On September 19th, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on “Five Years of the America COMPETES Act: Progress, Challenges, and Next Steps.” This hearing examined implementation of the COMPETES Act and challenges in maintaining the United States’ leadership in innovation and technology.

Historically, COMPETES has focused on three long-term goals:

  • Increasing science and research investments;
  • Strengthening science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education; and,
  • Developing an innovation infrastructure.

The 2007 act authorized the doubling of funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), major research accounts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science within seven years.  Unfortunately, Congress did not follow its own direction with appropriations, slowing the doubling period to 15 years.  While the 2010 reauthorization did attempt to find some middle ground with an 11-year doubling path, appropriations and the President’s request levels again have not followed, pushing the projected doubling out to 18-years.
The lead witness at Wednesday’s hearing, Mr. Norm Augustine, former CEO and Chairman of Lockheed Martin, chaired the 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” that helped push Congress toward passage of the original America COMPETES Act.

In his prepared statement, Mr. Augustine observed that “the Academies’ report offered 20 explicit, actionable recommendations to reverse the current decline in competitiveness, the top two which, in priority order, were to repair the U.S. K-12 public education system and to significantly increase the nation’s investment in basic research. The reason for this emphasis, as viewed by the members preparing the report, is that the K-12 system is currently the weakest link in producing the Human Capital needed for Americans to compete for jobs in a global economy, and investment in basic research is the enabler that leads to the Knowledge Capital that underlies a substantial portion of job creation.”

“With regard to Human Capital, in the most respected international test U.S. students now rank in 14th place in reading, 17th in science and 25th in mathematics. Needless to say, this is not a formula for success in the jobs race. Yet, the U.S. spends more per public school student than all but two other nations. The issue is not what we spend, but how we spend it. The most important two actions we could take to improve the situation are to bring the Free Enterprise System to K-12 education and to assure that every classroom has a teacher who possesses a core degree in the subject being taught.”

Mr. Augustine also stated that “a number of studies have found that between 50 percent and 85 percent of the growth in America’s GDP in recent decades can be attributed to advancements in science and engineering. Similarly, it has been shown that about two-thirds of the growth in U.S. productivity can be attributed to advancements in these same two disciplines. The challenge is not, per se, to increase jobs for scientists and engineers; only four percent of the U.S. workforce is composed of scientists and engineers. Even doubling that number would not have an overly profound impact on the U.S. employment outlook. The point is that that four percent disproportionately generates jobs for the other 96 percent of our citizenry.”

Click here to view an archived webcast of the hearing and full witness testimony.