On Wednesday, November 6, 2013, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing to explore the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which funds government research and development initiatives, essential for maintaining the country’s global position.
Passed in 2007, the America COMPETES Act was intended to double federal spending in science and technology over the next decade, but the act was never fully funded. The current hearing examined why it’s a good idea for the federal government to invest in research and development and STEM education, by making the case that such investments drive innovation and the US economy.
Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., delivered the opening remarks, offering his emphatic support for the bill.
“I’m asking you to authorize the appropriations committees to finish the job that the Congress started in an overwhelming remarkable bipartisan way in 2007 – to double the budgets of our major research institutions in the federal government,” he stated.
“And at the same time as you reauthorize America Competes look for duplicate programs, look for waste – this is a time when we don’t have any money to waste – and reauthorize the necessary programs that were authorized in 2007 and 2010, but the main goal is to finish the job that was started in 2007 by legislation that was sponsored by the majority leader and the minority leader and at one time … had a level of support the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
The Honorable Senator links the fact that the United States is able to produce 22 percent of all the money in the world and distributes this among nearly 5 percent of the people in the world. He says most people believe the overwhelming factor is our technological advantage. This technological advantage is directly linked to our standard of living, due to targeted investing through programs like DARPA, which is responsible for the invention of the Internet, stealth, speech recognition and GPS, to name a few.
While this link between technological investment and high standard of living is well researched, in recent years the US has fallen behind its competitors as a result of budget cuts. The Senators points to the consensus of scientists who participated in writing the book Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which predicted the loss of position that would result from a lack of research-focused investing.
Five years after this important book was prepared, the authors gave a revised account of the status of science in America. Where does America stand? “The unanimous view of the authors is that our nation’s outlook has worsened.”
Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV also offered support for the bill. Among his remarks, which can be read here, the Senator noted that “federal funding of basic research – those studies that give us the building blocks for new technologies and industries – is part of a pipeline that supports the U.S. economy and our global competitiveness.”
Senator Rockefeller references a report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization The Science Coalition called “Sparking Economic Growth.”
Released last month, the report illustrates the strong connection between investment of federally funded scientific research and the creation of new companies. Over 100 companies are highlighted, which can trace their roots to federally funded university research. Not only do such companies bring innovative, useful products or services to market, they are creating new jobs and contributing to economic growth.
“These investments continue to help train our science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce,” notes Senator Rockefeller. “And without these investments, we won’t have the next generation of researchers; we won’t have the next biotechnology industry; we won’t have the next Internet.”
A full recording of the proceedings is available at the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation website (actual hearing starts at 11:51).