A group of U.S. senators has introduced legislation that aims to improve how U.S. workers and industries compete against the rest of the world by pumping more money into math and science programs.
The bill, introduced Monday by Sen. John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, combines the efforts of several Senate committees working to address U.S. competitiveness. The bill would double the $5.6 billion annual funding for the U.S. NSF (National Science Foundation), a major backer of scientific research in the United States, and it would create a grant programs to help students struggling with mathematics.
Many U.S. tech firms have called on Congress to address U.S. competitiveness by pumping more money into math and science programs. Some tech vendors, including Microsoft, have also called on Congress to increase the annual cap on foreign skilled worker visas, although tech worker groups have opposed such a move.
"When it comes to innovation, America's entrepreneurs have led the way," Ensign said in a statement. "To keep our competitive edge, we need to embrace technology and ensure that our children receive a stronger education in the core subjects of mathematics and science."
The legislation, with cosponsors including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, comes as two congressional committees host hearings on U.S. competitiveness. On Wednesday, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on U.S. competitiveness, and on the same day, leaders of six tech trade groups will testify before the House Small Business Committee.
The bill, called the American Competes Act, would:
-- Increase the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science budget from $3.6 billion in the U.S. government's 2006 fiscal year to $5.2 billion in 2011.
-- Create the Innovation Acceleration Research Program, directing federal agencies that fund research in science and technology to set goals of spending about 8 percent of their research and development budgets on high-risk research.
-- Establish training programs for math and science teachers at the NSF.
-- Expand math and science programs at the NSF and other agencies.
Electronic Industries Alliance, a trade group, applauded the bill. The legislation "clearly offers the tech industry a great deal to cheer about," Charlie Robinson, the group's interim president and CEO, said in a statement. If Congress passes the bill, "American companies and workers will be more competitive and prosperous for years to come," he added.