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Public Statements

America Competes Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

AMERICA COMPETES ACT -- (Senate - April 25, 2007)


Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, there is concern that America is losing its competitive leadership. I am proud to cosponsor the America COMPETES Act because it proposes a meaningful response to that loss of leadership, and I compliment the bill managers on the bipartisan manner in which the Senate is addressing this issue. America COMPETES is a strong piece of legislation, but I wish to propose amendments that I believe will strengthen this legislation in several areas.

As our Nation becomes more diverse, scientists, engineers, and technology professionals continue to be recruited from a narrowing segment of our population. If we were able to increase the participation of underrepreseneted groups, including women, to a level reflective of their representation in the population, we would diminish the workforce issues that restrict our economic progress and generate a pool of talent that could refresh our ability to innovate. If we do not tap the diversity of our Nation as a competitive strength, we will diminish our capacity to innovate. Full participation by all segments of our populace would do more than just increase the number of workers in high technology fields; full participation would bring fresh perspectives and inventive solutions.

To increase participation, I have offered several amendments to America COMPETES. The first establishes a mentoring program to support women and underrepresented groups as they progress through education programs being proposed at the Department of Energy. Mentoring is an effective means for experienced scientists to provide professional assistance and advice to developing scientists, and such a program would ensure the success of these education programs. I also propose that women and minority scientists and engineers be represented and consulted as strategies are developed to increase America's competitiveness. This inclusion should occur at the proposed National Science and Technology Summit, on the President's Council on Innovation and Competitiveness, and elsewhere. If the concerns of diverse groups of technology professionals are not heard, it will be too easy to overlook the advantages these groups can bring to the innovation landscape.

I have also proposed that, to profit from the strength of our diversity, we must start with America's young students. Summer is a time when, as a result of summer learning loss, young students may lose several months in math skills. The summer learning loss is greatest for children living in poverty. Summer programs combat this loss, accelerate learning, and can serve to close the achievement gap in mathematics and problem-solving that currently robs us of the talents of too many children. I have introduced an amendment that supports summer learning opportunities, with curricula that emphasize mathematics and problem solving, aligned to the standards of school-year classes.

Finally, I propose that one of the major challenges facing us is an issue we understand on the basis of science; an issue that can be solved, at least partially, through technology; an issue that has the potential to greatly affect our competitiveness. It is an issue offering both challenges and great opportunities. Therefore, I am proposing an amendment to create a Climate Change Education Program to broaden our understanding of climate change. The program would emphasize information to help us comprehend climate change and to promote implementation of new technologies that would ensure our place as an international leader, willing to use science to understand our world, willing to apply technologies to address the serious challenges facing us.

I urge my colleagues to support these amendments.


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