The Scientific Activist (Archives)


May 19, 2006

American Innovation and Competitiveness Act Advances in Senate

On Thursday, May 18th, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously approved the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, sending it to the full Senate. The act was intoduced by Senator John Ensign (R-Nev), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness. The official press release and the full text of the bill as it was introduced can be found online, but a better breakdown of the bill comes from Inside Higher Ed:
The bill authorizes over $6 billion for NSF for the 2007 fiscal year, which is in line with the president’s budget request. The money still has to be appropriated, though, for NSF to receive it, even if the bill is passed.

The bill would also authorize the NSF to give 2,500 additional grants to be used for graduate research fellowships and for the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program, which preps doctoral science and engineering students for interdisciplinary work.

NSF would also establish a clearinghouse to share best practices from four-year institutions, industry, and government agencies with regard to professional science masters degree programs. Professional science masters programs are often interdisciplinary programs that may not require a thesis, but require internships, and training in a non-science field, such as business, or communications.

In prior hearings, senators and witnesses suggested that such programs will help to get more minority students into graduate level science. Under the bill, grants would be available for professional science masters pilot programs at four-year institutions.

The legislation would also have the National Institute of Standards and Technology set aside at least 8 percent of its annual budget for “high-risk, high reward research” that might be “too novel or spans too diverse a range of disciplines to fare well in the traditional peer review process,” according the bill. Eighty percent of that money would be in the form of competitive grants.

On his site Sex Drugs and DNA, Michael Stebbins reports that Senator John McCain introduced an amendment to the bill intended to increase scientific openness. Stebbins has provided the full text of the amendment on his site:
Within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in consultation with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, shall develop and issue an overarching set of principles for the communication of scientific information by government scientists, policy makers, and managers to the public. The principles shall encourage the open exchange of data and results of research by Federal agency scientists.

According to Stebbins, the amendment is a shot at President Bush:
These principles are intended to stop the President and his cronies from manipulating science. Even Republicans are sickened by the Presiden’t activities. The good news is that Republicans are keen to pass this legislation, which was introduced by Senator Ensign of Nevada, so unless they make a stink about the amendment, the administration will be forced to do the right thing…maybe.

The adminstration has hitherto been pretty adept at finding ways to not do the right thing in terms of science, so that's a tall order for any piece of legislation. It'll definitely be worth following.


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