Push 'brain power,' Alexander urges

Pleads case to Bush, promoting funding boost

Posted on January 18, 2006

OAK RIDGE -- America's future depends on "brain power," U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says in promoting an ambitious $10 billion annual boost in government spending on education and research. The Tennessee Republican met with President Bush just before Christmas to urge him to focus on math, science and technology in his State of the Union address and for his remaining three years in office. "The President was very interested," Alexander said Thursday after giving a speech on the proposals to a receptive audience that included officials from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant and the University of Tennessee. "I am encouraged because he understands these issues very well. He knows that we are in a competition for our jobs around the world. He is a former governor so he knows and understands the issues in education. So I am encouraged, but I don't have any kind of commitment." Alexander, a former Tennessee governor and U.S. education secretary, sought guidance early last year from the National Academy of Science. A blue-ribbon panel responded with 20 recommendations in a report in October. The report noted that U.S. industry is spending more money on lawsuits than research and development, China is producing 600,000 new engineers a year compared with only 70,000 in the United States and that this country's 12th-graders are performing below the average of students from 21 nations in math and science. Alexander is working with New Mexico Sens. Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat, and Pete Domenici, a Republican who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, on legislation to implement the recommendations. The three briefed Bush on their plans at the White House on Dec. 15. "It has been true since World War II that most of our good new jobs in America came from science and technology," Alexander said. "It is going to be more true in the future." Energizing America A blue-ribbon science panel, in response to a request from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, suggested a number of ways to improve job competitiveness in science and technology. Among the panel's proposals: Create four-year scholarships to attract 10,000 students a year to math and science teaching careers. Increase national investment in basic research by 10 percent annually. Create a research division within the Department of Energy to study long-term energy challenges, similar to the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency that pioneered the Internet.