Senator authors bill to increase research spending


A U.S. senator plans to introduce a bill that seeks to increase funding for research and science education in an effort to kick start efforts to pass legislation to improve U.S. competitiveness.

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said he would introduce the National Competitiveness Investment Act Tuesday. The bill, with both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors, would increase funding for research and for math, science and technology education by about $20 billion through 2011, an Ensign spokesman said.

The bill would establish new research programs in the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology and it would set a goal of 8% of the budgets of U.S. agencies that conduct research be directed toward a new Innovation Acceleration Research Program. The bill, which combines competitiveness ideas from several congressional committees, pumps up education programs in several agencies and authorizes a math improvement program for elementary and middle-school students endorsed by U.S. President George Bush.

Parts of the bill come from Ensign’s American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved in May.

"America has always been on the cutting edge of technology and innovation, but we are starting to fall behind," Ensign said in a statement. "It is critical that we embrace technology and ensure that our children receive a stronger education in the core subjects of mathematics and science. This legislation is a great step forward in securing our place as a global leader in innovation."

Ensign's legislation, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), comes after technology trade groups such as the Technology CEO Council and TechNet have called on Congress to move ahead with competitiveness legislation.

Earlier this month, TechNet applauded an early draft of the Ensign bill, while the Technology CEO Council sent a letter to congressional leaders, asking them to follow through on promises to pass competitiveness legislation this year. Both parties have pushed "innovation" agendas since late 2005 or early this year, but Congress has failed to pass a comprehensive competitiveness package.

"It was important to have it in 2004, when we called for it," Technology CEO Council Executive Director Bruce Mehlman said of a competitiveness package. "It seems inconceivable the action will elude us yet again."

Mehlman called on Congress to extend a research and development tax credit for U.S. companies and to increase the cap for foreign worker visas under the controversial H-1B program. Ensign's new bill doesn't address either of those issues, but it does increase funding for research, another concern of the trade group.

"The time to act is now," Mehlman said earlier this month. "There's no good reason it can't happen ... since there's so much agreement on the merits and the substance."

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