Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander

“The America COMPETES Act”

Posted on April 29, 2007

This week the Senate passed what I believe to be the most important legislation before the Congress this year: the America COMPETES Act – bipartisan legislation to help keep the United States competitive in the global economy. It was introduced this Congress by the Democratic leader, Senator Reid, and by the Republican leader, Senator McConnell. It passed with 88 votes and wide bipartisan support. It all began when Senator Bingaman of New Mexico and I walked down the street from the U.S. Capitol building to the National Academy of Sciences and said: “Please tell us exactly what we ought to do, in priority order, to keep our brainpower advantage so our good jobs don’t get shipped oversees to China and India and other countries.” The National Academies appointed a group, chaired by retired Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Norm Augustine and including luminaries from current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Nobel laureates, that gave us 20 recommendations in priority order, and called the report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." With the recommendations from the National Academies, we crafted legislation to keep America’s brainpower advantage. We worked two years through various committees and many changes to bring our legislation to this point. Senator Bill Frist did great work keeping this on the legislative agenda in the last Congress, and a parallel path for competitiveness legislation is being pursued in a bipartisan way in the House under the leadership of Congressman Bart Gordon, who chairs the House Committee on Science and Technology. America’s brainpower advantage is the reason we produce almost 30 percent of all the money in the world for about 5 percent of its population. Our brainpower creates the big ideas that lead to new jobs. From the automobile, to the electric light bulb, to Google – they have been created here, and have lead directly to our high standard of living. But the rest of the world has figured this out. They have the same brains we do, and suddenly China is recruiting the most distinguished Chinese professors from great American universities to come back to China to build up China and India is doing the same. That’s why this legislation is important for the country and for our state. In order to maintain our competitive edge in the increasingly global economy, in Tennessee alone, the America COMPETES Act will provide: o Scholarships for 400 Future Tennessee Math & Science Teachers: Each year, up to 400 bright Tennesseans could receive four-year scholarships, each worth up to $10,000 per year, to earn a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering or math, while concurrently earning teacher certification. o Summer Academies for Tennessee Math & Science Teachers: 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. o AP Training for 400 Tennessee Math & Science Teachers: The bill would provide training and support for up to 400 Tennessee teachers in high-need schools to teach Advanced Placement (AP) classes or pre-AP classes. Support for a Proposed Math & Science Specialty High School: The state of Tennessee would be eligible to partner with ORNL 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. o High-Tech Internships for Tennessee Middle and High School Students: The bill would provide unique internship and program opportunities for dozens of Tennessee middle and high school students at ORNL, the UT Health Science Center in Memphis, and other technology and scientific research facilities across the state. o Growing Tennessee-based Research to Produce New High-Tech Jobs: The bill would increase research and development spending by about 10 percent per year for four years at several federal agencies, thereby creating hundreds of new research jobs at Tennessee research institutions like the ORNL, UT and Vanderbilt. This investment could generate dozens of new high-tech companies in Tennessee over the course of the next decade. Passing the America COMPETES Act is a big step in the right direction. We have much more to do. We have the research and development tax credit to make permanent. We have provisions in the immigration legislation which have passed once, which I hope pass again, to in-source brainpower, and give a preference to people with high skills in science, technology, engineering, and math and let them stay here and create jobs here instead of in other countries. In the meantime, this legislation’s broad scope, creative approach and uniquely bipartisan support represent the best way for our country to keep its brainpower advantage, and our brainpower advantage is the way we keep good paying jobs from going overseas. It is always a privilege to serve in the U.S. Senate but it has been especially a privilege this week. This is only one of the issues that are too big for one party to solve; hopefully it will be a model for others.