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Public Policy Report for 30 April 2007

A Big Week for Innovation Legislation

On 24 April 2007, the House of Representatives passed two bills central to the Democratic majority’s Innovation Agenda: H.R. 362, “10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Act,” and H.R. 363 “Sewing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Act.” Both bills follow directly from the recommendations made by the National Academies’ 2005 report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”

H.R. 362, passing 389-22, authorizes funding to improve K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education through recruitment, training, mentoring, and professional development of teachers. Specifically, the legislation authorizes $664 million dollars through fiscal year (FY) 2012 for the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program to support math and science undergraduate majors who commit to teaching in the STEM fields, particularly at high-need K-12 schools, for a period of time following graduation. Additionally, the bill authorizes summer teacher training institutes through NSF and the Department of Energy as well as Master’s degree programs for in-service math and science teachers through the NSF Math and Science Partnership program. While on the House floor, two amendments to H.R. 362 related to the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program were adopted by voice vote: one to expand the scholarship program to current STEM professionals interested in becoming math and science teachers and another that requires NSF to ensure that institutions serving minorities are included in the scholarship program.

H.R. 363, passing 397-20, authorizes funding to support and strengthen basic research. Specifically, the bill authorizes NSF and the Department of Energy to make early career grant awards to researchers at academic institutions, and would direct that 1.5 percent of Research and Related Activity funding at NSF be used to support the Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) program. H.R. 363 would also establish a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to identify and prioritize major deficiencies in the nation’s research infrastructure at academic research enterprises and national laboratories. During consideration on the House floor, three amendments to H.R. 363 were adopted including an amendment that would give special consideration for early-career awards to those scientists that have pursued alternative career paths and an amendment to create a scholarship program for undergraduate students pursuing STEM degrees.

Prior to floor consideration of the measures, the White House released Statements of Administration Policy about H.R. 362 and 363. The Administration frequently issues these statements to express support, concern or threaten a veto for legislative proposals moving through Congress. With respect to H.R. 362, the White House was particularly concerned about proposed increases in authorization levels for NSF programs that outpace the President’s current 10-year doubling plan outlined in the American Competitiveness Initiative. Additionally, the Administration expressed concern that Congress was acting in a ‘premature’ manner by expanding or initiating new STEM education programs that have not yet been demonstrated as effective. Regarding H.R. 363, the White House generally supported passage of H.R. 363, but insisted that placing specific award amounts and funding levels on programs like NSF and Department of Energy early career awards and NSF IGERT grants would disrupt program management at these agencies and inhibit future flexibility in providing awards. Further, the Administration suggested that a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure would duplicate current efforts taking place at OSTP through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC).

Following passage in the House, both H.R. 362 and H.R. 363 were sent to the Senate and referred to the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, the Senate was busy considering its innovation legislation, S. 761, “The America COMPETES Act” (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act). Unlike the House that is working on smaller, individual pieces of legislation, the Senate wrapped a number of measures to improve science education, promote basic research, and stimulate innovation into one large bill. Like the House legislation, “The America COMPETES Act” also specifically addresses many of the recommendations in “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” and often does so in very similar ways to those proposed and passed by the House. For example, with respect to improving science and math education, S.761 also proposes the expansion of the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program to recruit and train math and science teachers in high-need local school districts and establish summer institutes for teachers. However, “The America COMPETES Act” also makes a number of unique proposals not considered in any of the current House innovation bills, including one that requires any executive agency that funds STEM research to allocate approximately 8 percent of its annual research budget to innovation acceleration research. (More detailed analysis of S. 761 can be found in the 19 March 2007 Public Policy Report: http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/2007_03_19.html)

As it did with the innovation bills recently considered by the House, the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy on S. 761 on 23 April 2007. The Administration expressed serious concerns about the version of S. 761 before the Senate. The White House suggested that the bill did not prioritize basic research, pointing to the creation of at least 20 new programs across several federal agencies that would divert resources from and undermine basic research. Despite its concerns, the White House did not threaten a veto.

