The Senate is considering legislation intended to stimulate innovation through investments in physical sciences and engineering. The measure would seek to provide increased opportunities for elementary through graduate level science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

In this bipartisan effort, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with 41 cosponsors introduced S. 761, "The America COMPETES Act" (America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act). "The America COMPETES Act" is similar to S. 3936, "The National Competitiveness Investment Act," introduced by former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), then Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and 40 others in September 2006. It also contains several sections derived from the "American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2006" (S. 2802) and the "Protecting America's Competitive Edge through Energy (PACE-E) Act of 2006" (S. 2197). "The America COMPETES Act" specifically addresses a number of recommendations made by the National Academies' in the 2006 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm Report," particularly with respect to education and research support.

Although "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" and the President's American Competitiveness Initiative emphasize boosting the physical sciences through increased support to the Department of Energy Office of Science, the National Institute for Standards and Technology core laboratories, and the National Science Foundation (NSF), "The America COMPETES Act" asserts that two other federal agencies also play a critical role in competitiveness and innovation: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"The America COMPETES Act" would require any executive agency that funds STEM research to allocate approximately 8 percent of its annual research budget to innovation acceleration research. To this end, S. 761 would specifically call for the Department of Energy to establish a competitive program to fund high-risk, high-reward extramural research.

The legislation would authorize appropriations for the NSF to double from a FY 2006 level of $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion in FY 2011. The NIST appropriations would be authorized to increase yearly from $703 million in FY 2008 to $937 million in FY 2011. Appropriations for the Department of Energy Office of Science would be authorized to increase annually from $3.6 billion in FY 2006 to $5.2 billion in FY 2011, setting the course for a budget doubling over the next ten years. The legislation would also require an increase of $160 million to NASA's FY 2008 basic research budget.

Across agencies, "The America COMPETES Act" would establish or expand a number of STEM-related education programs. For example, S. 761 would strengthen teacher training by establishing summer institutes for teachers and expanding the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship program to recruit and train math and science teachers in high-need local school districts. The legislation would provide assistance to states to establish math and science specialty schools, expand Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in math, science, and foreign languages, and create summer internships for middle and high school students.


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