Federal Relations

COMPETES Act Heading for the Senate Floor

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved — with bi-partisan support — its portion of the America COMPETES Act (S. 3605). The bill provides for three-year authorizations for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). An authorization for the Department of Energy Office of Science is expected to be added in a manager’s amendment on the Senate floor.

During the mark-up, the committee adopted 20 amendments to the bill, including a substitute amendment that reduced the funding levels by 10% for NSF and NIST. The bill’s only new program would fall within NSF and enable a $10-million-a-year effort to prepare science and engineering majors to be elementary and secondary school teachers. It’s modeled after the successful UTeach program at the University of Texas, Austin. To ease the fiscal bite, the bill would require a significant contribution from each university grantee (up to 75% by the end of the 5-year grant).

The legislation would require Department of Commerce to study the U.S. economy and innovation infrastructure, including an assessment of the nation’s economic competitiveness. Within one year of completing the study, the Department would be required to develop a 10-year national innovation and competitiveness strategy. 

Given the packed Senate schedule, it is unclear whether the bill will make it to the Senate floor before the August recess.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee

S. 3605, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (Committee Overview)

The original COMPETES Act was a response to the National Academies’ Rising Above The Gathering Storm, which warned that America’s place as a global leader in science and technology was at risk. Urgent action is still needed to guarantee American prosperity in the face of increasing global competition, especially in the areas of K-12 science and math education and funding for basic research. The America COMPETES Act reauthorization focuses on three primary areas of importance to increase American innovation and competitiveness: (1) increasing science and research investments, (2) strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and (3) developing an innovation infrastructure.

Increase Science and Research Investments

  • Authorizes funding increases for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013.
  • Supports programs to assist American manufacturers, such as the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Technology Innovation Program, and creates a loan guarantee program to support innovation in manufacturing.

Strengthen Educational Opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics

  • Coordinates STEM education across the Federal government, with the goal of reinforcing programs that demonstrate effectiveness.
  • Supports research and internship opportunities for high school and undergraduate students, and increases the number of graduate fellowships supported by the NSF.
  • Reinforces the role of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to inspire and educate the future science and technology workforce and encourages the agencies to transfer their technological advances into the private and public sectors.

Develop an Innovation Infrastructure

  • Promotes productivity and economic growth by forming an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship to foster innovation and the commercialization of new technologies, products, processes, and services.
  • Requires the development of a national innovation and competitiveness strategy for strengthening the innovative and competitive capacity of the Federal Government, State and local governments, institutions of higher education, and the private sector.
  • Supports the development of regional innovation strategies, including regional innovation clusters and research parks.