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Improving Collaboration and Efficiency in Science Programs

Mark Marich

Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology approved three bipartisan bills which share the common themes of strengthening inter-agency coordination processes andmaking government smarter. There was no major disagreement in today’s full committee markup; the bill with all proposed amendments was moved to the House for consideration.

The first approved legislation aims to improve networking and information technology. H.R. 2020, the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2009 (the NITRD Act) updates and improves the NITRD program by strengthening its interagency strategic planning process and requiring input on the process from industry and academic stakeholders. Since its establishment in 1991, more than a dozen federal R&D agencies have been collaborating loosely to carry out this 3.5 billion program.

The NITRD Act, introduced by Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN), is a recognition of the critical role of innovations in our economy. Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM) proposed an amendment to promote collaboration between federal laboratories, higher learning institutions, and industry so that laboratories and higher learning institutions’ research and development activities can assist industry’s commercial development efforts. In this way, Rep. Lujan pointed out to the breakdown of university-industry relations we have been observing.

The second approved bill isH.R.1736 (the International Science and Technology Cooperation Act of 2009). This bill, introduced Brian Baird (D-WA), aims to strengthen international science andtechnology programs as a soft power tool in foreign policy and brings together the State Department and R&D agencies. The bill creates a committee under the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) charged with coordinating the international science and technologyactivities across federal agencies and developing international science partnerships. “ Science diplomacy” can help tackle global challenges such as global overheating, infectious diseases, Rep. Baird and Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) pointed out. Chairman Gordon added that it promotes sharing of costs and ability.

Finally, H.R. 1709, the STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009, also moved closer to becoming a law. The Committee passed this bill authored by Chairman Gordon to elevate an existing Committee under NSTC to coordinate STEM education activities across the federal government through common metrics and best-practice sharing. The ultimate goal of this legislation is to strengthen the 21st century skilled workforce needed for an innovation economy. This bill had the most amendments, which highlights the concern that there is little communication among agencies that oversee STEM education programs. Rep. Ehlers (R-MI) claimed that the simplest ways to improve STEM education is to keep better track of what the government has being doing already, and that the current information about STEM programs only covers the tip of the iceberg.

The amendments to the STEM Education Coordination Act of 2009 included increased accountability provisions of the bill (Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-TX), andimproving teacher access to best practices (Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-OH).

PDE staff will keep monitoring these efforts to ensure that we make the most effective use of our resources and that many agencies come together to develop common goals and well defined strategies, thereby avoiding inefficient spending.

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