Last week House Science, Space and Technology Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) circulated a Democratic discussion draft of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2013. The draft bill reauthorizes the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 and includes sections on government wide science; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education and diversity; the National Science Foundation (NSF); the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); innovation; and the Department of Energy (DOE).
Title I, addressing the Office of Science and Technology Policy and government-wide science programs, includes language to reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative. The initiative is aimed at establishing cooperation and collaborations for nanotechnology to “move results out of the laboratory and into applications for the benefit of society.” Areas of particular importance in the field of nanotechnology in the bill include nanoelectronics, energy efficiency, solar energy, health care, and water remediation and purification. A National Nanotechnology Coordination Office would bring together the activities of each of the agencies participating in the Program and a triennial external review of the National Nanotechnology Program would be conducted by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The draft bill supports the introduction of nanoscale STEM undergraduate education programs and the interagency coordination of those programs. It provides companies access to nanotechnology research facilities for the development of prototypes of nanoscale products, devices and for determining proof of concept. The draft legislation also includes provisions outlining nanomanufacturing and green nanotechnology research.
Title II focuses on STEM education and diversity. This section addresses the President’s FY 2014 budget proposal stating that “it is the sense of Congress that Federal agencies need to develop and implement a comprehensive Federal STEM education strategy that focuses on leveraging the limited STEM education funding and other assets we have to invest for maximum student learning benefit, and that such a strategy will involve a reorganization of the current portfolio of Federal STEM investments. However, it is the sense of Congress that the Administration’s fiscal year 2014 proposal to consolidate or eliminate 120 STEM programs across 14 Federal agencies lacked input or support from the Federal agencies and the stakeholder communities implicated in the proposal, was not based on evidence about program effectiveness, lacks clarity in how it will meet the goals of the strategic plan required in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, and is not an adequate basis for implementing changes to existing agency and interagency STEM activities.”
Title II includes provisions about the coordination of federal STEM education programs which was originally tasked to the National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on STEM Education (CoSTEM) as required by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. The draft bill calls for the establishment of an associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to be the Coordinator for STEM Education. That coordinator would solicit and take into consideration input from the stakeholder community. The draft language also establishes a STEM Education Advisory Panel which would provide advice on evidence-based implementation of a Federal STEM education strategic plan.
The draft bill establishes a formal collaborative effort between the NSF and Department of Education in identifying and developing strategies to address grand challenges in education research. The challenges would “take into consideration critical research gaps identified in existing reports, including reports by the National Academies, on the teaching and learning of STEM at the pre-K-12 level in formal and informal settings.” The draft language requires stakeholder input on identifying grand challenges, including feedback from scientific societies. Other partnerships addressed in the draft bill include the establishment of a community college and industry partnership pilot grant program.
Established in the draft bill is an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education (ARPA-ED) to “identify and promote advances in learning, fundamental and applied sciences, and engineering that may be translated into new learning technologies; develop, test, and evaluate new learning technologies and related processes; and accelerate transformational technological advances in education.” The President’s FY 2012 budget proposal originally called for the creation of ARPA-ED and this draft legislation would authorize funding for it.
Topics specific to broadening participation in STEM fields are also addressed in Title II. The aim of minimizing the effects of implicit bias in the review of extramural and intramural federal research grants is addressed through the collection of data on federal research grants and the review of policies that could be affected by implicit bias based on gender, race or ethnicity. The draft bill also requires the collection of data on demographics of faculty and the development of best practices at institutions of higher education to reduce cultural and institutional barriers. Also included in the draft bill are NSF grants for the implementation or expansion of research-based reforms in undergraduate STEM education to recruit and retain minority students.
Title III addresses the NSF and includes specific authorization levels for FY 2014 through FY 2018 to guide appropriations for the Foundation. The legislative language specifically states that the NSF “must continue to support unfettered, competitive, merit-reviewed basic research across all fields of science and engineering, including the social and behavioral sciences.” The management and oversight of large facilities, support for potentially transformative NSF research, and promotion of institutional research partnerships are each sections of Title III. The NSF Innovation Corps program which identifies STEM research that has the potential to improve U.S. economic competitiveness and establishes partnerships between STEM researchers and students with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other industry representatives is also reauthorized under the NSF title.
Section 323 of Title III addresses undergraduate STEM education reform, calling for the establishment of an Interdirectorate Working Group on Undergraduate STEM Education. The working group would identify and implement collaborative efforts between STEM disciplinary researchers and education researchers on the reform of undergraduate STEM education. Other STEM education initiatives include the reauthorization of the Noyce Scholarship program, which provides scholarships for STEM students who wish to pursue careers as K-12 STEM educators. This scholarship program has been included in both previous authorizations of the America COMPETES Act.
Title IV includes specific authorization levels NIST for FY 2014 through FY 2018 and includes provisions supporting Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia, establishing a Network for Manufacturing Innovation, and provides funding for regional manufacturing extension centers for the transfer of manufacturing technology. Another program, aimed at the development of standards and measurements for bioscience research is also established under Title IV. The draft legislation also requires that the National Academies of Science conduct a report on the NIST laboratory programs.
Title V addresses innovation and discusses the role of an Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship which would oversee loan guarantee programs and regional innovation programs. The Office would prioritize near-term and long-term national objectives and policies to “accelerate innovation and advance the commercialization of research and development, including federally funded research and development.” Regional innovation programs, the establishment of an Innovation Voucher Pilot Program, and the establishment of a Federal Acceleration of State Technology Commercialization Pilot Program are each programs aimed at improving U.S. innovation capacity.
Within Title VI which covers the Department of Energy, the Democratic bill includes authorization levels for FY 2014 through FY 2018. Title VI includes provisions on the DOE Office of Science, DOE Innovation Hubs, and reauthorizes the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Regarding the Office of Science, the draft bill outlines the mission for the Office of Science, discusses basic energy science user facilities, establishes a Light Source Leadership Initiative, addresses biological and environmental research programs including climate and environmental science activities, and authorizes the Department of Energy’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research Program. The DOE Office of Science’s Fusion Energy Research Program, High Energy Physics Program, Nuclear Physics Program and Science Laboratories Infrastructure Programs are all reauthorized in the Democratic draft bill.
The establishment and operation of Energy Innovation Hubs is included in one of the final sections of Title VI. The Hubs would conduct multidisciplinary, collaborative research and development and would provide demonstration of commercial application of advanced energy technology. Lastly, the bill addresses technology transfer agreements and the participation of NSF and DOE in the Innovation Corps program.