Quality Magazine

America COMPETES Act Focuses on Innovation

April 15, 2010

WASHINGTON - Innovation economists urge using public policy to spur innovation and growth. It seems our President and some of our federal lawmakers are listening. Last September, President Obama issued a National Innovation Strategy. His three-part strategy calls for investing in the building blocks of innovation; developing and supporting policies to spur and promote entrepreneurship; and federally backing emerging markets such as clean energy, smart grid, and advanced vehicle manufacturing that are deemed national priorities. The President has followed up with an FY2011 budget that shows a substantial commitment to science, R&D, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. Also part of the effort is reauthorizing and strengthening “The America COMPETES Act.”

COMPETES, which stands for Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science, expires at the end of this year unless it is continued by Congress. The COMPETES Act was the bipartisan reaction to a National Academies report to Congress entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” The report sounded the alarm that the United States is falling behind in science and technology and is in danger of losing our competitive edge without substantially increasing our investment in R&D and STEM education. In 2007, COMPETES was passed by Congress with the support of both parties and signed into law by President Bush.

Aiming to spur investment toward America’s science and technology leadership, the Act authorized funding increases for the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. It also enhanced teacher assistance and STEM education programs and established the Department of Energy ARPA-e program, which funds high-risk, high-reward advanced energy projects. (Since the COMPETES Act is an authorization bill its programs must be separately funded through an appropriations process. ARPA-e received its first $400 million in funding from the 2009 Recovery Act and announced its third-round funding opportunity in early March.)

Legislation to reauthorize COMPETES beyond FY2010 originates with the House and Senate Science committees. Those committees are currently considering ways to strengthen and build upon the 2007 Act. In fact, the House version was recently amended to add several energy provisions, including one establishing Energy Innovation Hubs. Committee hearings on COMPETES reauthorization and how best to focus government efforts on fostering innovation and promote science and technology competitiveness are continuing. One recent hearing in the House Science Committee focused on manufacturing: “The Future of Manufacturing: What is the Role of the Federal Government in Supporting Innovation by U.S. Manufacturers?”

There is no denying that today’s landscape for manufacturing is changing rapidly. Advances in manufacturing technology are revolutionizing the manufacturing process every day. The products that are technologically advanced, energy efficient and reasonably priced will be sought after around the world. Government programs, like those contained within the America COMPETES Act, will help speed the pace of innovation and help businesses bring superior products to market.