Former CRA Board Chair Peter Lee testified today before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on “Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps”. The hearing explored the successes of the past and necessary improvements required of the US to remain the preeminent global leader in STEM research and education in the future.
Lee spoke of an innovation ecosystem that is not accidental but exists because of a deliberate partnership between academia, private industry, and government. The current IT strength of the US is not a right but something that must be nurtured and invested in going forward. He noted that the research pipeline needs to be kept full but so does the talent pipeline and that, while computer science undergraduate enrollments are up for the last five years, the story at the K-12 level is cause for some concern.
Chairman Jay Rockefeller opened the hearing by noting that while the COMPETES Act has already been reauthorized once there really has not been enough time to realize the full impact of legislation that is by necessity focused on the long-term. He noted that despite the authorization levels in the original bill the legislature did not follow that up with appropriations to match and stated that “not funding scientific research is a disservice to our economic recovery.”
In addition to Lee, four other witnesses testified on various aspects of COMPETES and the state of research and education in the US. Norm Augustine, the original co-chair of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report, spoke first and emphasized that the COMPETES Act is about jobs and the ability of American’s to compete for STEM jobs with the rest of the world. He noted that one challenge that could not have been foreseen in the original writing of the Gathering Storm was the recession and its effect on universities. Augustine stated that the US is in danger of losing its higher education leadership because other countries are watching us devalue our education and research and are more than willing to lure away our best faculty and students.
Dr. Carl Weiman, Nobel Laureate in physics and professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, spoke to the need to drastically change how we educate students in STEM. He spoke of research showing that learning STEM fields is not a transfer of knowledge but a development of the brain to think and learn in new ways. He noted that the STEM requirements for students entering K-12 teacher programs are very low.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Furman, professor at Boston University and research associate at National Bureau of Economic Research, testified that the federal investment in science and innovation is a public good and that regional leadership in innovation is important to success. He spoke to the fact that there were some clear and notable achievements from COMPETES but that many programs went unrealized because the lack of funding.
John Winn, Chief Program Officer at the National Math and Science Initiative, spoke to the success of the UTEACH program and the attempts to replicate it around the country. He noted it is being implemented at several universities around the country.
The hearing was likely the last for Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison as she is retiring after this session. Many of the Committee members took part of their allotted time to thank her for her contributions and her hard work on the issues.
The written testimony and Chairman’s statement are available here.