Following three days of debate on the Senate floor, “The America COMPETES Act” was approved by the Senate with a vote of 88 – 8. Prior to the final vote, a number of amendments were considered by the full Senate, including the addition of a laboratory science partnership program, a math and science partnership bonus grant program to reward improving elementary and high schools, and a call for greater oversight of extramural grants and contracts administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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NSF Reauthorization Included in America Competes Legislation

In addition to measures promoting STEM education and stimulating innovation, “The America COMPETES Act” (S. 761) adopted by the Senate on 25 April also authorized appropriations for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the research programs of several other federal agencies. The bill would authorize an increase in funding for the NSF over five years, from the $5.6 billion appropriated in fiscal year (FY) 2006 to $10.2 billion in FY 2011. During the bill’s floor consideration, the Senate voted against an amendment by Senator John Sununu (R-NH) that would have stricken language from the bill that would attach annual increases for the NSF Education and Human Resources directorate. Senator Sununu stated, “…we shouldn’t be mandating in law that the National Science Foundation direct a specific amount of money to any area.”

Across Capitol Hill, the House bills H.R. 1867 and H.R. 1868 entitled, the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2007 and Technology Innovation and Manufacturing Stimulation Act of 2007 were reported out of committee. The bills, if passed, would authorize appropriations for NSF and NIST through 2010. In contrast to the Senate version of the reauthorization language, the House would set the NSF budget to increase at a slower rate than the Senate proposal. The House adopted three amendments by voice vote. The Manager’s amendment, by Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) would waive cost sharing on Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grants for groups of institutions that include at least one undergraduate institution. Additionally, the amendment would allow certain nonprofit organizations to be eligible for the Centers for Research on Learning and Education Improvement program, and would allow the Director of NSF to award three Waterman Awards annually. Two additional amendments were offered and adopted, Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) whose amendment would cap the MRI awards at $4 million or $6 million if the MRI (Major Research Instrumentation) budget exceeds $125 million; Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) offered an amendment to require increases for the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in proportion to the entire research budget.

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NSB and NGA Hold Briefing on "Innovation America!"

The National Science Board (NSB) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Governors Association (NGA) held a joint briefing on Capitol Hill on 26 April 2007. The briefing introduced the NSB’s national action plan for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and the NGA’s initiative, “Innovation America.” The initiative is a partnership with the NSB intended to strengthen the nation’s competitive edge in a global economy through innovation.

Speakers at the briefing included, Dr. Steven C. Beering, Chairman of the National Science Board, Dr. Elizabeth Hoffman, Executive Vice President and Provost at Iowa State University, Dr. Jo Anne Vasquez, Director for Policy and Outreach at the Center for Research on Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (CRESMET) at Arizona State University, and Ms. Joan Wodiska, Director of Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee in the Office of Federal Relations at the NGA.

Speakers from the National Science Board highlighted goals of the STEM education plan including instituting a coordinated system of STEM education, where if a student changes schools (different cities, counties, or states) they are guaranteed to receive the same training for higher education or for joining the nation’s workforce and having highly effective and well-supported teachers. The NSB emphasized the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) role in STEM education stating that NSF, through Math Science Partnerships, is to promote a diverse and well-prepared workforce of STEM professionals and educators, disseminate findings to the science and education community, and to promote a public understanding of science. Other recommendations made includes suggesting the creation of a new office to coordinate efforts in the Department of Education, proposing that the National Science and Technology Commission coordinate programs scattered among agencies for a consolidated effort.

Ms. Wodiska of the NGA, argued that if we do not innovate today, our children will be left behind in the global economy. According to Wodiska, “…today’s students are tomorrow’s biologists, engineers”.

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Commitment to Grad Education Vital to Competitiveness

At a forum held on 26 April 2007 at the Library of Congress, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released its new report, “Graduate Education: The Backbone of American Competitiveness and Innovation.” The report, authored by a special advisory committee comprised of university presidents, corporate leaders, and graduate deans, calls for increased collaboration between government, higher education, and the business community to strengthen U.S. competitiveness and national security through increased support for graduate education. The report sets out a specific action agenda for these three targeted sectors to foster better collaboration, develop the U.S. domestic talent pool, produce an educated workforce prepared to compete in an interdisciplinary environment, attract the best and brightest students from around the world, and enhance the overall quality of graduate education.

Stakeholders from the government, higher education, and business sectors discussed the implications of the report on their respective fields. Several members of Congress, including Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Rep. John Tierney (D-MA), and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), shared their insights on the report and recent efforts in Congress to strengthen American innovation.

Summing up the forum, CGS President Dr. Debra Stewart said, “I urge all stakeholders to act upon the reports’ recommendations soon. Graduate education is a vital part of the U.S. education system and must be strengthened.”

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