On August 9, President Bush signed into law H.R. 2272, the America COMPETES Act, intended to strengthen the nation’s commitment to research and education. The bill represents a bipartisan, bicameral effort to expand and enhance U.S. basic research and education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to ensure the nation’s continued competitiveness in the future (for more details of the bill see http://www.aip.org/fyi/2007/084.html).
The bill is the culmination of a number of years of effort by the science community and members of Congress. Last year President George Bush promoted some of the same concepts with his “American Competitiveness Initiative,” announced in the 2006 State of the Union address. The final version of the legislation signed last week incorporates many prior bills, including S. 761, the comprehensive Senate competitiveness bill; the House-passed NSF and NIST reauthorizations; and several bills introduced by House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) to expand NSF programs for STEM education and workforce development. “This is not just an idle thought for those of us who have kids and grandkids,” said Gordon of the bill’s signing. “I am very concerned that the next generation of Americans can be the first generation of Americans to inherit a national standard of living less than their parents if we don’t do something. This bill will help turn that corner.”
In signing H.R. 2272, President Bush was largely complimentary, but he also criticized some of the bill’s provisions and expenditures, commenting that it contained “many unnecessary and misguided programs.” His remarks on the signing of the bill follow:
“Today I signed into law H.R. 2272, the ‘America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act.’ This legislation shares many of the goals of my American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). ACI is one of my most important domestic priorities because it provides a comprehensive strategy to help keep America the most innovative Nation in the world by strengthening our scientific education and research, improving our technological enterprise, and providing 21st century job training.
“Since I announced ACI in January 2006, Congress has risen to the competitiveness challenge in a bipartisan way. House and Senate appropriators started the funding for ACI basic research programs in fiscal year 2007, and so far in this year's appropriations process they are fully funding my fiscal year 2008 budget request for the National Science Foundation, the Office of Science in the Department of Energy, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology at the Department of Commerce.
“This bipartisan spirit of cooperation continues with the legislation I signed. This legislation supports our efforts to double funding for basic research in the physical sciences. And the bill authorizes most of the education programs I called for in ACI, including the Math Now proposal that improves instruction in mathematics and the Advanced Placement program that increases the number of teachers and students participating in AP and International Baccalaureate classes.
“I am, however, disappointed that Congress failed to authorize my Adjunct Teacher Corps program to encourage math and science professionals to teach in our schools. I am also disappointed that the legislation includes excessive authorizations and expansion of government. In total, the bill creates over 30 new programs that are mostly duplicative or counterproductive -- including a new Department of Energy agency to fund late-stage technology development more appropriately left to the private sector -- and also provides excessive authorizations for existing programs. These new programs, additional requirements and reports, and excessive authorizations will divert resources and focus from priority activities aimed at strengthening the basic research that has given our Nation such a competitive advantage in the world economy. Accordingly, I will request funding in my 2009 Budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the ACI, but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in this bill.
“While this legislation includes many unnecessary and misguided programs, in many important ways it heeds my call to action of nearly two years ago to take steps to ensure the ongoing competitiveness of our Nation. Congress, however, still has more work to do to improve our Nation's competitiveness. In addition to giving priority to full ACI funding in this year's appropriations bills, I call on Congress to complete work on the remaining components of ACI, including modernizing and making permanent the research and development tax credit, authorizing the Adjunct Teacher Corps program, and increasing our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest high-skilled workers from around the world.
“I thank Members of both parties in Congress who worked on this legislation, and I appreciate the willingness of Members to remove or otherwise address several of the Administration's serious concerns associated with this legislation. I will continue to work with the Congress to ensure that we keep America competitive through appropriate and strong support for science and technology.”
During an August 9 press conference, President Bush specifically thanked the following members of Congress for their efforts on behalf of the bill: Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and John Ensign (R-NV), and Congressmen Bart Gordon (D-TN) and Vern Ehlers (R-MI).