On March 31, the Research and Science Education Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee sent two bills to full committee. The STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009 (H.R. 1709), and The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009 (H.R. 1736) both alter the structure of the Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) which sets national goals for federal science and technology investments.
Sponsored by Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) and cosponsored by Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Ralph Hall (R-TX), and Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), H.R. 1709 would establish a committee under NSTC to coordinate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education activities at the various federal agencies. Although an Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee already exits under the Committee on Science at NSTC, there is a sense among some members of Congress that the issue deserves greater prominence. The committee would develop and implement a five-year STEM education strategic plan with enumerated annual and long-term objectives, and maintain an inventory of federally sponsored STEM education programs with information on their relative effectiveness.
No amendments were accepted to H.R. 1709 after Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) withdrew her amendment that would have “direct[ed] the proposed committee… to develop a strategy to identify the geographic areas in the United States that have the lowest STEM performance and increase interest in achievement in such areas.” Fudge volunteered to withdraw her amendment because of some members’ concern about the amendment’s specific language. The subcommittee voted unanimously to report the bill favorably to the full committee.
The committee also approved H.R. 1736, sponsored by Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) and cosponsored by Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-MO), Ehlers, Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Lipinski. The bill mandates the creation of a committee under NSTC to coordinate international science and technology efforts. As the size of major scientific endeavors grow, and expenses balloon, international cooperation becomes increasingly important. U.S. obligations to international science projects like ITER have been threatened in recent years, while there is near consensus that diplomacy through science is an essential compliment to the State Department’s mission. The proposed subcommittee would plan and organize interagency international science research, prioritize international science, and identify new opportunities for international scientific cooperation. The committee would also “maintain an inventory of all nonclassified international science and technology cooperative research and training activities and partnerships.”
Baird offered a number of technical and substantive changes that clarified language and expanded the proposed committee’s charge to work with international counterparts to include nongovernmental organizations. These amendments were approved.
Rep. Parker Griffith (D-AL) offered an amendment that modified the purpose of the proposed committee to include coordination of “international science and technology cooperation that can strengthen the [United States] science and technology enterprise, [improve economic and national security], and support the United States foreign policy goals” (brackets added to Griffith additions). Ehlers spoke against incorporating Griffith’s amendment at the committee level saying, “The science committee always labors under a problem, and that is that it is the youngest committee of the [House]… but since it was the last created it was never given the jurisdictional power that I think it should have… I’m afraid that if we include this language we are subject to the referral to another committee.” The subcommittee approved Griffith’s amendment over Ehlers recommendation to put the amendment into abeyance until the bill reached the House floor.
Rep. Carnahan (D-MO) submitted an amendment to clarify the proposed committee’s leadership - senior level officials from OSTP and the State Department - and to expand the committees charge to look at barriers to international scientific collaboration. Ehlers raised the same jurisdictional issue while emphasizing his support for the amendment in principal. The subcommittee approved Carnahan’s amendment.
A final amendment from Lipinski to include input from science community stakeholders in identifying opportunities for new international science and technology cooperative research partnerships was approved as well.