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Bills to boost competitiveness advance.

In a vote demonstrating a bipartisan commitment to boosting U.S. economic competitiveness, the House Science Committee on June 7 approved the Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act (H.R. 5358) and the Early Career Research Act (H.R. 5356). The bills were originally introduced with only Republican sponsorship, but enough changes were made to bring all Democrats onboard.

Although Committee Chair Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) characterized the bills as complementing President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), White House science advisor John Marburger sent a letter to Boehlert stating that the bills contain "very high authorizations" of spending and would diminish the impact of the ACI.

The bills strengthen existing programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science. The Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act would expand NSF math, science, and engineering education programs, including the

* Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to math and science majors in return for a commitment to teaching. The bill includes more specifics on the programs that grant recipients must provide for students to prepare them for teaching, including providing field teaching experience. It also allows those programs to serve students during all four years of college, although scholarships would still be available only to juniors and seniors, and raises the authorization levels for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. NSF will be required to gather information on whether students who receive the scholarships continue teaching after their service requirements are completed.

* Math and Science Partnership Program, which would be renamed the School and University Partnerships for Math and Science. In addition to teacher training, the bill would allow grants for other activities, including developing master's degree programs for science and math teachers.

* Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program (STEP), which provides grants to colleges and universities to improve undergraduate science, math, and engineering programs. The bill would allow the creation of centers on undergraduate education.

The legislation also requires NSF to assess its programs in ways that allow them to be compared with education programs run by other federal agencies.

The Early Career Research Act was amended to include provisions from H.R. 5357, the Research for Competitiveness Act, and passed unanimously. The bill authorizes programs at NSF and DOE's Office of Science to provide grants to early-career researchers to conduct high-risk, high-return research. The bill also expands an NSF program that helps universities acquire high-tech equipment that is shared by researchers and students from various fields.

The amended bill also includes several provisions concerning the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A new section expresses the sense of the Congress that NASA should participate in competitiveness initiatives within the spending levels authorized in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 and allows NASA to establish a virtual academy to train its employees.
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Title Annotation:FROM THE HILL; Science and Mathematics Education for Competitiveness Act; Early Career Research Act
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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