Looks like the log jam on competitiveness/innovation bills in Congress has finally give way. Yesterday, the Senate passed the America COMPETES Act (S. 761) by a vote of 88 to 8. The bill is essentially the same bill as last year and implements many of the recommendations of the National Academy study, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The full title describes the bills intentions: the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act. It strengthens and creates new programs for education and R&D, including the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Authority in the Department of Energy (ARPA-E). Two more minor provision in the bill which I believe are especially important for the future: the creation of a Cabinet-level Council on Innovation (see our 2005 letter of support on this) and a request that the National Academy conduct a study on barriers to innovation. These actions should lay the foundation for the next step in crafting a more comprehensive innovation strategy.
And earlier this week on Tuesday, the House passed two of its innovation/competitiveness bills — the 10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds Science and Math Scholarship Act (HR 362) to authorize science scholarships for educating mathematics and science teachers and the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Research Act (HR 363) to authorize appropriations for basic research and research infrastructure in science and engineering and for support of graduate fellowships. Both of these bills are much more narrowly focused on specific S&T issues.
Now come the really interesting part, reconciling the House and Senate actions. The Senate has passed a big package. The House has deliberately taken a more piecemeal approach. The two have to some how be put together.
The good news on this front is that the bills have overwhelming support. As the Los Angeles Times noted:
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have finally found something today that they can agree on–legislation intended to boost U.S. prowess in technological competition worldwide by improving science and mathematics teaching from kindergarten through graduate school and assisting researchers early in their careers.
So, there are still a number of bumps in the road, including less than enthusiastic support from the White House (see Statement of Administration Policy on S. 761, HR 362 and HR 363). But the tea leaves look promising.