Yesterday, the House Science and Technology Committee secured floor passage of a new bill that now enables the House and Senate to meet in a conference to settle on the final version of an important and wide-ranging S&T authorization bill. By voice vote, the House passed H.R. 2272, the 21st Century Competitiveness Act of 2007.
Rep. David Wu (D-OR), chairman of the Technology and Innovation Subcommittee, explained the bill to his colleagues as follows: "H.R. 2272 is the culmination of a year-and-a-half-long bipartisan effort by members of the Science and Technology Committee to pass a package of competitiveness bills in response to recommendations in the 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. H.R. 2272 . . . is simply a package of five bills, each of which already has passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming majority over the last two months. We created a single bill as a basis for initiating discussions with the other Chamber [Senate] on a comprehensive competitiveness bill that we could send to the President for his signature this year."
The five House bills that Wu referred to would reauthorize the National Science Foundation (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/048.html) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/050.html), two math-science education bills (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/052.html) and a bill to amend the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991. Many of these bills were initiated during the last Congress in the Science Committee, and successfully brought to the floor in rapid succession this year.
Combing the five House bills into this single package was necessary to take this bill into a conference with the Senate-passed bill, The America COMPETES Act. S. 761 was passed about a month ago by a vote of 88-8 (see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/044.html.)
The two bills have similarities and differences. Each authorizes a doubling of the National Science Foundation, although the Senate bill would accomplish this in five years while the House bill would take ten. The Senate bill would authorize a ten-year doubling of the DOE Office of Science budget; the House bill is silent. The House bill authorizes a ten-year doubling of the National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratory research budget; the Senate bill is silent. One measure of each bill's reach is the total authorization level: the House bill authorizes $23.6 billion, the Senate bill almost $60 billion.
One characteristic that the legislation in the House and Senate share is deep, bipartisan support, indicative of the rising concern that members in both chambers have about America's future competitiveness. While there will be many details to resolve, the senators and representatives and their staffs who settle on a final version of this legislation will approach that conference with the sentiment that, as Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated, "providing high quality jobs for hard working Americans must be our first priority. And in order to accomplish that, we must be proactive."