The long effort to address concerns about America’s future competitiveness and capacity for innovation may finally result in a bill.
For the last two years, there’s been a fairly constant drumbeat in Congress, the Administration, and federal advisory bodies over the need to prop up the U.S. innovation infrastructure — by strengthening the federal investment in basic research in the physical sciences (including computing, mathematics and engineering), by investing in new math and science teachers, by increasing the participation of US students in math and science, and by creating new research organizations to help nurture an innovative culture in some federal research agencies. There’s been a whole suite of different bills proposed to address these proposals — many inspired by the National Academies Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, or many of the other similar reports that have come out of the scientific community and American industry over the past several years. Unfortunately, though many of these bills had passed either the House or the Senate last session, none had passed both and gone on to the President.
But, that could change. As we’ve noted previously, this suite of competitiveness proposals has coaliesced into two different pieces of legislation, one House bill and one Senate bill — both essentially omnibus bills that are collections of most of the previous proposals. The Senate passed its version, S. 761 The America COMPETES Act, in May by bundling a whole bunch of proposals together and having the Senate Leader bring the package directly to the Senate floor, bypassing the Senate committee structure (which would’ve tied things up for months). The House took a more piecemeal approach, passing the “10,000 Teachers, 10 Million Minds” Science and Math Authorization Act (HR 362), the Sowing the Seeds Through Science and Engineering Act (HR 363), the High Performance Computing Research and Development Act (HR 1068), the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2007 (HR 1867), and the Technology Innovation and Manufacturing Stimulation Act (HR 1868), one-by-one (by overwhelming margins) over the course of several months, then combining them into one giant omnibus bill “The 21st Century Competitiveness Act” (HR 2272), which they passed by voice vote. The plan was to conference HR 2272 and S. 761 and work out a compromise bill both chambers could approve. It appears that negotiation is nearing its end and a final bill may be on its way.
We just got a notice of a meeting with Speaker Pelosi scheduled for tomorrow at which the House and Senate leadership will discuss the conference agreement. We know that the bills have been exhaustively “pre-conferenced” with the various committee staff over the last couple of weeks. The official conferees — the Representatives and Senators who were appointed to serve on the conference committee — will meet tonight to hammer out the final details. So, this time tomorrow we should have a good sense of what made the bill and what didn’t.
We’ll have all the details as they are released, of course. There are some provisions in the the House and Senate bills about which the computing research community has had particular interest. More detail on those later. But for now, it’s nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Congress — and the Administration — has spent a lot of time over the last two years talking about the importance of bolstering the chain of innovation that helps keep America a world leader, but they don’t have much to show for it. It appears that could change soon.
Update: (7/30/07 10 pm ET) — The conference committee has reached agreement on a compromise bill. It’s massive — 470 pages — but you can poke through it here (pdf) if you’re so inclined. We’ll have details on the bill in the next day or so, but after a brief look through the bill it’s fair to say there’s a lot of good news for the community in there — including the High Performance Computing R&D Act, which has died every previous Congress since the 106th (this is the 110th). So keep it tuned here for more detail….