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Washington Spotlight October 2010

SWE Public Policy Training to be Held at WE10

During WE10, SWE’s Annual Conference for women engineers, the SWE Government Relations and Public Policy (GRPP) Committee will hold a public policy training session for SWE members on Friday, November 5, 2010 at 2:45pm. The hour-long session will primarily focus on an overview of the Society’s two public policy positions: strengthening Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, and applying Title IX to the STEM fields. The session will also cover SWE’s current public policy activities, and how you can get involved and communicate with Congress.

For more information about this training, please see the WE10 conference schedule.

Congress Passes Stopgap Spending Measure

Just before heading home to campaign ahead of the November elections, Congress passed a stopgap spending measure (H.R. 3081) known as a ‘continuing resolution’ or 'CR' to fund the government for the next two months. Lawmakers will now have to dispose of all of the fiscal year 2011 appropriation measures, 12 bills in total, in a lame-duck session of Congress after the elections. 

The remaining appropriation bills are likely to be rolled into an all-inclusive omnibus appropriations bill, but Congressional aides on both sides have not ruled out the prospect of another CR. In either case, passage of the stopgap spending bill sets up a major budget battle for later this year and creates uncertainty for a range of public programs. Without a budget plan for the next year, a host of federal programs will be forced to suspend new activities or lay off workers to meet ongoing operational demands. 

H.R. 3081 funds the government at a level of about $8.2 billion below current fiscal 2010 appropriations. These cuts come after both House and Senate Republicans offered unsuccessful amendments to make deeper cuts to federal spending in the CR. The Senate passed the measure 69 to 30. The House quickly followed suit in passing the measure on a largely party-line vote of 228-194, but not before House Republicans pursued cuts almost three times as large as those proposed in the Senate.

Please visit the Senate website for a summary of the CR, and the House website for a full-text version.

House Panel Holds Hearing on U.S. Competitiveness

On Wednesday, September 29, the House Committee on Science and Technology (S&T) held a hearing to receive testimony from distinguished members of the 2005 "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" Committee, who participated in a recent review of the 2005 report and produced an updated report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5." Witnesses commented on the findings included in the new report and offered recommendations on how to maintain U.S. competitiveness and economic security for the long-term.

In his opening remarks, House S&T Chair Bart Gordon (D-TN) observed, "In 2007, this Committee took the lead in drafting legislation to implement the recommendations included in the 'Rising Above the Gathering Storm' report. This landmark legislation, which became known as the America COMPETES Act, received overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The America COMPETES Act was more than just a rallying cry for U.S. scientific and technological leadership and competitiveness. It authorized a doubling of basic research budgets at the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science."

Chairman Gordon continued by saying, "Unfortunately, despite our best laid plans, the America COMPETES Act is set to expire tomorrow... Our marching orders are clear. We must continue what we started and recommit ourselves to the ideals we laid out in the original COMPETES Act. If this report tells us anything, it tells us that the worst thing we can do is let our efforts at reauthorization languish."

In his prepared statement, Mr. Norman R. Augustine, Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation and chair of the “Gathering Storm” Committee, said that members of the "Gathering Storm" Committee found the need to continue to support the original proposed actions even more compelling and urgent today than at the time they were initially proposed. He cited four circumstances warranting particular mention:

  • Other nations are rapidly improving their competitive ability due to a major emphasis on education, including the creation of new science and engineering-focused universities and progressive tax policies that favor innovation-driven firms.
  • The ability of the U.S. to respond to the competitiveness challenges it faces has been increasingly hindered by the extraordinary budget pressures faced by the federal government as well as state and local governments.
  • America's higher education system, long the gold standard of the world, is now being severely threatened. The source of this challenge is the serious financial condition of many states, plus the loss of endowments suffered during the recent financial downturn. Concurrently, universities in other nations are seeing this as an opportunity to attract many of the finest researchers and educators from America’s educational institutions, particularly its research universities.
  • At the time the original "Gathering Storm" study was conducted, the health sciences had just benefitted from a doubling of federal research funding and therefore were not given primary consideration in the Academies' work. Since that time, however, this upward trend has been reversed and the effects of inflation have further taken their toll.

The House passed its version of the America COMPETES Reauthorization (H.R. 5116) in late May, and the full Senate has yet to take up its version of the bill, which was passed out of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in July.

President Obama Announces Major Expansion of "Educate to Innovate" Campaign

On September 16, as part of his "Educate to Innovate" campaign to raise American students to the top of the pack in science and mathematics achievement over the next decade, President Obama announced the launch of "Change the Equation," a CEO-led effort to dramatically improve STEM education.

