Competitiveness Bill Advances in U.S. Congress

Lawmakers from the U.S. Congress have negotiated a compromise on two similar bills intended to pump up math and science education and research.

Several tech groups praised negotiators for passing an amended conference committee version of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (or America Competes) Act, a version of which passed both in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bill allocates US$43.3 billion for research and education programs.

The conference committee, made up of House and Senate lawmakers, passed a compromise version of the bill Wednesday, and it now goes back to both chambers for approval. The two chambers could vote on the bill before Congress' month-long summer recess begins Monday.

The America Competes Act would put more money into federal research programs and into math and science programs, and it was sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, in the Senate and by Representative Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat and chairman of the House Science and Technology Committee.

The bill establishes an Innovation Acceleration Research Program in the U.S. government and encourages agencies to spend 8 percent of their budgets on research and development. The bill establishes a new research program at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, called the Acceleration Research Program, that would award research grants to private companies and universities.

The bill also establishes several programs intended to encourage students to enroll in math and science programs, including US$20 million in 2008 to help states create speciality schools focused on those subjects.

The bill creates a program, called Math Now, that targets elementary students, and it authorizes $210 million in 2008 for a program to award scholarships to teachers working on advanced degrees in math, science, technology and foreign languages.

Tech trade groups the Information Technology Association of America, the Information Technology Industry Council, and the Software & Information Industry Association all praised Congress for moving legislation forward. Many tech leaders have called on Congress to pass legislation focused on improving the math and science skills of U.S. students, so that they can better compete with workers from other countries.

"Keeping America competitive will help us keep good jobs on our nation's shores and ensure our ability to compete in a global marketplace," sponsor Gordon said in a statement. "That process begins with a high-quality educational system and follows with ideas and investments in people here at home."

Microsoft Corp. also praised Congress for the action. The compromise agreement is a "groundbreaking effort to invest in America's future as the global leader in innovation," Jack Krumholtz, Microsoft's managing director of federal government affairs said in a statement.

The nation's "ability to compete with emerging nations will greatly benefit from this legislation," John Meredith, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-USA, which represents tech workers, added in a statement.

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