Gardner and Peters in The Hill: Reaffirming America's Commitment to Science and Technology

July 15, 2016

For decades, American hard work and ingenuity has driven our country’s unprecedented economic prosperity. Our scientific curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit led to innovative discoveries that helped establish the United States as the world’s largest economy and premier thought leader in the scientific arena. But as other nations increasingly invest in science and innovation to help grow their economies, we must recommit to promoting our own national science policy and maintaining American competitiveness around the world. Our success in this global economy will depend on our ability to compete in a fast-paced, high-tech and knowledge-based 21st century marketplace.

In 2007, the National Academy’s seminal “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report outlined the steps needed to secure our competitive advantage. Congress responded by enacting the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act. This strongly bipartisan legislation reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to investing in basic research and education and set us on a path towards reestablishing American scientific and technological supremacy so we could succeed in a global economy. The follow-on 2010 COMPETES Reauthorization Actpropelled our nation further by strengthening and solidifying federal science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education efforts. We have made great progress over the course of the last decade, but it is clear that we must do more to ensure the United States remains the global leader in technology, innovation and the creation of jobs.

That is why last year, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Innovation and Competitiveness Working Group to held a series of roundtable discussions to gather input from the science, education, business and economic development communities on how to improve the American innovation ecosystem. The American research community answered with a resounding call for increased federal investments in research and development; policies to grow our STEM workforce; enhanced efficiency of our research endeavors; and better commercialization of federally funded research.

Using the input the committee received from these roundtable discussions, the committee released the successor to the COMPETES efforts—the bipartisan American Innovation and Competitiveness Act—which was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee this week. This legislation not only strengthens American competitiveness with smart policies and updates to existing programs, it also increases federal investments in basic scientific research at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) by four percent over the next year.

Building on those investments, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will harness American inventiveness to continue developing world-renowned innovations in medicine, communications technology, aerospace and defense engineering, and more. Importantly, the bill reaffirms NSF’s merit-based peer review process for awarding grants – the international gold standard for prioritizing research proposals. The legislation also aims to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens for federal researchers, so scientists can spend more time in the lab and less time on paperwork. The bill establishes an advisory panel on STEM education to advise the federal government on how best to improve STEM programs and help educators and students more effectively teach and learn. The bill backs greater use of prizes, competitions, and crowdsourcing to engage the public in science and foster innovation. It also provides for grants to support the commercialization of federally funded research and enhances entrepreneurship training for researchers. And importantly, this bill helps make science bipartisan again.

These goals don’t just impact scientists working in labs—they are the driving force behind the next wave of discovery and innovation that will create jobs and launch new industries that will benefit every citizen. Whether we are working to improve our national security capabilities, protect our environment or design smarter cities, countries around the world look to the American model of innovation and the economic opportunity it generates to drive their own economies forward. The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will provide our researchers and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to ensure our country remains at the top of the innovation game.