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America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, D.C.

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Mr. HOLT. I thank the chairman.

Madam Speaker, for decades, it's been clear that our investments in scientific research and education underwrite our national prosperity, yet we've continued to underinvest in these economic drivers. The National Academy issued a call for action 5 years ago with ``Rising Above the Gathering Storm,'' and Congress responded by holding a number of national town meetings arranged by then-Minority Leader Pelosi and then passing the America COMPETES Act under the chairmanship of Chairman Gordon. That legislation is now set to expire, and the National Academies has issued an update on our progress. It is an ominous warning. It says bluntly: ``Our Nation's outlook has worsened.''

Now, as a Member who has conducted NSF-funded research and who continually argues that our economic health depends on investment and research, I would have preferred the more robust funding authorization levels passed by this House earlier this year. However, this legislation does maintain a 10-year doubling path for funding for our basic research agencies.

I am especially pleased that the bill requires the development of a comprehensive national competitiveness and innovation strategy, a provision I wrote. The nations that are outcompeting us already have national innovation strategies in place. We should too. To guarantee a secure economic future for our children and in our Nation, we must not fail to provide robust funding for the programs in this legislation.

I want to commend Chairman Gordon for writing and taking action on this legislation. It is another part of a good legacy of his distinguished career.

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Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R 5116). Our investments in scientific research and education underwrite our national prosperity and success. Economists attribute over half of the growth in our gross domestic product (GDP) since World War II to progress in science and technology. Yet for decades, we have underinvested in our nation's tools for advancing innovation and competitiveness. In 2005, the National Academies issued a call for action in the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report. Two years later, following a series of national town halls arranged by the then Majority Leader PELOSI, Congress responded by implementing many of the report's recommendations in the America COMPETES Act.

Yet now we are faced with the impending expiration of the COMPETES Act, and the National Academies has released an update on our progress since the original Rising Above the Gathering Storm report. It tells us that we have not done enough. It says bluntly, ``Our nation's outlook has worsened.'' Other countries are implementing many of the changes suggested five years ago while we continue to hold back on the necessary investments to rebuild, restructure, and renew our national innovation infrastructure. The reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act is essential if we are to maintain our competitive edge in the global economy.

Basic research is a powerful source of new and unexpected discoveries that can transform our economy. While I would have preferred the more robust funding authorization levels passed by the House earlier this year, this legislation maintains a 10-year doubling path for funding at our nation's basic research agencies--the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. These funds support fundamental research in every discipline, maintain our national laboratories, and provide vital training for the next generation of scientists and engineers. The dividends from our investments in research and development are the breakthroughs that yield new industries, drive job growth, and sustain our future economic and technological competitiveness.

The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act includes a number of new programs and initiatives to foster innovation. The Regional Innovation Program will help create and expand science parks and Regional Innovation Clusters to leverage collaboration between businesses, academic institutions, and other participants to facilitate the transfer of technologies from the laboratory to the commercial sector. The Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Department of Commerce will accelerate the commercialization of research and development by identifying ways to overcome existing barriers and providing access to relevant data and technical assistance. The legislation authorizes the Partnerships for Innovation program to help move research out of the lab and into the marketplace by strengthening ties between institutions of higher education and private sector entities.

Additional assistance for manufacturers and other businesses would promote the adoption of new technologies and improve productivity. The legislation requires NSF to support research in transformative advances in manufacturing, and it ensures that the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program will inform regional community colleges of the skill sets needed by local manufacturers. A newly established Innovative Services Initiative will assist small- and medium-sized manufacturers in implementing energy and waste reduction technologies, including renewable energy systems. A loan guarantee program will allow manufacturers to access capital for the installation of innovative technologies and processes that will help increase their efficiency and maintain their competitiveness. A new interagency committee under the National Science and Technology Council will establish goals and coordinate federal programs in advanced manufacturing research and development.

To preserve our leadership in scientific and technical fields and strengthen our competitiveness in the twenty-first century economy, the U.S. must continue to produce the world's best scientists, and we must ensure that every student is exposed to the fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, and math, STEM. The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act will establish an interagency committee to coordinate federal STEM education programs and report to Congress annually on implementation of the STEM education strategic plan. Updates to the NSF's Robert Noyce Scholarship program will allow more schools to participate and more qualified STEM educators to reach high-need schools. Undergraduates will have more opportunities to participate in research, and support for graduate students will be strengthened. Women and minorities remain underrepresented in STEM fields, and this legislation continues programs to help expand the STEM talent pool and increase the diversity of our nation's future scientists.

In the energy field, this legislation reauthorizes programs at the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which is the nation's largest supporter of physical sciences research. In addition, the reauthorization of the Advanced Research Projects agency for Energy, ARPA-E, which is modeled on the successful Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, will help us pursue high-risk, high-reward energy technology develop that might not receive support otherwise.

Finally, I am pleased that this legislation incorporates two provisions that I offered and the House passed when it considered a previous version of this bill. The first requires the working group responsible for coordinating policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of unclassified federally funded research to take into consideration the importance of peer-review and the role of scientific publishers in the peer-review process.

The second requires the Secretary of Commerce to prepare a comprehensive national competitiveness and innovation strategy. For decades, U.S. leadership in science, technology, engineering, and innovation was unquestionable. But we cannot pretend this is a given. In 2009, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that among 40 major nations or regions, the U.S. ranks sixth in overall innovation and competitiveness. More importantly, over the last decade, every one of our competitors has improved their innovation capacity faster than us. Each of the five nations ranked by ITIF as ``out-competing'' the U.S. already has a national competitiveness or innovation strategy in place. All together, at least thirty other countries have implemented plans to boost their economic competitiveness through innovation and technological development. The United States has yet to put forward a similarly comprehensive roadmap for success. Our competitors are making plans to grow their economies by competing in the global marketplace. We should be too.

The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act makes long overdue investments in the foundations of our national innovation system. It will create jobs in both the short- and long- term, support manufacturers and businesses in commercializing new technologies, help us pursue a clean energy economy, improve STEM education, and strengthen our international competitiveness. Yet authorizing the programs in this legislation is only the first step in keeping the United States competitive. To guarantee a secure economic future for our children and for our nation, we must not fail to provide robust funding for these programs. Even as we face budgetary challenges and political pressure, we must ensure that our scientists, engineers, innovators, and entrepreneurs have the tools and resources they need to renew our economy and help us truly rise above the gathering storm. I commend the United States Senate for taking action on this bill, and I urge my colleagues to support this important piece of legislation.

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