"Change the Equation," a new 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is a response by the business community to the President's "call to action" at the National Academy of Sciences in spring 2009 for all Americans to join the cause of elevating STEM education as a national priority essential to meeting the economic challenges of this century.

"Our success as a nation depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation," said President Obama.  "I applaud 'Change the Equation' for lending their resources, expertise and their enthusiasm to the task of strengthening America’s leadership in the 21st century by improving education in science, technology, engineering and math."

Over the next year, "Change the Equation" plans to successfully replicate privately-funded programs in 100 high-need schools and communities across the country. Examples of these programs include efforts to "allow more students to engage in robotics competitions, improve professional development for math and science teachers, increase the number of students that take and pass rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) math and science courses, increase the number of teachers who enter the profession with a STEM undergraduate degree and provide new opportunities to traditionally underrepresented students and underserved communities." "Change the Equation" will also create a state-by-state "scorecard" to highlight areas for state-level improvement, and help companies increase the impact of their own engagement in STEM education.

"Change the Equation" was founded by astronaut Sally Ride, former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt and Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio Perez, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. "Change the Equation" currently has a membership of 100 CEOs, and funding of $5 million for its first year of operations.

Also, on September 16, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released its long-awaited STEM study titled, "Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) for America’s Future."  

Some of the report’s recommendations include:

  • Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students
  • Recognize and reward the top five percent of the nation’s STEM teachers, by creating a STEM master teacher corps
  • Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade
  • Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science

While existing federal funding of current programs can be used to carry out many of the report’s recommendations, the report does not provide a detailed budgetary analysis.

New NSB Report Focuses on Steps to Nurture STEM Innovators

On September 15, the National Science Board (NSB) released a new report, "Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital," which was the culmination of the NSB STEM Innovators project, a two-year effort that explored ways that the country can foster the development of our next generation of leading STEM professionals, entrepreneurs and inventors.

Of the report's release, the NSB said in a written statement, "The development of our nation’s capital through our education system is an essential building block for future innovation. Currently, the abilities of far too many of America's young men and women go unrecognized and underdeveloped, and thus, these individuals may fail to reach their potential. This represents both a loss for the individual and society. There are students with high potential from every demographic and from every part of the country, who with hard work and the proper educational opportunities, will form the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) innovators."

Additionally, Dr. Camilla Benbow, leader of the STEM Innovators Task group, referenced longitudinal data from her own research that showed that "intellectually talented individuals identified and trained at an early age generate a disproportionate number of Fortune 500 patents, peer-reviewed STEM publications, and other creative achievements, and comprise a disproportionate number of tenured faculty at top universities."

Recommendations of the report center around three key areas: "providing opportunities for excellence, casting a wide net to identify all types of talent from all demographic groups, and fostering a supportive ecosystem that nurtures and celebrates excellence and innovative thinking."

Some of the NSB’s specific recommendations include:

  • Increasing access and quality of advanced coursework for students
  • Supporting world-class STEM content preparation for teachers
  • Strengthening  the technological capabilities and network infrastructure in rural and low-income areas
  • Expanding cyber-learning opportunities
  • Improving student talent assessment systems
  • Creating a national campaign geared toward highlighting and appreciating academic excellence in STEM

 

Washington Spotlight September 2010

 Legislation to Support Robotics and STEM Competitions Introduced

Prior to adjourning for the August Congressional recess, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced legislation (S. 3732) to establish the Innovation Inspiration School Grant Program, which would provide funding to states and local school districts to allow them to participate in quality non-traditional STEM programs, such as FIRST Robotics.

"American students must have access to better STEM training and mentors in the field if they are going to be able to compete in today's global economy. The legislation we unveiled addresses that need," said Shaheen.

Shaheen also cited research that showed “students who participate in the FIRST robotics program are more likely to attend college on a full-time basis compared to other students; are nearly two times as likely to major in a science or engineering field; and are significantly more likely to achieve a post-graduate degree.”

FIRST Robotics Founder Dean Kamen praised the legislation, and said it would "help us give people better access to non-traditional STEM programs, and encourage students to pursue higher education and a career in science and technology."

To review the text of the legislation, please visit the Library of Congress website, and search by bill number (S. 3732).

In December of 2009, SWE and FIRST formed a strategic alliance aimed at increasing the number of middle and high-school students choosing to pursue careers in science and technology. The agreement establishes a framework for FIRST and SWE to jointly participate in each organization’s programs and promote an active interest in science and technology among school-age students.

Nine States and D.C. Awarded Second Round of Race to the Top Grants

On August 24, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that nine states and the District of Columbia were winners of a second round of grants [link to: http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/nine-states-and-district-columbia-win-second-round-race-top-grants] in the Race to the Top competition [link to: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/index.html]. In alphabetical order, the nine states are: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. 

