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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