Less than a month ago, the bill to reauthorize the expired America COMPETES Act appeared to be going nowhere. Last week, President Obama signed H.R. 5116 into law.
On January 20th of last year, then House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) gaveled the committee’s first hearing of the year into order, declaring “This morning we’re going to kick off one of the most important efforts of this year to reauthorize our committee’s landmark legislation, the America COMPETES Act.” That hearing was followed by many others, and after a series of maneuvers on the House floor, H.R. 5116, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, was passed by the House. The Senate Commerce, Energy and Transportation Committee approved its version of the bill without dissent in late July, after which no further public action was taken on the bill. With little notice, a slimmer bill was brought to the Senate floor in mid-December and passed without objection, followed by a 228-130 vote in the House to approve the legislation.
President Obama signed H.R. 5116 into law on January 4. In late December, John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, commented:
“COMPETES keeps America on a path of leadership in an ever more competitive world. It authorizes the continued growth of the budgets of three key agencies that are incubating and generating the breakthroughs of tomorrow -- the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the National Science Foundation. COMPETES also bolsters this Administration’s already groundbreaking activities to enhance STEM education -- to raise American students from the middle to the top of the pack and to make sure we are training the next generation of innovative thinkers and doers.”
“It is heartening that Congress today recognized that the maintenance of America’s global leadership in science, technology, and innovation transcends politics and partisanship. Full funding of the COMPETES Act is among the most important things that Congress can do to ensure America’s continued leadership in the decades ahead.”
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) is the Ranking Minority Member on the renamed House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, following the retirement of Rep. Gordon. In a statement released after the enactment of P.L. 111-358, she commented:
“The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 is a crucial component of our effort to grow the economy, foster the development of new products and industries, and create jobs. It makes important investments in science and innovation to help keep this country competitive and to strengthen our scientific and economic leadership. It will also help to ensure that all of our children have access to highly qualified science and math teachers so that they can be prepared for the 21st century workforce.” “This Committee has a significant role to play in solving some of the serious challenges faced by our country. The America COMPETES Act and this reauthorization bill are two examples of the good, bipartisan work that this Committee has done in the past to tackle these challenges, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the 112th Congress.”
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) did not release a statement following the President’s action. Hall voted against final House passage of the bill, then explaining:
“As much as I want to support COMPETES and see NSF, NIST and the DOE Office of Science reauthorized, I simply cannot support this version. This measure continues to be far too expensive, particularly in light of the new and duplicative programs it creates. Further, we have not had the opportunity to give proper oversight to the programs we put in motion in the first COMPETES before authorizing new, additional programs. And, unfortunately, this bill still goes way beyond the goals and direction of the original America COMPETES, taking us from good, solid fundamental research and much too far into the world of commercialization, which many of us on this side of the aisle do not believe is the proper role of the federal government.”
Support for the bill was bipartisan in the Senate. Following its enactment, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee remarked:
“When we first passed America COMPETES three years ago, it helped us create a path to ensuring that we retain our competitive edge in the global economy. Given the difficult economic times we’ve been facing for the past few years, I believe it is more important than ever for us to invest in scientific research and math and science education. This bill will keep us on track - in research and in education - so that we can create the jobs of the future for U.S. workers.”
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) joined Bingaman in writing the original COMPETES bill. Alexander commented:
“America has most of the best universities in the world, yet our nation is falling behind. This legislation continues an aggressive effort to preserve America’s brainpower advantage, so our high-paying jobs don’t head overseas to places like India and China. At a time of nearly 10 percent unemployment, this legislation is more important than ever. The process for putting together this legislation could serve as a model: Getting the recommendations of experts and working together step-by-step in a bipartisan way.”