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Washington Spotlight January 2009


Gender Equity Legislation Passes House, to be Considered in Senate

On January 9, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 11, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2008 and H.R. 12, the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2009, by votes of 247-171 and 256-163 respectively.  Both pay equity measures had passed the House in the 110th Congress, but then stalled in the Senate. With the make-up of the new 111th Congress and a new President, the bills are expected to fare much better. On January 15, the Senate voted to take up the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Act, and is expected to move forward with a debate and vote on the bill the week of January 19.

In Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co., the Supreme Court ruled that employees cannot challenge ongoing compensation discrimination if the employer's original discriminatory decision occurred more than 180 days before filing the complaint, even when the employee continues to receive paychecks that have been discriminatorily reduced. Prior to this decision, the law, as interpreted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and nine of ten courts of appeals that had considered the issue, treated each discriminatory paycheck as a separate discriminatory act that started a new 180-day clock. Addressing this U.S. Supreme Court's decision, the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restores the long-standing interpretation of civil rights laws and EEOC policies that allowed employees to challenge any discriminatory paycheck they received.  On the other hand, the Paycheck Fairness Act would update the Equal Pay Act signed by then President John F. Kennedy, providing additional tools to deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act.

Learn more about these two bills

Obama Announces Science and Technology Team

In late December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama announced the leading members of his science and technology team. At the same time, the President-elect presented his vision of the role that science and technology will play in his administration.

“Whether it’s the science to slow global warming; the technology to protect our troops and confront bioterror and weapons of mass destruction; the research to find life-saving cures; or the innovations to remake our industries and create twenty-first century jobs—today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation. It is time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America’s place as the world leader in science and technology.

“Right now, in labs, classrooms and companies across America, our leading minds are hard at work chasing the next big idea, on the cusp of breakthroughs that could revolutionize our lives. But history tells us that they cannot do it alone. From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way: leaders like President Kennedy, who inspired us to push the boundaries of the known world and achieve the impossible; leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process.

“Because the truth is that promoting science isn’t just about providing resources—it’s about protecting free and open inquiry. It’s about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient—especially when it’s inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work.

“I am confident that if we recommit ourselves to discovery; if we support science education to create the next generation of scientists and engineers right here in America; if we have the vision to believe and invest in things unseen, then we can lead the world into a new future of peace and prosperity.”

Listen to the full radio address and/or view the video of the address.

The Obama-Biden science and technology team comprises the following individuals:

  • Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)

  • Dr. Eric Lander, Co-Chair of PCAST

  • Dr. Harold Varmus, Co-Chair of PCAST

  • Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Nominee for Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Review a summary of each team member’s biography. 

Get a more complete list of those individuals who have been nominated to join the Obama-Biden Administration.

Education Secretary-Designate Duncan Draws Praise from Both Sides of the Aisle

On January 13, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a confirmation hearing for President-Elect Obama’s Secretary of Education Designate Arne Duncan, who has served as the CEO of Chicago’s public schools since 2001. 

In his testimony, Duncan called education the “most pressing issue facing America,” saying “Preparing young people for success in life is not just a moral obligation of society. It’s an economic imperative. As President-Elect Obama has said many times, the nations that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow.” Duncan also stressed the need to focus on early childhood education and teacher quality.  Drawing praise from both sides of the aisle and no Senator speaking against his nomination, Duncan is expected to be approved unanimously in the HELP Committee, and approved in the full Senate. 

Get more information about this confirmation hearing.

To review SWE’s general position statement on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and learn more about SWE’s public policy activities, please visit



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