Monday, June 07, 2010

America COMPETES Reauthorization

On May 28th, the House passed the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, a bill originally passed in 1997. It was set to expire on September 30th. America COMPETES, or America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science is a monumental bill that provides appropriations for NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), NOAA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The 1997 bill was also the genesis of the Advanced Research Projects Agency– Energy (ARPA-E), which has since become well-known for cutting-edge research in energy science, as well as other high-risk, high-reward research projects. At a time when American students are beginning to lag academically behind those in other industrialized countries, especially in math and science, the Act also provides funding to advance many different science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education programs.

The America COMPETES bill will sponsor National Lab Day, a program to engage science and engineering professionals in elementary and secondary STEM education, as well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. It also sponsors programs aimed at encouraging and supporting women and minorities interested in careers in STEM fields. Originally, the reauthorization would have cost roughly $86 billion over the next five years, but in order to secure the support of Republicans, the term was reduced to three years, at roughly half the cost.

After its initial defeat on May 13th, the House allowed the Committee on Science and Technology to rework the bill, cutting roughly half the cost. On the House floor, the bill won a simple majority, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required by the expedition procedure, which prematurely closed debate and prevented further amendments from being introduced. Representative Gordon, the Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, then worked out a deal with House Republicans, which resulted in the shorter-term legislation passed on May 28th.

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