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Friday, May 28, 2010

America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of2010 and the America COMPETES Act: Selected Policy Issues

Heather B. Gonzalez, Coordinator
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

John F. Sargent Jr.
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

Enacted in 2007, the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act (P.L. 110-69) is being considered for reauthorization this year. The law responded to concerns about long-term U.S. economic competitiveness and innovative capacity by authorizing increased investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and federal research in the physical sciences and engineering. Statutory authorities for certain America COMPETES Act provisions expire in 2010. 

Two America COMPETES Act reauthorization bills have been introduced in the House: H.R. 5116 and H.R. 5325. Both measures are titled the "America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010." H.R. 5116 was heard on the House floor on May 12 and 13, 2010, but was subsequently recommitted to committee and ultimately pulled from consideration. H.R. 5325, introduced on May 18, 2010, was heard on the House floor on May 19, 2010, under suspension of the rules and failed to garner the required two-thirds vote. H.R. 5325 may come back to the House floor under a rule. Similar legislation has not been introduced in the Senate. 

H.R. 5325 includes the provisions of H.R. 5116 as amended in committee and on the floor, and adopts some of the provisions of the motion to recommit. Although these measures are for the most part identical, one difference between them is the authorization period for appropriations. H.R. 5116 would have authorized appropriations for five years while H.R. 5325 would authorize appropriations for three years. 

As with its predecessor, H.R. 5116, H.R. 5325 builds upon, and differs from, the original America COMPETES Act. Among its many provisions, the bill augments and amends P.L. 110-69's provisions in STEM education and federal research in the physical sciences and engineering. H.R. 5325 seeks to increase the coordination of federal STEM education programs and to improve STEM teaching and learning in higher education. It would also increase authorizations for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories, and Department of Energy Office of Science for three years; and would make program changes designed to provide for high-risk, high-reward research, increased collaboration, and commercialization. 

The reauthorization measure would also expand provisions of P.L. 110-69 that sought to increase the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM education and employment, and would reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative and Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, two federal multi-agency R&D initiatives. 

In both the debates about H.R. 5116 and H.R. 5325 and the evaluation of P.L. 110-69, critics have raised concerns about appropriations. Some critics argue these measures are fiscally unsustainable in the current economic and budgetary environment. Supporters contend existing weaknesses in STEM education and federal research in the physical sciences and engineering threaten the fundamental underpinnings of the economy and therefore justify national investment even in an era of fiscal constraint.

Date of Report: May 24, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41231
Price: $29.95

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