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Monday, May 16, 2011

Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act: Selected Policy Provisions, Funding, and Implementation Issues

Heather B. Gonzalez
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

On January 4, 2011, President Barack Obama signed P.L. 111-358, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. The new law responds to concerns about national competiveness by authorizing $45.6 billion in funding for, among other things, research and development (R&D) in the physical sciences and engineering and in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. P.L. 111-358 reauthorizes selected provisions from the 2007 America COMPETES Act (P.L. 110-69).

America COMPETES 2010 retains the central policy thrust of the 2007 act: a commitment to increased funding for R&D in the physical sciences and engineering and to certain federal STEM education programs. New programs established by the reauthorization include the Regional Innovation Program, Loan Guarantees for Innovative Technologies in Manufacturing, and the STEM-Training Grant Program. The 2010 reauthorization also repeals certain STEM education programs—such as the Math Now program—and makes other changes. Among these changes are provisions directing the National Science Foundation to maintain its minority-serving institutions programs as distinct programs.

Funding provisions are some of the most closely watched parts of the 2007 and 2010 America COMPETES acts. In particular, some analysts focus on so-called “doubling path” provisions for R&D funding at the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The 2007 law authorized a funding growth rate for these accounts that is consistent with a 7-year doubling path. The 2010 law’s growth rate is consistent with approximately an 11-year doubling path. Given the FY2011 and FY2012 debates about the federal budget, actual appropriations for America COMPETES 2010 funding provisions may be difficult to realize.

Funding may become a central implementation issue for the new law. In general, unfunded provisions of the original America COMPETES Act were not implemented. In addition to funding questions, other implementation and oversight issues for the new law center on the commercialization and diffusion of research; coordination and duplication in the federal STEM education effort; (opportunity) cost and broadening participation; and competitiveness and evaluation. With 10 titles and 77 provisions, implementation and oversight issues are likely to be numerous.

This report reviews major policy arguments raised in the congressional debate about the 2007 America COMPETES Act and 2010 reauthorization, examines and analyzes selected policy and funding provisions in these laws, and identifies some potential implementation and oversight issues for Congress.

Date of Report: May 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R41819
Price: $29.95

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