FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News

Science and Tech Committee Starts Work on COMPETES Reauthorization

Rob Boisseau
Number 10 - January 28, 2010  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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On January 20, Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) gaveled the first hearing of the House Committee on Science and Technology of 2010 into session, beginning what will be a legacy effort to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act (see FYI #84) set to expire at the end of this fiscal year.

Gordon provided an overview of the committee’s work in 2010 saying:

“This morning we’re going to kickoff one of the most important efforts of this year to reauthorize our committees landmark legislation the America COMPETES act.  We’ll also reauthorize NASA this year, setting up a path for the next 10, or 20 years.”

“Among other initiatives we also expect the committee to take a closer look at advancing several energy technologies including those associated with nuclear energy, carbon capture and sequestration, marine and hydrokinetic energy, as well as energy efficiencies and conservation technologies.  These technologies not only have the potential to help curb climate change, they also are poised to create new industries and new jobs to go along with them.  And Mr. Ehlers, were going to take another crack at that organic NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] act [H.R. 300].”

“And finally we need to finish the work that this committee has started.  Last year the committee passed a total of 37 bills and resolutions out of the House with strong bipartisan support.  We are currently working with the Senate to speed up progress on 21 bills that are still waiting for action in that chamber.”

Speaking to the success of COMPETES, Gordon noted that one component of that bill, the Advance Research Projects Agency- Energy (ARPA-E), which received its first appropriation of $400 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), received 3,700 initial concept papers.  ARPA-E requested 3034 full proposals, resulting in 37 being accepted for first round funding.

To encourage private investment in ARPA-E funded research, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu recently announced the inaugural “ARPA-E Innovation Summit” to be held March 1-3 at the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center just outside of Washington, DC.  More information is available here.

Gordon concluded his opening remarks by noting the importance of consistent R&D funding saying, “As we learned from The Gathering Storm in order to create a sustained well educated workforce for an innovative economy we need to establish sustained funding streams for these programs.”

Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) was also optimistic about the COMPETES reauthorization.  Hall called COMPETES “a step in the right direction,” but struck a tone of fiscal conservatism.  Saying that his message about the importance of COMPETES investments hasn’t changed, Hall cautioned “our economy has.”  Hall explained:

“In [COMPETES] we set out to double funding for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the DOE’s Office of Science over a 10 year period.  By the time we got through conference this timetable was accelerated to seven years.  Plus these agencies received enormous amounts of stimulus funding, the results of which have yet to be seen, that goes for COMPETES and for the stimulus funding.”

“At the same time I’d urge you… to proceed cautiously through this reauthorization process.  I believe it’s prudent for us to ensure we are reaping the benefits of the numerous initiatives already set forth in America COMPETES before creating others.”

The committee’s four witnesses unanimously endorsed COMPETES reauthorization.

John Castellani, President of the Business Roundtable, called COMPETES, “a fundamental prerequisite to restoring stable long term economic growth and job creation.”  Castellani went on to say that the nation’s CEOs, “understand that investments in science research, math, and science education, help create the platform for sustained long term growth.  The formula is simple, investments in research and education provide the tools for accelerated technical innovation, which drives productivity growth, innovation, leads to new products, and processes, and even whole new industries generating high wage employment and a higher standard of living for all Americans.”

Before explaining that, “Nearly every job created in the U.S. over the next 10 years will require more math and science fluency than the average job today,” Castellani cited, “the lack of qualified math and science teachers in American public schools [as] a major impediment to improved U.S. education achievement in math and science.”

Castellani concluded, “The Business Roundtable is proud to have been an early supporter of the original America COMPETES Act and we strongly support its reauthorization.”

Tom Donahue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce characterized the U.S. as the scientific hegemon in decline.  “The statistics tell a very alarming tale… American 15 year olds rank 21st out of 30 in science literacy among their peers from developed countries and 25th out of 30 in math literacy.  More than half of the U.S. science and engineering post doctoral students in the U.S. are on temporary visas from other countries,” warned Donahue.  He added, “We can’t continue this way if we hope to lead the world in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

Like his copanelists, Donahue urged the committee to reauthorize COMPETES saying, “This legislation is moving America in the right direction, its improving the number and quality of STEM teachers, increasing support and access for STEM students, attracting underrepresented groups to STEM courses, supporting basic research, and establishing programs that will help create new forms of energy and commercialize these innovations.” Donahue also called for a permanent extension to the R&D tax credit which expired on December 31, 2009.

Former Michigan Governor John Engler, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, expressed his organization’s support for ARPA-E, and called for a refocusing of STEM education around the application of STEM concepts for manufacturing jobs.

Deborah Wince-Smith, President and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness offered her support saying, “The Council fully supports [COMPETES] reauthorization.”  Wince-Smith suggested that the new COMPETES should, “strengthen STEM education for all Americans, irrespective of their future careers, [support] steady and predictable increases in federal research funding for long term basic research across all agencies, [foster] greater coordination across federal agencies for innovation policy, and [encourage] very important new models for public-private partnerships such as ARPA-E.”

Rob Boisseau
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics