On September 9th, Congress returned to Washington, DC, after their annual August recess. The first seven months of the 116th Congress have gone by quickly, and it seems like just yesterday that SWE was celebrating the number of women and minorities elected to serve in the most diverse Congress ever! The recent break provided an opportunity to examine what Capitol Hill lawmakers have done to address the STEM and equality issues that SWE and its members are watching, and those that members discussed in Washington, DC, earlier this year.
In case you haven’t noticed, the halls of Congress are full of partisan debates. Democrats and Republicans have different opinions on many issues. Even so, they do agree that the country needs a diverse STEM workforce and that investments in education and research are important. Exactly how to nurture interest and success in STEM disciplines, the appropriate size of investments in education and what kind of federal research should be supported by taxpayer dollars are the details that cause dissension. Navigating these differences can be daunting, but thanks to the efforts of SWE and its members, there is good news to report for on the advocacy front! Let’s get to it.
In March, SWE members told their elected representatives that investments in education programs important to the teaching and learning of STEM disciplines were crucial to provide the country the workforce it needs. They urged lawmakers to invest in various programs at the Department of Education that President Donald Trump has proposed to cut or eliminate. As the annual process of developing spending bills moved forward, the House of Representatives passed bills that would increase spending for the Department of Education and give the country’s research agencies more funds. Soon the Senate will develop their proposals for investing in federal programs and agencies, and while the Republican leadership in that chamber is unlikely to be as generous as the Democratic House, SWE and like-minded organizations are optimistic that the programs important to them will fare well in the spending bills that ultimately make is to the president’s desk.
As for other bills that SWE members discussed in March, the Building Blocks of STEM Act (HR 1665) passed the House in July and awaits consideration by the Senate. Its Senate sponsor, Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a STEM supporter and former software engineer, is hopeful that it will be approved by the end of the year. The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act (S. 590) passed the Senate unanimously just after SWE’s Capitol Hill Days in March and awaits action from the House. In the meantime, the street in front of NASA’s headquarters was renamed “Hidden Figures Way.” The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the House, but has an uphill battle in the Republican Senate. There are other bills that SWE is following closely. So many, in fact, that a tracker was just pulled together to keep track of all of the issues and their progress. Take a look!
Since SWE members were here in March, SWE Executive Director & CEO Karen Horting has been in Washington, DC, several times. (Read more here.) This fall, she’ll be back, and SWE has plans to do a briefing on Capitol Hill, to continue meeting with Members of Congress and to get ready to welcome SWE members to Washington, DC again in March of 2019. Interested in coming? Want to know the dates? OK. The 2020 SWE Capitol Hill Days will be March 18 and 19! Mark your calendars and come to the Nation’s capital to lend your voice to the needs and priorities of women engineers.