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Floor Statement- 21st Century Technology Resources and Commercial Leadership Act

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MCCAIN. Mr. President I am please to introduce a bill intended to preserve the United States' world leadership position in technology into the coming century. This legislation is intended to assure that our scientific, mathematics, engineering and technology resources are surpassed by no one. It is intended to ensure that our most precious national resources, our people, receive the best education and training through our best national product, innovation. We must allow our most creative forces to interact to achieve improved math and science education in our schools. We must assure more highly trained college graduates in science, math, engineering and technology. And we must encourage the retooling of our country's experienced minds to address the problems and the solutions of tomorrow.

Specifically, this legislation uses a portion of each H-1B visa fee to provide grants for innovative programs which will improve the math, science, engineering and technology skills of Americans so that they can fill the estimated average of 137,800 new positions expected to be created in these fields each year from now through 2006. During the interim, while the American pipeline of talent is filling, the bill lifts the caps on H-1B visas to allow our American companies to continue to grow and prosper.

This legislation is necessary and beneficial to our nation. Let me explain in some detail why.

First, although this country can be proud of having some of the most highly regarded colleges and universities in the world, our elementary and secondary education system is not sufficiently emphasizing science and math in the curriculum. Our students are falling behind in these areas. The results of the 1998 Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) are instructive. In math, our 4th graders ranked 12th out of 26 countries. Not a stellar performance. But even more discouraging, by 12th grade, the U.S. math rank was 19th out of 21 countries. As a result, not enough American college students are majoring in the sciences, including computer science, mathematics and engineering to fill the escalating need for highly trained professionals.

According to information compiled by the American Electronics Association, at the same time that the number of jobs in these fields has increased by 20%, the number of college graduates with degrees in engineering, engineering technology, computer science, mathematics, business information systems, and physics has declined by 5%.

To fill the jobs available, American companies are finding it increasingly necessary to hire foreign professionals. When they recruit on university campuses in the United States, 32% of the Masters degree and 45% of the doctoral degree candidates are foreign, not American, students. Even though they have been educated here, these foreign students cannot remain here to work without a visa.

Even with these graduates available, there are more jobs to be filled than qualified candidates. When our companies cannot hire qualified people to work for them, they cannot function-they cannot compete. Most of these companies have concluded long ago that they need to retain the qualified people that they do hire. They understand that one way to retain them is to provide training to continually update and upgrade their skills. There are many examples of these kinds of programs.

In addition, there are older American workers with advanced technical skills that are outdated, or whose experience is in industries which are not in a growth mode. Companies are finding ways to assist some of these professional to retool for the current and future needs of business. An example of retraining experienced workers is a program at San Diego State University. That institution's Defense Conversion Center has focused on retraining displaced defense industry professional, including military personnel and aerospace engineers.

Let me read from their project proposal description dated 9/21/99.

The expansion of the H-1B visa program is a limited and temporary fix to a critical national problem. Unless we find creative ways to meet our workforce needs internally, our ability to produce cutting-edge products will erode. Indeed, some experts predict that our position as the world's leader in innovation will slip from first place to sixth early in the next century. The risk goes beyond losing our competitive edge in the global marketplace; without a strong technology base, our national defense system will be jeopardized.

The proposal goes on to describe the university's program:

In the early 1990's, the defense industry in San Diego virtually disintegrated, resulting in the loss of over 42,000 jobs. Established with a grant from the Department of Defense, the SDSU Defense Conversion Center developed several certificate programs designed to fast-track displaced defense industry workers back into the marketplace. To date, over 1100 individuals have enrolled in the Center, and 80% of those who participated in the program found or retained employment in such high-tech fields as radio-frequency design, software engineering, concurrent design and manufacturing, and multi-media design.

Many companies are also finding that it is not enough to focus on only their short term hiring needs. There are numerous examples of companies partnering with their local schools to provide innovative changes in curriculum and skill sets.

For example, Hewlett-Packard has joined forces with Colorado State University to assist minority students beginning their studies at CSU. The assistance includes 10-week internships at H-P, during which CSU provides instructors to H-P to teach calculus. The internships provide a bridge from the academic to the real world, demonstrating the application of math and science skills. They also provide the freshmen with valuable experience that can lead to permanent jobs at H-P.

Eastman Chemical Company in Tennessee offers another example. Working with its local school system, the company focused on two objectives: to help prepare and motivate all students to develop competency in math and science, and to create a school system of such excellence that college graduates would be drawn there as a great place to raise children. The result was several programs, including an "Educator on Loan" program where on a rotating basis, teachers could work at the company's manufacturing plant to under the skills required.

These private/public partnerships are an excellent start. But these efforts are not sufficient to solve the problems we have with maintaining our country's ability to compete and lead the world in the 21st century. We must encourage more innovation, more achievement to fill the pipeline so that our children will be able to prosper in the technological revolution underway.

This legislation encourages innovation. It provides financial assistance for ideas which will work.

The proposed legislation is broad enough to cover any idea which can be demonstrated to produce results. Some of the programs I think should be considered would be to provide scholarships to students who possess the requisite talent and are willing to become certified as math and science teachers, and who will agree to teach for a number of years. Scholarships for students who will major in math, science, engineering or technology fields makes sense. But we should not limit our selves to these stock type approaches. There will be many other new and creative ideas and we should welcome them and reward them, as long as they produce the outcome we want. We want to improve and increase the American talent pool.

In the meantime, I think it is important not to force our companies to develop off-shore bases in order to hire the foreign professional they need. The history of numeric caps on H-1B visas is one of best guess, rather than of calculated need. It is difficult to anticipate the total need, but simply inserting a number because it is politically agreeable isn't the right answer. During the last session we adopted legislation produced through the fine efforts of Senator ABRAHAM and others who worked tirelessly in addressing a broad array of problems and issues.

The result is that our law now requires those who are dependent on H-1B worker to attest, to give their oath, that they have tried to hire an American to fill the position unsuccessfully before applying for a foreign worker visa. These requirements are stringent. They protect American workers against companies which might otherwise ignore qualified applicants in order to bring in a foreign worker. The law protects against layoffs followed by foreign hiring.

With this law in place and with diligent enforcement of its requirements, there is no reason to also pick an arbitrary number as a cap for H-1B visas. We can let the marketplace prevail. We can focus on improving our own resources and our own children's education so that in the future we will have more highly skilled professionals to fill these positions. When our supply meets the demand we will have achieved the goals of improving our education curriculum and our ability to remain leaders in the 21st century.

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