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January 20, 2006


Boosting U.S. Competitiveness

Senate bills aim to strengthen the nation's science and technology expertise

Glenn Hess

A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a package of legislation next week aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness in science and technology by doubling federal funding for basic research and establishing a new science agency within the Department of Energy.

The bills will be collectively titled the Protect America's Competitive Edge Act. They would implement 20 recommendations contained in an October 2005 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) that outlined a series of steps the U.S. should take to maintain its global economic competitiveness.

The legislation would establish an agency at DOE called the Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) that would provide grants for "high-risk" research and development programs in the energy sector.

"We intend the bipartisan bills we will introduce next week to complement budgetary efforts by the Administration," Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said in a statement on Jan. 19. "I expect at least one of these bills to be referred to my committee and plan on a prompt hearing and swift mark-up."

Domenici and Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said they would introduce the legislation when the Senate returns to session next week.

The NAS report, compiled at the request of Bingaman and Alexander, concludes that U.S. world economic leadership will erode in the coming years unless the nation acts to improve the scientific and technological expertise of its workforce.

Provisions in the bills will call for doubling federal funding for basic research; competitive, merit-based scholarships for future math and science teachers; visa reform for foreign science and mathematics students; and an extension of the research and development tax credit.

Chemical & Engineering News
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