News Column

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Hearing

July 17, 2014

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining me to discuss an issue I've been working on my entire career - first as a college president, then as a Governor, and, of course, in the Senate and as a Member of this Committee.

There can be absolutely no question that investing in science and technology, in innovation, and in educating our young people is critical to maintaining our nation's global leadership.

We should all be grateful that our country's leaders have had the wisdom and the patience to make these investments, because they make a real difference in people's lives. These investments don't change things overnight, but over time, they are game-changers.

Funding for agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) doesn't just mean another scientist in a lab somewhere.

The money that we put into basic research, into understanding the world around us, has a real world impact. It creates new ways -

* To protect our loved ones, by better identifying dangerous counterfeit drugs;

* To secure our homeland, by being able to "smell" even small amounts of explosives; and

* To interact with the world, by providing seed funding and new technologies for the companies that transformed the Internet, communications, and mobile phones.

That is why I have been so happy to support Federal funding for research and development (R&D) and for education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

It is also why I have been a huge champion for the America COMPETES Acts of 2007 and 2010.

Over the past few months, I have received some amazing numbers on the impact of programs addressed in COMPETES.

Back in 2001, I worked on legislation to create the Robert Noyce Teacher Fellowship Program, which was strengthened by the 2007 COMPETES Act. As of last year, the Noyce scholarship is expected to help produce over 12,000 math and science teachers in high-need districts.

In 2010, COMPETES granted every federal agency the authority to award prizes for solutions to difficult problems. Since then, the web site has hosted over 200 challenges, with more than 16,000 Americans participating.

Ongoing challenges are working to better measure pollution, reduce hospital readmissions, and bring down the cost of solar energy.

If the country is going to build on these tremendous results, we must continue to defend scientific research and to make it a priority. Given our Government's long and successful track record in supporting research and development, I would like to think that it doesn't need defending. But unfortunately, it does.

We know that our science agencies have suffered because of long-term funding reductions, and short-term disruptions like sequestration and the government shutdown. It is very hard to plan long-term research when you can't even be sure of your budget over the next few months.

Also, we've seen proposals that would let Congress decide what research projects are worthwhile. Having served on this committee and worked with the Senate Science and Technology Caucus, I know that scientists through grant competitions and peer review are best able to make those decisions.

On his deathbed in 1969, former President Dwight Eisenhower told a friend that, in his experience, scientists "were one of the few groups in Washington who seemed to be there to help the country and not help themselves."

Our House colleagues who would substitute their own opinions for those of the scientific community would be wise to remember President Eisenhower's words.

Today, I plan to release a draft of my 2014 America COMPETES reauthorization. This bill would make it clear that the United States is committed to leading the world in science and engineering. That means getting kids excited about STEM, funding a wide-range of research, and making sure that the best research results make it to the marketplace.

There are already so many examples of Federally-funded research making our nation and our economy stronger. That is why I am very glad to see Dr. Vint Cerf here today. Dr. Cerf played a leading role in the development of a technology that has changed our world - the Internet.

As Dr. Cerf can explain, it took several decades of incremental work by scientists and engineers at the Department of Defense, at the National Science Foundation, and at our leading research universities to bring the Internet to the point where companies like Netscape, Yahoo, and Google could pursue their business ideas.

Our challenge is to make sure that the next Internet is developed in the United States and not in a laboratory in China, India, or Europe. Unless we choose to support science in this country - and it is a choice - I am afraid that the next world-changing innovation will not belong to us. That's why I'd like to invite all of my Senate colleagues to work with me on a 2014 COMPETES reauthorization, to ensure that our country continues to lead.

Our wonderful panel of witnesses will help us to understand how we can do that.

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Source: Congressional Documents & Publications

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