Subcommittee Chairman Lipinski to Promote Innovation, STEM Education, and Job Creation in the NSF Reauthorization (February 23, 2010)

With the Research and Science Education Subcommittee scheduled to conduct its first hearing of the year tomorrow, Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski (IL-03) today laid out his plans for strengthening America’s economic competitiveness and creating jobs through the reauthorization of the National Science Foundation. Once completed, Lipinski’s NSF reauthorization bill will be incorporated into the reauthorization of the broader America COMPETES Act, which Chairman Lipinski strongly supports and which Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon has made a top priority.

Chairman Lipinski’s agenda for the NSF reauthorization includes increasing investment in research that will enhance the manufacturing sector’s productivity and innovation; bolstering support for high-risk/high-reward or “transformative” research, possibly through innovation inducement prizes; an examination of the state of our academic research infrastructure; improving technology transfer programs that help turn researchers’ discoveries into products, companies, and jobs; and expanding the nation’s high-tech workforce through better science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

This last area will be the focus of Thursday’s subcommittee hearing on Strengthening Undergraduate and Graduate STEM Education. In November, Thomson Reuters analyzed 30 years worth of data from over 10,000 scientific journals, and reported that Chinacould surpass the United Statesas the world’s largest producer of scientific knowledge by 2020. Americamust improve STEM education in order to maintain its leadership. Chairman Lipinski approaches these issues as a former professor and the holder oftwo engineering degrees.

“I became well aware of the importance of the NSF when I was a graduate student, and early in my career I received a research grant from the NSF,” Chairman Lipinski said. “I was originally drawn to the Science Committee in part because of its jurisdiction over the NSF, and when I became chair of the Research and Science Education Subcommittee in this Congress, I was excited about having the opportunity to write the NSF reauthorization.

“American workers remain the most skilled, innovative, and productive in the world,” Chairman Lipinski continued. “But we cannot afford to ignore the challenges we face from abroad. We must continue to make substantial and well-targeted investments in research and education that will allow Americato maintain its position at the forefront of the world economy for generations to come. In our hearings, we will look at the best ways to target funding, including the potential of reinstituting university infrastructure funding.”

Despite recent job losses, manufacturing remains a linchpin of our economy, and a source of good-paying jobs for millions of Americans. But lower labor costs overseas, declining numbers of science and engineering graduates at home, and increasing innovation in foreign countries mean our manufacturing sector must continue to innovate to remain strong. Chairman Lipinski plans to support research into and deployment of technologies aimed at improving manufacturing processes, such as computational modeling that allows better designs and cheaper prototypes. He also plans to support materials science research that can lead to more efficient, longer-lasting, and lower-cost products.

In October, Chairman Lipinski’s subcommittee held a hearing on methods for funding transformative research, defined as research with the potential to revolutionize existing fields and open up new avenues of inquiry and new growth industries. The National Academies’ 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which laid the foundation for the America COMPETES Act, recommended that federal research agencies set aside a portion of their budgets for such high-risk, high-reward research. There is a growing consensus in the research community that the peer-review system has become too conservative in its funding decisions and even the brightest and most creative scientists and engineers are not bothering to submit more ambitious proposals. Chairman Lipinski looks forward to providing increased support for high-risk, high-payoff research.

Ensuring that America’s STEM education system provides the country with the skilled high-tech workers needed to compete in a globalized economy is a top priority for Chairman Lipinski. The Research and Science Education Subcommittee has held numerous hearings on STEM education over the last year, and Chairman Lipinski is working to improve STEM education at all levels. Tomorrow’s subcommittee hearing will address improving instruction for undergraduate and graduate students in STEM disciplines by drawing on the latest pedagogical research; expanding support for young, innovative graduate-level researchers; increasing the number of students in STEM fields to meet demand and fill positions that will soon be left vacant by a wave of retirements; and the role that the NSF can play in instigating and supporting reform efforts in higher education, including through research. 

“I am looking forward to reauthorizing the National Science Foundation and the rest of the COMPETES Act, which is essential to ensuring that America is equipped to face the challenges of the 21st Century and to maintain its position as the world’s leading source of innovation,” Chairman Lipinski said. “Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon has rightly made reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act a key priority for the committee, and I look forward to working with him on this extraordinarily important endeavor.”

(February 3, 2010)