Democratic News

This week, the two top leaders of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist and Democratic Leader Harry Reid, as well as the top Republican and Democratic members of the three key Senate committees dealing with science and technology, introduced legislation to strengthen our nation’s ability to compete in the global high-tech marketplace.
The bipartisan bill (S. 3936), with 36 co-sponsors and counting, addresses most of the recommendations of the National Academies’ study, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.”   It also responds to recommendations contained in a recent report from the Council on Competitiveness, as well as proposals made as part of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. 
 
Congress is out of time to act on these sorts of bills before they recess for the midterm elections.  But we have every expectation that this bipartisan legislation will see Senate floor action when Congress reconvenes after the November elections.
 
Sen. Bingaman spoke today at a National Academies convocation on competitiveness.  We thought you might be interested in his remarks.  Any questions, let us know.  Thanks.
 
Jeff Bingaman
U.S. Senator, New Mexico
 
Let me thank both Dr. Ralph Circerone and Dr. Bill Wulf, the Presidents of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, for holding this event.  I am pleased to be here in front of this large gathering, which I understand has representatives from every State in the United States.  I also understand that many more are viewing this convocation by webcast, and that there are satellite events in California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
 
As all of you know, the release of the National Academies’ report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” has focused the attention of Congress on our national technological competitiveness.  This week, the two top leaders of the United States Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist and Democratic Leader Harry Reid, as well as the top Republican and Democratic Members of the 3 key Senate committees dealing with science and technology, introduced a new Senate bill based on the Academies’ report -- S. 3936.  I am pleased to be one of the 32 bipartisan Senate co-sponsors of this bill.
 
The bipartisan Senate bill addresses most of the recommendations of the Academies’ report.  The bill also responds to recommendations contained in a recent report from the Council on Competitiveness, as well as proposals made as part of the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative. 
 
The Senate competitiveness bill will authorize $73 billion in Federal spending for science and technology over five years, $20 billion of which is new funding.  This is comparable in size to the President’s proposed American Competitiveness Initiative.
 
It is a good bill, with some provisions that are far-reaching.  I and my colleagues here hope that it will be brought to the Senate floor for action, when Congress reconvenes after the November elections.
 
But let me be realistic this morning about what Federal legislation can and cannot achieve.  Much of what needs to be done to bolster our national competitiveness must be done by all of you.
 
AUTHORIZATION IS NOT ENOUGH
 
The new Senate competitiveness bill is what we call an authorization bill.  Authorization bills are important in setting long-term policy and in giving guidance to Federal agencies.  The new Senate bill, of itself though, does not make new funds actually available – that will be done in subsequent bills, called appropriations bills. 
 
There is considerable value in setting the right overall policies, like the goal of doubling research budgets in the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Office of Science in the Department of Energy.  But we need to have the President actually propose the funding to carry out the policies we set.  And we need to have Congress actually appropriate the funds without a lot of earmarks.  So what we have proposed so far is an important step, but only the beginning of a long journey.
 
CREATING NEW PROGRAMS AT THE EXPENSE OF EXISTING PROGRAMS
 
Additional funding in the President’s next budget request and in the actual appropriation bills is vital if we are to avoid a situation where we are simply robbing Peter to pay Paul.  For example, our new bill proposes to expand many education programs at a time when the President’s proposed budget for the Department of Education budget declines by 4 percent; a $2 billion cut.
 
Congress will not finish its appropriations bills for this year until after the election.  When we return in November, it is important that Congress not fund new education programs or expand existing programs at the expense of existing efforts.  We need everyone here to send a clear message to all Members of Congress on that score.
 
CRUCIAL ROLE OF STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
IN IMPLEMENTING RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE ACADEMIES’ REPORTS
 
While Federal leadership is important in addressing the key education issues in the National Academies’ report, there is an even greater need for follow-up and action at the State and local level.  The overwhelming source of funding for K – 12 education in this country comes from State and local sources.  The Federal government’s share in education only comes to approximately 8 percent of all K – 12 spending.  Put another way, 92 cents of every education dollar comes from State and local governments.
 
The Federal government does play a critical role in education, and that is to ensure that all children, particularly children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, have a real chance for a high-quality education.  The Federal government can also play a role in helping set national priorities.
 
The recommendations in the National Academies’ report urge Congress to take steps to strengthen math and science education in this country, and our legislation does that.  It provides various incentives for States, universities, and local school districts to improve the way teachers teach math and science, and to attract more students to pursue courses of study in math and science.
 
But this legislation really only provides incentives to strengthen math and science education.  It’s up to States, universities, and local school districts to step up to the plate and translate those incentives into real opportunities for students, and for change.  That is why this convocation today is so important.  The shared knowledge and the leadership that you represent is crucial to making real headway on strengthening our education system for our future competitiveness.
 
INNOVATION
 
Local initiative and local action is also crucial to translating innovation into economic development.  Studies of innovation have repeatedly highlighted the importance of aligning State and local leaders, as well as business and universities, around projects that exploit the specific core strengths in a region.
 
As in the case of education, the Federal government can be a facilitator and, where necessary, a source of seed funding for local clusters of innovation.   Such a role was recommended in the Council on Competitiveness report on innovation.  Their proposal was to promote regional economic development by having the Department of Commerce encourage what are called “regional innovation hot spots” to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship at a local level.  It’s not part of the Senate bill we just introduced, but I would welcome hearing your input on it.
 
A similar idea that I hope you will consider is whether the Federal government could facilitate the development regional science parks, containing the necessary infrastructure to nurture new high-technology businesses.  In my travel to Asia to study their high-technology successes, I learned that science parks such as the Hsinchu Science Park in Taiwan have created more than 100,000 high- technology, high-wage jobs and $40 billion in income.  India’s world dominance in software came through the creation of 41 software technology parks in the early 1990’s with high speed internet lines and government offices to help process export paperwork.   In my State of New Mexico, the Sandia Science and Technology Park has created over 2,000 new jobs.  I think that we should support the necessary planning grants and loans to develop our infrastructure to nurture new high technology businesses.  We should not sit idly by while countries throughout Asia and the rest of the world employ regional economic strategies to win high technology jobs away from us.
 
CONCLUSION
 
Let me sum up.  The task of securing our economic future will require sustained effort at every level of society – local, State, and Federal.  Without such an effort, at all levels, we will fail to capitalize on the exceptional intellectual strength of our top scientists and engineers.  That failure will keep us from creating new, high-quality jobs and economic security for the United States in the 21st century.
 
We can respond, in part, to that challenge here in Washington.  We can set the right overall national policies.  We can fund the fundamental science and engineering research that industry cannot carry out.  We can provide incentives for forward-leaning action around the country. 
 
But we need every part of our society to do its part.  Particularly in education, we need State and local governments to rise to the challenges of this century, by educating students who are second to none in math and science.  We also need to help focus State and local support for technology-based economic development in the most effective manner possible.  If you can make a strong start on those efforts here today, as well as encouraging Congress and the President to do their part, then this convocation will be a great success
 
Again, I thank you for inviting me here, and I wish you all the best in your efforts at this meeting.