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Friday, January 7, 2011

America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of2010 (H.R. 5116) and the America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69): 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 expired in 2010. The House and Senate have undertaken a re-examination of the policy rationale behind the law and deliberated on whether to continue, alter, add to, or terminate its various provisions. On May 28, 2010, the House passed a reauthorization measure titled the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5116) by a vote of 262 to 150. Similar legislation, S. 3605, was amended and reported favorably by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on July 22, 2010. On December 17, 2010, the Senate passed an amended version of H.R. 5116 by unanimous consent. The Senate-passed version of H.R. 5116 differed from both the House-passed version of the bill and S. 3605. On December 22, 2010, the House agreed to the Senate-amended version of H.R. 5116 by a vote of 228-130.

Both versions of H.R. 5116 build upon, and differ from, the original America COMPETES Act. Among their many provisions, the bills augment and amend P.L. 110-69’s provisions in STEM education and federal research in the physical sciences and engineering. Both versions seek to increase the coordination of federal STEM education programs and to improve STEM teaching and learning in higher education. The House-passed version provides longer and higher authorizations for NSF and NIST than the Senate-passed version, and longer, but identical, authorizations for the DOE Office of Science. Both versions of the bill seek to encourage increased research collaboration and commercialization and to invest in high-risk, high-reward research. House and Senate-passed versions of the bill also contain provisions intended to broaden the STEM participation of underrepresented populations and would enact a variety of policy responses to identified achievement gaps in STEM education and STEM occupations.

Both versions of the bill would also expand provisions of P.L. 110-69 that sought to increase the participation of underrepresented populations in STEM education and employment. The Housepassed version would reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative and Networking and Information Technology Research and Development program, two federal multi-agency R&D initiatives; the Senate bill does not include these provisions.

In both the debates about H.R. 5116 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: December 21, 2010
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41231
Price: $29.95

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