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Saturday, 04 August 2007 20:48

U.S. Congress approves America Competes Act

On Thursday, August 2, 2007, the U.S. Congress approved legislation to encourage people to study and teach mathematics and science, along with supporting research into emerging technologies and increasing funds for federal science-based organizations.

The broad-based legislation, called H.R. 2272 or the America Competes Act, was a compromise between the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. It combined five existing bills into one package. The House voted 367 to 57 to approve the bill, while the Senate approved it with a voice vote.

The full name of the 470-page American Competes Act is “America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science”. The bill was sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, in the Senate, and by Representative Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat and chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.

In order to go into law, the bill must now be approved and signed by President George Bush. If enacted into law, the bill will provide between $43.3 and $33.6 billion during the three-year period from 2008 to 2010 for research and education programs, such as in engineering, mathematics, science, and technology, within four federal agencies.

Some of the major benefits that should be seen in the future is: doubling of the budget of the National Science Foundation over the next four year; providing $300 million to create an independent agency to support and promote new energy projects; providing grants to train and hire about 25,000 new teachers in science, mathematics, and engineering; and adding more money to the budgets of such federal organizations as the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Energy Department’s Office of Science.

The bill was approved by the U.S. Congress as a measure to strengthen the Unites States’ position within the world’s scientific and engineering communities. Although the United States has traditionally been a world leader in these two areas, other countries (such as China, India, Japan, and others)  are quickly closing the gap in higher education, scientific knowledge, and technical abilities.

Declining numbers of science and engineering students are graduating each year in the United States. Hopefully, the implementation of this bill, which still needs presidential approval, will help the United States to attract more students and teachers into math, engineering, and the sciences.

U.S. industrial companies and organizations in the technology sector have tried to get such legislation passed in the past. Overall, they are pleased with the package, seeing that with such future actions by the federal government, they will be able to compete more effectively with foreign competitors by having a more educated workforce.

Co-sponsor Bart Gordon said of the bill: "Keeping America competitive will help us keep good jobs on our nation's shores and ensure our ability to compete in a global marketplace. That process begins with a high-quality educational system and follows with ideas and investments in people here at home."

The Democratic-sponsored bill was not without its critics. Some Republicans wondered where the money would come to support the bill. Many Republican politicians also were critical of the Democrats for not addressing other critical issues with respect to U.S. businesses such as free trade, tort reform, corporate tax cuts, and improving the U.S. public school system.

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