(Washington, DC) – Today, House Committee on Science and Technology held its first hearing of the second session of Congress to get opinions on the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69), which Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) announced is a key part of the Committee’s agenda for 2010. Specifically, the hearing examined the roles that science and technology play in promoting economic security and maintaining U.S. competitiveness in the 21st century global marketplace. In this legislative hearing, Members received feedback from the private sector on ways to strengthen U.S. competitiveness to incorporate in the reauthorization of COMPETES.
“This morning, we are kicking off one of the most important efforts of the year – to reauthorize our Committee’s landmark legislation, the America COMPETES Act,” stated Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN). “As we learned from the National Academies’ report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, in order to create an innovative economy we need a well-educated workforce and predictable funding streams for these programs. Today, our witnesses have expressed how critical this commitment to innovation is to our prosperity and our economic growth. COMPETES has affected, and will continue to affect, U.S. innovation and its programs will help sustain a skilled workforce in the future.”
Scientific advancements and technological innovation are key contributors to America’s economic growth. Since World War II, about half of the growth in the U.S.’s GDP has come from the development and adoption of new technologies. Although the U.S. is a world leader in research and development (R&D) and technological innovation, the margin continues to shrink; this was confirmed by the National Science Board’s Science and Engineering Indicators 2010 report, released last Friday. Also, American students have not been performing up to their potential, especially compared to their global counterparts, in math and science. In order to compete, the U.S. needs not only to train the best scientists and engineers in the world, but to ensure that every student is prepared for the high-paying, high-tech jobs of the 21st century.
COMPETES strengthens our national economic competitiveness: through investments in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education; by setting our science research agencies on a doubling path (National Institute of Standards and Technology, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy’s Office of Science); and by addressing our need for innovation in the energy sector by creating an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to pursue high-risk, high-reward energy technology development.
Witnesses were supportive of COMPETES and its role in fostering innovation and strengthening American competitiveness in the global economy.
“Business Roundtable views [COMPETES] as a fundamental prerequisite to restoring stable, long-term U.S. economic growth and job creation. America’s CEOs are committed to accelerating American innovation and boosting the worldwide competitiveness of the United States. They understand that investments in scientific research and math and science education help create the platform for sustained, long-term growth,” stated Mr. John Castellani,President of the Business Roundtable. “The formula is simple. Investments in research and education provide the tools for accelerated technological innovation, which drives productivity growth. Innovation leads to new products and processes – even whole new industries – thereby generating high-wage employment and a higher standard of living for all Americans.”
Governor John Engler, President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers said, “We strongly support the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act as the small investment in its critical components – doubling federal R&D funding for the NSF, NIST, and DoE Office of Science, and reauthorizing ARPA-E, strengthening STEM education, and renewing our commitment to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership – will reap considerable returns by helping to create jobs today, and ensure our economic security in the future.”
“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the business community it represents strongly support reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. This legislation is moving America in the right direction. It is improving the number and quality of STEM teachers; increasing support and access for STEM students at the postsecondary level; attracting underrepresented groups to STEM courses and careers; supporting basic research; and establishing programs that will help create new forms of energy and commercialize new innovations,” said Mr. Thomas Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The America COMPETES Act puts the focus on right where it should be – on increasing the number of American students proficient in STEM and ensuring we have sufficient R&D funding to drive innovation and propel technological progress.”
“The Council fully supports the reauthorization of COMPETES,” said Ms. Deborah Wince-Smith, President and CEO of the Council on Competitiveness. “We recommend strengthened STEM education for all Americans; steady increases in federal research funding for long-term basic research across all agencies; and greater coordination across state and federal agencies on innovation policy. I can only emphasize that the importance of these provisions has not waned with the passage of time and the deterioration of the global economy—they are critical to America’s prosperity. Information, knowledge and technology are increasingly commodities. Rewards do not necessarily go to those who have a great deal of these things, but to those nations who are prepared to create new industries and deploy new products and services.”
Witnesses voiced strong support for continuing and expanding public-private partnerships. One key provision of COMPETES with a strong public-private partnership component was ARPA-E. The agency recently made its first round of awards. In addition to receiving far more concept papers for the first Funding Opportunity Announcement than expected—3,700—the awards also attracted far more funds from the private sector than was required or expected. The Chairman and the Committee have continued to look for ways to attract additional private sector support for high-risk, high-reward energy technology development.
“There are far more good ideas than ARPA-E’s funding can accommodate,” said Gordon. “Many of the finalists have very promising projects that are as deserving of grant funding as the award winners. In discussions with Secretary Chu and Director Majumdar, I suggested that they create a forum in which finalists and awardees could present their proposals and meet with potential investors. The first such forum will be the ARPA-E Innovation Summit, to be held March 1st-3rd at the Gaylord Convention Center at the nearby National Harbor in Maryland. This is another way in which the Department can serve to vet the nation’s most promising energy technologies and encourage private sector support.”
Members also focused on the need to bolster American manufacturing. Witnesses highlighted four provisions within COMPETES that help strengthen innovation in the manufacturing sector: federal funding for basic R&D; ARPA-E; STEM education; and the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). Chairman Gordon announced that the Committee will hold hearings on manufacturing R&D.
About the America COMPETES Act:
The America COMPETES Act grew out of the National Academies’ 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The report showed a bleak future—a stagnating U.S. economy, an ill-equipped educational system, and the U.S. losing its place as a scientific world leader—and offered recommendations to prevent that from coming to pass. COMPETESpassed the House by a vote of 367 to 57. This legislation was signed into law by President George W. Bush on August 9, 2007. The Omnibus and the Recovery package brought funding for the programs in COMPETES to or above the FY09 authorized levels. This bill will expire at the end of FY2010.
For more information the Committee’s work on COMPETES, please visit the Committee’s website.