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top state competition is designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four key areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most
  • Turning around their lowest-performing schools

While these 10 were ranked the highest scoring, few points separated them from the other applications. In fact, the number of "winners" was determined by the quality of applications and funds available. In describing the outcome, Secretary Duncan said, "We had many more competitive applications than money to fund them in this round. We're very hopeful there will be a Phase 3 of Race to the Top and have requested $1.35 billion dollars in next year's budget. In the meantime, we will partner with each and every state that applied to help them find ways to carry out the bold reforms they've proposed in their applications."

Overall, 46 states and the District of Columbia applied to Phase 1 and 2 of the Race to the Top competition. With the aforementioned winners and the two first round winners, Tennessee and Delaware, the Race to the Top grants should impact 13.6 million students and 980,000 teachers in 25,000 schools.

U.S. R&D Companies Employed 27 Million Workers Worldwide in 2008

U.S. research and development (R&D) companies, located in the United States that performed or funded R&D domestically or in their overseas locations, employed 27.1 million workers worldwide in 2008, according to a new National Science Foundation (NSF) report. The figures are the first employment statistics from the new Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDIS), developed jointly by NSF and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Employment data from the BRDIS released last month show that R&D employees (those who perform or directly support R&D activities) accounted for 1.9 million jobs or 7.1 percent of jobs at U.S. R&D companies worldwide. The domestic portion of total employment was 18.5 million workers, including 1.5 million R&D employees. Thus, domestic R&D employment accounted for 7.9 percent of companies' total domestic employment and for 77 percent of their worldwide R&D employment.

The new NSF InfoBrief titled "New Employment Statistics from the 2008 Business R&D and Innovation Survey," is available online to review.

Policymakers and industry officials consider these numbers important because workers engaged in R&D activities directly influence the creation and diffusion of knowledge, and in turn contribute to innovation and economic growth. The proportion of R&D employment relative to total employment, or R&D employment intensity, is one indicator of a company's involvement in R&D activity.

Another InfoBrief on business innovation, "R&D and Innovation in Business: 2008," will present additional, preliminary BRDIS data for 2008. It is being prepared, but not yet scheduled for publication. Detailed tables for 2008 will be available here

DOE’s New Graduate Fellowship Program to Offer Fellowships to 150 Students

Underscoring the Obama Administration's commitment to bolstering science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Steven Chu has announced that 150 students have been selected to receive graduate fellowship awards as part of a new DOE Graduate Fellowship program. Each graduate fellow will be provided with $50,500 per year for up to three years to support tuition, living expenses and research support. The new fellowship program is designed to strengthen the nation's scientific workforce by providing support to young students during the formative years of their research.

"The exceptionally talented students selected as graduate fellows are part of our nation's next generation of scientific and technical leaders," said Secretary Chu. "This investment in the training of scientists and engineers is part of the Administration's continued effort to ensure that America has the scientific and engineering workforce we need to secure our energy future and our continued economic competitiveness."

The goal of the fellowship program is to encourage students to pursue graduate degrees in engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and environmental and computer sciences – fields that will prepare students for careers that can make significant contributions in discovery-driven science and engineering for national needs in energy and the environment.

For a complete list of awardees and eligibility requirements, please visit the Office of Science Graduate Fellowship program website.
  

Washington Spotlight July 2010

White House Blog on Title IX and STEM

The 38th anniversary of the passage of Title IX was acknowledged by Jessie DeAro, Senior Policy Analyst in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy through an article on the White House blog. The posting discusses the efforts of the Title IX Interagency Working Group to ensure equity in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education programs and highlight the document NASA developed summarizing best practices they discovered in Title IX and STEM: Promising Practices for STEM. SWE can be proud that our public policy contributions have raised awareness of the application of Title IX to STEM.

Washington Spotlight August 2010

Education Secretary Duncan Announces Second Round of “Race to the Top” Finalists
On July 27, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that 19 finalists, 18 states and the District of Columbia, have qualified for the second round of the Race to the Top competition for a share of $3.4 billion in education grants. The finalists are: Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. Secretary Duncan made the announcement during a major education reform speech at the National Press Club. The finalists will present plans during the week of August 9 in Washington, and the awards will be presented in September to 10-15 contenders.

Senate Panel Trims President Obama’s FY11 Education Budget
On July 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal 2011 spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS) and Education. The bill totaled $731.9 billion, including $169.6 billion for discretionary programs. Medicare and Medicaid make up most of the bill’s funding at a level of $562.3 billion. 

