Congress will return to Washington, DC, on September 6 after having been in their districts or states—or traveling elsewhere (like the party conventions)—since mid-July. The month of September will be a frantic one as the House and Senate debate how to address keeping the federal government going past September 30—when the current funding bills expire. Already leadership is strategizing, and they are considering various scenarios and factors, such as who might be in the White House come January and whether the Senate will be controlled by Republicans or Democrats next year. And those factors are on top of the desire to avoid any votes that might affect their own odds at winning their jobs again on November 8. In terms of what might happen in September of particular interest to SWE, its leadership and Washington, DC, team will be watching a number of funding proposals that affect K-12 STEM education and a number of research and diversity programs at the federal research agencies.
While Congress will be crazy between now and the end of the year, it’s worth pausing to note that a number of SWE priorities have been advanced this year—thanks to actions from individual members and to those who came to Washington, DC, in March to participate in the 2016 SWE "Diversity and Inclusion" Capitol Hill Day. It’s difficult to believe that it’s already been five months since over 100 SWE members and like-minded organizations were together. And, their visits made a real difference!
The SWE members who came to DC were asked to focus on a number of pending legislative issues important to women engineers, STEM education generally and the future workforce so crucial to us, our employers and the country in conversations with their elected officials and their staffs.
National Science Foundation
Several of the points were about spending. In these lean fiscal times, lawmakers are trying to cut the size and cost of the federal government, but SWE asked that they fund a number of programs adequately. First, SWE asked that Congress support basic and applied research across the federal agencies. Specifically, that the National Science Foundation receive a reasonable increase to bring FY 2017 funding to $8 billion. (This ask was one that the broader research community pursued as well.) While the final spending bill hasn’t been approved yet, NSF would receive $46 million above its current level of $7.46 billion in a bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee; the pending House proposal would invest $7.4 billion in the agency.
Every Student Succeeds Act
Regarding the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment formula grant program found in Title IV, Part A, of the recently-enacted Every Student Succeeds Act, the House and Senate differ significantly in their respective proposals—the Senate suggests the new program, which would support many programs and activities, including STEM programs that are crucial to exposing young women to disciplines that will offer them boundless opportunity, receive only $300 million. The House, however, thinks the program should get $1 billion. The next few months are crucial to trying to get a final number closer to the House’s plan.
American Innovation and Competitiveness Act
In addition, advocates were asked to talk to representatives about their concerns related to the House proposal to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act—a proposal that is narrow in scope and would seemingly insert Congress into research decisions at federal agencies. In June, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bill that is comprehensive and thoughtful—and includes provisions that specifically address the needs of female STEM faculty and researchers.
There have even been encouraging policy discussions around the implementation of Title IX in research agencies, and SWE hosted a briefing earlier this year that highlighted a Government Accountability Office report on the need for more data from all research agencies to ensure that even-handed assertion of Title IX across the government.
While not all of SWE’s requests have been fulfilled, members and like-minded organizations and individuals should know that participation in the Capitol Hill Day has yielded incremental results. SWE and its leadership will continue to build on those results and all SWE members should consider coming to Washington, DC, next spring. There will be a new resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and a new Congress.
And, if news on this progress has you itching to talk to your Congressional representatives, Congress will be home again the entire month of October. There is still time to push for SWE priorities with your local representatives and senators. If you want some tips on how to proceed or set up a meeting in the district with your representative, be sure to check out the replay of our April 25, 2016 webinar.