America COMPETES Reauthorization Bill Signed Into Law

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Publication date: 
11 January 2011

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.”

He  continued:

“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.”

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