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Hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee - Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps


Location: Washington, DC

It has been just over five years since the original America COMPETES Act became law and less than two years since the reauthorization was enacted.

Both COMPETES Acts have focused on three main goals:

Increasing science and research investments,
Strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and
Developing an innovation infrastructure.

These are all inherently long-term investments and, even with five years under our belts, not enough time has passed to realize the full implications of these acts. After all, Larry Page and Sergey Brin's original research that eventually led to Google was initiated with a National Science Foundation grant in 1994, and Google did not go public until 2004. Their small share of a $4.5 million NSF grant led to a company that today has a $200 billion-plus market capitalization and over 50,000 employees. Success takes time. Even with these unknowns, we still must take the time to understand where we are and what we must do next. That's why we're here today.

The 2007 act authorized the doubling of funding for the National Science Foundation, major research accounts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science within seven years. Unfortunately, Congress did not follow its own direction with appropriations, slowing the doubling period to 15 years. The 2010 reauthorization attempted to find some middle ground with an 11-year doubling path, but, again, appropriations and the President's request levels have not followed, pushing the doubling out to 18-years.

Still, these science agencies have fared better than many and are better off on funding than they would have been without this effort. I will continue to push for full funding of these vital research and education activities. Without full support for these programs, we are doing our economic recovery a great disservice. Losing our dominance in scientific and high-tech fields has led to a loss of 687,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, for example. Our share of global high-tech exports has fallen from 22 percent in 1998 to 15 percent in 2010.

We are also doing our youth a great disservice. We know those studying STEM fields have great future prospects. Unemployment rates for those in STEM occupations trend lower than those for all college-educated individuals and they earn 26 percent more, on average. Despite this, our 15-year-olds score lower than the international average in mathematics and just average in science. We must do better.

We heard in March from representatives of several of our major federal science agencies and coordinators, and today's hearing is a continuation of that conversation. To start, we have Mr. Norm Augustine, former CEO and Chairman of Lockheed Martin. Mr. Augustine chaired the 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," that helped push Congress toward passage of the original America COMPETES Act. He continues to advocate for science and engineering as a national priority, and I look forward to hearing his take on where we are and what we must do next.

We are honored to have Dr. Carl Wieman before the Committee again today. Dr. Wieman last came before this Committee during his nomination to be Associate Director for Science at the Office of Science and Technology Policy. He served the nation well before stepping down earlier this year. A Nobel Laureate in Physics and proponent of science and technology education, Dr. Wieman will tell us today about his ideas to improve STEM education. We also welcome Dr. Jeff Furman, an Associate Professor of Strategy and Innovation at Boston University and Research Associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research. Dr. Furman recently reviewed implementation of the America COMPETES laws, and we look forward to hearing what he found.

Dr. Peter Lee joins us today from Microsoft's Research Redmond laboratory, which he leads in the search for disruptive business innovations. We look forward to hearing his perspective on the intersection of federal science and innovation policy and the private sector. Mr. John Winn, Chief Program Officer at the National Math and Science Initiative, joins us as well today. Mr. Winn has over 35 years of education experience and will discuss how the COMPETES Acts have contributed to STEM education and what roadblocks we need to overcome moving forward.

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