For education programs, the Committee provides $5.9 billion, which is 4 percent more than FY10, but $986 million less than what President Obama requested in FY11. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the measure by a party-line vote of 18-12. The Senate Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, which drafted the bill, approved it by voice vote two days earlier.

In the bill, the Senate Committee trimmed Obama’s education priorities in favor of expanded health care spending. The legislation would provide $74.6 billion to HHS, $300 million more than the Administration’s request, and $66.4 billion to the Education Department, a $937 million reduction from the Administration’s request. A program that is slated to be affected by this trimming is the Administration’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, which provides competitive education grants to states. In the Senate bill, Race to the Top would receive only $675 million, approximately half of what the President requested for FY11.

On July 22, the Senate Appropriations Committee also approved its Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill, which funds several science and engineering agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill would provide $7.35 billion for NSF, which is $427 million over the FY10 enacted amount and $125 million below the President’s FY11 request. The total includes $6 billion for research, $155 million for research equipment and facilities and $892 million for education activities.

It is not clear when the full Senate will take up the aforementioned bills. Even when they do pass the two bills, the Senate and House will still need to conference to resolve their differences. Therefore, it is very unlikely that Congress will complete all 12 appropriations bills prior to the beginning of the FY11 on Oct. 1, 2010. In addition, some combination of a Continuing Resolution, a bill that continues to fund the federal government at FY10 levels, or an Appropriations Omnibus, a larger bill that combines several separate appropriations bill, will be needed.

Senate Commerce Committee Approves COMPETES Reauthorization

On July 22, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee voted unanimously to approve S. 3605, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. While the Senate’s bill ultimately mirrored the House bill on spending authorizations for the key science and engineering agencies, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Senate’s version of the COMPETES Reauthorization bill contains only a three-year authorization and omits a host of programs and initiatives included in the House version of the bill

Originally passed in 2007 with broad bipartisan support, the America COMPETES Act implemented the key recommendations of the 2005 National Academies’ report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which found that the scientific and technological building blocks critical to U.S. economic leadership were eroding at a time when many other nations’ building blocks were gathering strength. The Act expires at the end of this fiscal year.

During two Committee jurisdictional issues, S. 3605 currently lacks both a reauthorization for the Department of Energy Office of Science, as well as a portion of its education title, both of which are expected to be added upon Senate floor consideration. The smaller Senate package may ensure smooth passage through the Senate before the November elections, but House and Senate negotiators will still have to work out a compromise package before a final bill can advance to President Obama’s desk. 

Key provisions of S. 3605 include:

  • $8.76 billion for NSF in FY13 (matching the House);
  • $1.07 billion for NIST in FY13 (matching the House);
  • $500 million in new Federal Loan Guarantees for Innovative Technologies in Manufacturing through FY15 (matching the House); and
  • $50 million for a new STEM teacher training grant program though FY15 (unique to Senate bill).


Prior to the Memorial Day recess, lawmakers in the House passed their version of the COMPETES Reauthorization, H.R. 5116, by a vote of 262-150.

NASA Releases Moonbase Alpha Video Game

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has given gamers a taste of lunar adventure with the release of Moonbase Alpha, an exciting new, free online video game. The game has single and multiplayer options that allow participants to step into the role of an exploration team member in a futuristic 3-D lunar settlement. Players must work to restore critical systems and oxygen flow after a meteor strike cripples a solar array and life support equipment. Available resources include: an interactive command center, lunar rover, mobile robotic repair units and fully stocked equipment shed.

The game is a proof of concept to show how NASA content can be combined with a cutting-edge game engine to inspire, engage and educate students about agency technologies, job opportunities and the future of space exploration. Moonbase Alpha is rated "E" for everyone.

It is the first game in NASA's Learning Technologies project. The project supports the delivery of NASA content through interactive technologies such as virtual worlds, games and software applications to enhance STEM education.

Moonbase Alpha is a precursor to a planned NASA-based massively, multiplayer online game project. The project is being designed to have content and missions that require players to gain and demonstrate STEM knowledge to succeed.

Washington Spotlight June 2010

America COMPETES passes House

The America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5116) was passed on June 1 by the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 262 to 150.

This bill contains language that recognizes and addresses the persistent gender bias in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In addition to providing funding for scientific research and training, this legislation supports the future of our nation’s diversity and talent pool through outreach to underrepresented groups.

Of significance to SWE members (and our partners in supporting this legislation: the Association of Women in Science and the American Association of University Women) is the amendment submitted by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Sec. 124. Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering. This amendment provides funding for workshops designed to minimize the effects of gender bias at federally-funded institutions.

The next step is to get COMPETES passed by the Senate. Provide your senator with your opinion on this legislation.

Corporate Partnership Council

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