Two weeks after the House Science and Technology Committee approved it, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 will get consideration from the whole House today. The bill, which we’ve discussed previously, would extend funding authorizations through 2015 for a few key science agencies at levels that would double their budgets over ten years, in addition to reauthorizing a number of programs designed to increase the participation of U.S. students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and creating or modifying a few programs designed to assist U.S. businesses commercialize new technologies.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), Chair of the House S&T Committee, hits the floor with 101 co-sponsors – all but two (by my count) Democrats. Reps. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Judy Biggert (D-IL) are the only GOP Members of Congress to lend their name to the effort. While this is markedly less bipartisan than the original bill (which, though it had fewer overall co-sponsors, had a much higher percentage of GOP endorsers), it’s not terribly surprising given the current election-year politics.

In fact, the House Republican Conference is opposing the bill, and they cite three bases: it expands government spending at a time of large federal deficits; it creates new government (they cite six new programs they feel are duplicative or not related to the original research focus of the bill), and it changes the original focus of COMPETES from the laudable goal of buttressing basic research to a more “technology commercialization” focus, “which many members may consider to be corporate welfare.”

Though it would be nice if the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, like the original version of COMPETES, in this election-year climate, where the GOP has visions of picking up as many as 100 seats, it’s not terribly surprising that a large number (perhaps a large majority) of Republicans will likely vote against it. It should pass, regardless.

CRA has expressed its support for the bill. In a letter to Rep. Gordon, the bill’s sponsor, we wrote:

We believe this bill continues the strong commitment to U.S. innovation and competitiveness set out in the original America COMPETES Act of 2007 by strengthening the federal investment in basic research – including a particular focus on federal government’s investment in information technology research and development – by bolstering programs designed to increase participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, and by fostering a environment conducive to innovation for American business.

We are particularly pleased that H.R. 5116 includes the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Act of 2009, which we supported last year when it passed the house as H.R. 2020. We believe the NITRD Act makes the NITRD program stronger by enacting several of the recommendations of the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) review of the NITRD program in 2007. In particular, we are pleased that the NITRD Act includes a requirement that the NITRD program undergo periodic review and assessment of the program contents and funding, as well as develop and periodically update a strategic plan – both key recommendations of the PCAST and necessary in helping ensure the significant federal investment in IT R&D is used as effectively as possible.

Overall, H.R. 5116 sends a strong signal that Congress remains committed to the belief that federal investment in research remains a key part of the vibrant innovation ecosystem that helps preserve U.S. leadership in an increasingly competitive world – a belief CRA shares. The investments outlined in COMPETES will help ensure we continue to produce the ideas and the talent that drive American science and industry, creating new technologies, new industry sectors, and new high value jobs.

The debate could be long. Quite a large number of amendments were submitted to the Rules Committee, though its likely not all of those will be ruled “in order” or will be offered by the original sponsors. I’d guess that most of the most-worrisome ones – those that freeze authorization levels or eliminate whole titles of the bill – will fail with at least a party-line vote. But we’ll keep an eye on the action and have a final wrap-up here when all is said and done.

UPDATE: (5/13/2010) – The bill has just been derailed.

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