SWE’s Capitol Hill Day is March 3.
In Washington, DC, this year, the biggest thing that has happenedby faris snow. Lots of it dumped on a town that isn’t known for its ability to respond well to frozen water falling from the sky. At the end of the month, Members of Congress were largely trapped outside of the city. That means that other than the State of the Union address, not much has really happened in 2016 on Capitol Hill. So far.
As for that #SOTU, President Obama’s last address to Congress (and first with new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) sitting next to Vice President Biden) was notable for many reasons. In the days running up to the speech, it was clear he would be touting his accomplishments. Those included high school graduation rates reaching an all-time high; crime and incarceration rates that are on the decline; unemployment dropping nearly five percent since he took office; and dramatically increased health care coverage since enactment of the Affordable Care Act.
The President also outlined a number of specific policy concepts, such as the need to provide education and training to ensure every American is afforded an opportunity to participate in the American economy. He acknowledged the passage of the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act as an important start. Obama touted other education gains, including boosted graduates in fields like engineering; however, he also argued that pre-K should be available to all children, as well as hands on computer and math classes that can prepare students for jobs. Specifically, President Obama said he wants students to learn how to “write computer code. He also remarked that there should be an enhanced effort to recruit and support more great teachers.
He asked his audience a number of thematic questions, including, How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges? He noted that during the country’s race to the moon, We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight. And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon. He encouraged policies that foster and nurture interest and success in all fields for all students. More details of specific policy proposals will be revealed when the White House delivers its FY 2017 budget proposal to Congress on February 8. Before anyone gets too excited about any new, expensive programs that might be suggested, it’s worth noting that the Republican-led Congress controls the purse springsand, this is an election year.
Speaking of it being an election year_considering that the House and Senate have only 71 and 101 scheduled legislative days this year, Presidential candidates are expected to take up a lot of policy airtime this year. In that vein, the STEM Education Coalition (of which SWE is a member) last week published their Recommendations on STEM Education Prepared for the 2016 Presidential Candidates. The memo is a comprehensive set of broad principles to help contenders stake out positions on what matters most to the STEM educators and STEM employers in this country. The principles include broadening the STEM pipeline for more diversity, approaching solutions in a bipartisan way that spans across government agencies, and federal funding to spur partnerships and innovation. (To read the policy recommendations in full, go here.)
The first six months of the year will be hectic on Capitol Hill. Once DC recovers from the blizzard, that is. Members of Congress will want to be active on issues important to their constituents just before they hit the campaign trail. They also will want to squeeze a full legislative year into seven months. So, when SWE members come to Washington, DC for the Capitol Hill Days in March, there will be a lot of activity but not a lot of time. Therefore women engineers and like-minded colleagues should use the opportunity for impactful meetings. If you haven’t already planned to come to Washington, DC, please do as there is much to get done.