RealTime IT News

Competition Bill Passed to President's Desk

Congress has approved legislation dedicated to improving America's ability to compete in a global economy. The America Competes Act would potentially dedicate more than $40 billion to federal research, development funding and math and science education.

The U.S. House approved the measure on a 367-57 vote Thursday afternoon while the Senate endorsed the legislation on a Thursday night voice vote. The bill now heads to President Bush's desk for his signature.

On average, U.S. colleges and universities now annually turn out approximately 1 million graduates, but only 70,000 of those degrees are in engineering. By contrast, China and India churn out 6.4 million college graduates a year, with almost 1 million of those in engineering.

To attract more students and teachers to those studies, the bill would create programs, grants and scholarships, including expanding statewide specialty schools in math and science. Several other programs in the bill focus on improving the skills of science, technology, engineering and math teachers.

"In passing this bill, we are asserting global economic leadership, creating new business ventures and jobs and giving future generations the opportunity to achieve the American dream," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in her opening remarks in support of the legislation.

Key provisions of the legislation include doubling funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years from $5.6 billion to $11.2 billion and doubling funding over the next 10 years for the Department of Energy's Office of Science to more than $5 billion.

The bill also creates an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) to develop energy alternatives, and it authorizes a study on the effects of globalization on U.S. services workers who hold eight out of 10 American jobs.

Although the legislation approves billions for new research and other innovation initiatives, the actual amount of money to be spent is still in doubt and in the hands of the appropriations committees of the House and the Senate.

Combining a number of bills from last year drafted in response to President Bush's 2006 call for an "American Competitiveness Initiative," the America Competes Act would also lay the foundation for a national "innovation infrastructure" by requiring the National Academy of Sciences to identify barriers to innovation.

"When this competitiveness bill is signed into law, our country will have new and important tools to create the workforce of tomorrow right here at home, and to build an energy-independent future for all Americans," Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said in a statement.

Widely supported by the tech sector, the passage of the legislation drew immediate praise from a number of IT organizations.

"The America Competes Act lays out important benchmarks for science funding for the next several years," George Scalise, president of the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), said in a statement. "SIA is pleased with the actions of House and Senate appropriators in the FY 2008 bills, and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure these critical spending bills are enacted this year."

Scalise also said Congress should go further and urged passing a permanent research and development tax and immigration reform focused on H1-B visas.

"Enactment of [the bill] is a major step forward for U.S. competitiveness," said Scalise. "There is more work to do, however, and we urge Congress to pass the remaining pieces of the innovation agenda this year, including policies to attract the best scientists and engineers from around the world and make the tax climate for private-sector research investments competitive with the rest of the world."

Karin Hudson, deputy executive director of the Technology CEO Council, said the bill ensures the U.S. will remain a competitive leader in innovation.

She praised the legislation for providing "significant research funding increases, establishing programs aimed at expanding math and science education at all levels, and improving some of the basic infrastructure needed to solidify our economic and competitive position in the future."