Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander - “Protecting Our Brainpower Advantage”

Posted on October 2, 2006

Last week, I joined the Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist, Democratic Leader Harry Reid and a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the National Competitiveness Investment Act. This bill is about growing our economy so that in 20 years we don’t wake up and wonder how countries like China and India have passed us by. The bill focuses on three main areas that are important to maintaining and improving U.S. innovation in the 21st Century. First, increasing research investment; second, strengthening educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from elementary through graduate school; and third, developing an innovation infrastructure. Several sections of the National Competitiveness Investment Act are derived from proposals in the Protecting America’s Competitive Edge (PACE) Act, which I introduced with Senators Domenici, Bingaman and Mikulski earlier this year, and which has 70 cosponsors – 35 Republicans and 35 Democrats. The PACE Act implemented the recommendations contained in the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report which came in response to a question Senator Bingaman and I asked the National Academies in May 2005: “What are the ten top actions that federal policy makers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so the United States can successfully compete, prosper and be secure in the global community of the 21st century?” The broad bipartisan support for the PACE Act and now for the National Competitiveness Investment Act is significant. In the midst of all the partisanship in Washington, we have been working in a very bipartisan way on competitiveness legislation. Most senators of both parties believe we are facing a challenge from India and China and the rest of the world. I believe the National Competitiveness Investment Act could have an incredible impact on Tennessee. Here are some examples: In terms of education, each year, bright Tennesseans would receive four-year scholarships to earn a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math, while they are earning their teaching certification. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and universities across the state would host one-week to two-week summer academies for hundreds of Tennessee math and science teachers. The bill would also provide unique internship and program opportunities for Tennessee middle and high school students at Oak Ridge, the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, and other technology and scientific research facilities across the state. The bill would also provide training and support for 400 Tennessee teachers in high-need schools to teach Advanced Placement classes, and Tennessee would be eligible to partner with Oak Ridge National Lab for financial and expert assistance in teaching at a new residential high school specializing in math and science that students from across the state would be eligible to attend. The National Competitiveness Investment Act would also increase research and development spending by about 10 percent per year for five years at several federal agencies. This creates hundreds of new jobs at Tennessee research institutions like Oak Ridge, UT and Vanderbilt. This investment could generate dozens of new high-tech companies in Tennessee over the course of the next decade. The key to our success in the global economy is our brainpower advantage in science and technology. We are not the only ones in the world who understand that. China understands it. India understands it. And in order to keep our brainpower advantage and good jobs in this country instead of seeing them go overseas to China and India, we need to pass the National Competitiveness Investment Act and set the pace for the next generation. ###