." Regarding the bill's cost, Frist stated, "Authorizations for these programs would total $73 billion over the next five years, less than $2.0 billion above the President's request. When we consider that over the next five years our economy will exceed $76 trillion – a 1 percent investment for the future seems a small price to pay for our continued economic security and leadership in the world. This legislation is the correct thing to do for the country's future economic security."

In late September, a very well-attended convocation was held at the National Academies that was a follow-up to the release last year of the "Gathering Storm" report (see http://www7.nationalacademies.org/gatheringstorm/.) Among those speaking were Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). All stressed their support of legislation to promote America's competitiveness. Bingaman called S. 3936 an "important step" that "was the beginning of long journey" that "will require sustained effort over many years."

Domenici told the convocation, "Through this new legislation, we are going to put the Augustine report's recommendations into action. In this bill, we are addressing nearly every one of the recommendations made by this significant, influential report. The National Academy of Sciences told us what we need to do, and it is up to us on Capitol Hill to do it." Looking at the near future, Domenici spoke about the importance of the FY 2007 appropriations bills that will be completed after Congress returns on November 9. He said, "We must not forget that authorizations are terrific, but we have to follow through and fund the programs. That will be hard work, because funding these programs will mean making hard decisions and taking cuts to programs somewhere else. But if we don't start making the hard decisions today, we will be out of luck tomorrow."

Hutchinson was very complementary about the "Gathering Storm" report, saying that it "really is the shot being heard around the world." She spoke of her commitment to double NSF funding, and also said she wanted NASA to be a component of the American Competitiveness Initiative (which is a provision of S. 3936.) She cautioned that "NASA is bleeding" its research budget to provide funding for the space station and the Moon-Mars initiative. Regarding competitiveness, she assured the convocation, "we are on this."

Alexander described a meeting he had with President Bush, who said "he would do his best" to press for passage of S. 3936. Alexander repeatedly spoke of the importance of constituent visits with Member of Congress to demonstrate support for legislation. "We need to hear from you," he said. (Other senators spoke in support of S. 3936 when it was introduced on the Senate floor; excerpts will be provided in a future FYI.)

Boehlert was more pessimistic about the outlook for S. 3936 this year, saying: "The introduction of that package is good news because it demonstrates the Senate's commitment to this issue, making it more likely that we'll be able to work out legislation in November. I have to say, though, that I'd like to see a more streamlined, targeted approach than the 209-page Senate bill. Unless we set priorities, the legislation won't have any impact. And the Senate package could not possibly get through the House. But it represents a lot of thought and a lot of hard work, and our staffs talk regularly. And impressively, the Senate Republican and Democrat leaders are sponsors of the Senate bill. So while I can't say I'm optimistic that we'll get authorizing legislation enacted this year, all the pieces we need to do so are on the board, and we could negotiate a good bill if we were given the green light to do so. At the very least, my colleagues who will be around for the 110th Congress in January, will be in a good position to start right in again on STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] issues when Congress convenes. And now that the issue is on the front burner, it's not going to go away."

Richard M. Jones
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3095

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