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President Bush signs competitiveness bill.

On August 9, President Bush signed into law the bipartisan America COMPETES Act (H.R. 2272), aimed at bolstering basic research and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to ensure the nation's continued economic competitiveness. Despite signing the bill, however, the president expressed concerns about some of its provisions and said he would not support funding some of its authorized spending.

The passage of H.R. 2272 culminates two years of advocacy by the scientific, business, and academic communities, as well as by key members of Congress, sparked by the release of the 2005 National Academies' report Rising Above the Gathering Storm.

The legislation, which incorporates many prior bills, authorizes $33.6 billion in new spending ($44.3 billion in total) in fiscal years (FY) 2008, 2009, and 2010 for a host of programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and Department of Education. It puts NSF and NIST on a track to double their research budgets over three years by authorizing $22.1 billion and $2.65 billion, respectively. It also authorizes $5.8 billion in FY 2010 for DOE's Office of Science in order to complete the goal of doubling its budget.

The act's sections on NSF, DOE, and the Department of Education all have significant educational aspects. They are broadly aimed at recruiting more STEM teachers, refining the skills of current teachers and developing master teachers, ensuring that K-12 STEM education programs suitably prepare students for the needs of higher education and the workplace, and enabling more students to participate in effective laboratory and hands-on science experiences.

At NSF, for example, the law expands the Noyce program of scholarships to recruit STEM majors to teaching. DOE's role in STEM education will be expanded by tapping into the staff expertise and scientific instrumentation at the national laboratories as a resource to provide support, mentoring relationships, and hands-on experiences for students and teachers. The Department of Education will become involved in developing and implementing college courses leading to a concurrent STEM degree and teacher certification.

The act would replace the Advanced Technology Program at the Department of Commerce with the Technology Innovation Program, with the primary goal of funding high-risk, high-reward technology development projects.

It also authorizes DOE to establish an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to conduct high-risk energy research. With authorized funding of $300 million in FY 2008, the new agency is to be housed outside of DOE's Office of Science, ostensibly to ensure that it does not rob from the Office of Science's budget.

At the White House signing ceremony, President Bush had kind words in general for the legislation but also said that some of its provisions and expenditures were "unnecessary and misguided."

Noting that the legislation shares many of the goals of his American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), such as doubling funding for basic research in the physical sciences and increasing the number of teachers and students participating in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, he said, "ACI is one of my most important domestic priorities because it provides a comprehensive strategy to help keep America the most innovative nation in the world by strengthening our scientific education and research, improving our technological enterprise, and providing 21st-century job training."

But he said he was disappointed that Congress failed to authorize his Adjunct Teacher Corps program to encourage math and science professionals to teach in public schools, and he criticized 30 new programs that he said were mostly duplicative or counterproductive, including ARPA-E, whose mission, he said, would be more appropriately left to the private sector.

Bush also said the legislation provides excessive funding authority for new and existing programs, adding that, "I will request funding in my 2009 budget for those authorizations that support the focused priorities of the ACI but will not propose excessive or duplicative funding based on authorizations in this bill."

Among those at the signing ceremony were congressional leaders who were key to shepherding the bill through Congress, including Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, who said, "I am very concerned that the next generation of Americans can be the first generation to inherit a national standard of living less than their parents if we don't do something. This bill will help turn that corner."
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Title Annotation:FROM THE HILL; George W. Bush
Publication:Issues in Science and Technology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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