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July 07, 2006

Innovation and Competitiveness Authorization Updates

We have previously mentioned that CRA had signed two letters urging Congressional leadership to bring to the floor a number of measures addressing innovation, competitiveness and elements of the ACI. Here’s the some background on the bills and an update on where these efforts stand:

The Research for Competitiveness Act (H.R.5356) would authorize the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to give grants to encourage people to enter research as a career by creating a number of new career and research grant programs, including:

•Early career grants programs at NSF, DOE and NIST – grants would be at least $80,000 a year for five years;
•NSF and Energy research award “matching” programs that would award grants up to $75,000 a year to early career researchers working on high-risk, high-return research, with the possibility of an additional $37,500 in federal funds available each year with an industry match;

Additionally, the bill would allow NSF to accept donations for specific prize competitions, establish a program at NSF to award grants for cross-disciplinary research bridging the physical and non-biomedical life sciences, encourage NSF to support research on the process of innovation and the teaching of inventiveness, and allow NASA to establish a workforce training program.

The Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act (H.R.5358) encourages mathematics, science, engineering and technology education. This bill would reauthorize a scholarship program for teachers, the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which allows schools to set up scholarship, stipend and/or internships for students of math and science who wish to teach within high-need K-12 education programs. $50 million would be set aside for 2007, $70 million for 2008, $90 million for 2009, $110 million for 2010, and $130 million for 2011. The bill also encourages school and university partnerships in mathematics and science education through a specialized master’s degree program for in-service mathematics and science teachers as well as a mentor program for advanced placement teachers and their students. It also seeks to address the shortage of math and science teachers in education by allowing NSF, as part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), to fund Centers to improve undergraduate education.

Status Update: The House Science Committee has marked-up and approved both bills, but they await consideration on the House floor. There was hope that both bills would be considered “under suspension of the rules,” a special status reserved for non-controversial bills that would have expedited their passage. However, the House Leadership, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear (but likely linked to concerns from conservative Members about “new programs” they believe are created by the bills – an erroneous belief, in our reading), declined to add the bills to the “suspension” calendar, so they are likely to hit the floor under an open rule, which subjects them to amendment and lengthier debate. There’s some concern within the scientific community about the prospect of bringing the bills to the floor under an open rule. Coming on the heels of the House’s approval of FY07 funding for ACI-related research programs, there’s a question whether further debate on the ACI-related authorizations would be useful – especially if there’s a chance that debate could be acrimonious…

In any case, there’s a chance both bills could come to the floor at any time. Last week, it appeared they’d be headed to the floor as soon as Congress returned from its July 4th recess, but that may have changed. We’ll have the details as soon as we know for sure.

On the Senate side, the PACE-Energy Act (S.2197) is largely modeled on the energy-related recommendations of the National Research Council’s Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, encouraging basic research programs at the Department of Energy. Under the bill, schools that specialize in science and mathematics could receive National Laboratory scientific and engineering staff as assistant instructors where laboratory equipment is used in the lesson. The bill would also establish an experiment-based internship program, as well as satellite summer programs for the national labs at nearby schools and a worker recognition program at the labs (called the Distinguished Scientist Program). There is also renewed focus on nuclear science education with expansion grants (up to $500 thousand a year for 5 years), competitiveness grants (up to $250 thousand a year for 5 years) and scholarships (up to 150 awards at $40 thousand a year for 4 years) for students in that area. The bill also focuses on the applied energy advanced research projects, with the establishment of an Advanced Research Projects Authority board, and would establish a Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (PACE) Graduate Fellowship Program, funded at $4.5 million in 2007 for 100 fellowships, growing to $54 million for 1,000 fellowships for 2013.

Status Update: This bill has been approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and will likely hit the Senate floor in the near future.

We’ve covered the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2006 (S. 2802) in a previous post. The bill was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee back on May 18, 2006 but it has not yet been placed on the Senate calendar.

Given the completely disparate approaches to authorizing innovation and competitiveness-related programs in the two chambers, it’s not clear how Congress will come to agreement on a final package (should any of these actually receive the approval of their respective chambers). Having an authorization package for the ACI-related programs would be a good symbolic development for the community. But, what’s perhaps more important is seeing that the ACI-related programs actually get funded in appropriations – and, as we’ve reported recently, the situation there is “so far, so good.”

As always, keep watch here for the latest details….

Posted by EricaCamese at July 7, 2006 10:37 AM
Posted to American Competitiveness Initiative | Policy