WASHINGTON D.C. - Today, a comprehensive package of legislation, H.R. 2272, the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science Act (COMPETES), passed the House by a vote of 367 to 57.
The bill, which passed as a conference report, is aimed at making America more competitive in the global market through targeted increases in federal research and development funding and science and math education. Specifically, the bill keeps budgets for research programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science on a path to doubling, consistent with the goals of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI).
There were issues in the report, however, that were troubling to many Republicans. Specifically, it authorizes almost $20 billion more than the level passed by the House, creates new bureaucracy within DOE, and accelerates budgetary growth at NSF beyond the ten-year doubling path of the ACI.
Science and Technology Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) made the following statement in support of the bill:
"This legislation is based on President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) and is aimed at improving our competitive edge through science, technology, engineering and math education, research, and innovation. I supported this legislation when passed by voice vote in the House three months ago because we need to take steps to ensure our future competitiveness.
"There are several good things in this conference agreement. I am pleased that H.R. 1868, the Technology Innovation and Manufacturing Stimulation Act of 2007, which I am an original cosponsor, formed the basis of the NIST provisions in the House bill. In addition, the House bill includes language for manufacturing grant programs that has passed the House three times. Finally, our bill authorized the Technology Innovation Program.
"In regard to NASA, the House bill contains important provisions to address the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, directing NASA to be a full participant in any interagency effort to promote innovation and competitiveness through basic scientific research and development and promotion of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
"While these and other programs move us in the right direction, I have concerns about other provisions in the conference report and tried in Committee and in Conference to address these concerns. First and foremost was the cost. The House passed a $24 billion bill that roughly mirrored the President's ACI initiative, and even increased the budget in many areas. However, this conference report goes way beyond that amount to authorize $43.3 billion in spending. That is close to $20 billion over the House-passed bill.
Hall concluded, "At the end of the day, however, it is difficult for me, on final passage, to refuse to support a bill that contains many provisions good for my district, State and Nation - and that advances some of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative. I will reluctantly support this bill."
Recognizing that the conference report was not perfect, Research and Science Education Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), nonetheless praised the goals of the bill and strongly supported its passage, saying, "Science and technology are the fundamental movers of our economy, and if we want to remain globally competitive, this bill is the surefire way to guarantee results. The dividends paid by training scientists, engineers, and teachers will multiply throughout all sectors of our economy."
Technology and Innovation Ranking Member Phil Gingrey (R-GA) also supported the bill, saying, "We can be very proud of the investments we're making in our children's future and our nation's economic future by passing the COMPETE Act. If there is one area upon which both parties can agree, it's the need for greater federal support of STEM education."
The America COMPETES Act marks the culmination of an effort that began in the Science Committee under Republican leadership in the 109th Congress. It was largely crafted based on recommendations in the 2005 National Academies' report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which concluded that the U.S. is falling behind other countries in math and science education and expertise.