Summary of Hearings on Education, Research and Development, and Workforce Policy

(10/1/10)

  • September, 29 2010: House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing on “Averting the Storm: How Investments in Science will Ensure the Competitiveness and Economic Future of the U.S.”
  • September, 23 2010: House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee Hearing on “The Science of Science and Innovation Policy”
  • July, 21 2010: House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “Behind the Scenes: Science and Education at the Smithsonian Institution”
  • March 10, 2010: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on Advancing American Innovation and Competitiveness
  • March 4, 2010: House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing on Reform in K-12 STEM Education
  • February 23, 2010: House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on the State of Research Infrastructure at U.S. Universities
  • February 4, 2010: House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee Hearing on “Strengthening Undergraduate and Graduate STEM Education”
  • October 15, 2009: The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing on “The Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program and National Environmental Literacy Grant Program Act”
  • October 8, 2009: House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “Investing in High-Risk, High-Reward Research”
  • October 7, 2009:House Commerce and Energy Committee Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing on “Growing U.S. Trade in Green Technology.”
  • September 30, 2009: House Agriculture Committee Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research Subcommittee Hearing “To review the implementation of the research title of the 2008 Farm Bill.”
  • July 21, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee hearing on “Encouraging the Participation of Female Students in STEM Fields”
  • July 14, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “New Roadmaps for Wind and Solar Research and Development”
  • July 9, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “Technology Research and Development Efforts Related to Energy and Water Linkage”
  • June 9, 2009: House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing on “Environmental Research at the Department of Energy”
  • March 24, 2009: House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education hearing entitled "Coordination of International Science Partnerships."
  • March 5, 2009: House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies hearing “Where Are We Today: Today’s Assessment of ‘The Gathering Storm.’”

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House Science and Technology Committee Hearing on “Averting the Storm: How Investments in Science will Ensure the Competitiveness and Economic Future of the U.S.”
September 29, 2010

Witnesses
Norman R. Augustine
Retired Chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation and former Undersecretary of the Army
Dr. Craig Barrett
Retired Chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation
Charles Holliday Jr.
Chairman of the Board of Bank of America and retired Chairman of the Board and CEO of DuPont
Dr. C.D. (Dan) Mote Jr.
President Emeritus of the University of Maryland and Glenn L. Marin Institute Professor of Engineering

Committee Members Present
Bart Gordon, Chairman (D-TN)
Ralph Hall, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
David Wu (D-OR)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Charlie Wilson (D-OH)

The House Committee on Science and Technology (S&T) heard testimony on Wednesday, September 29 regarding U.S. competitiveness in science and technology, as outlined in the new National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5. The committee convened to discuss the findings of the report, and how the U.S. might better meet the challenges outlined therein. Testimony focused on specifically the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 (H.R. 5116), as a necessary investment in the U.S. workforce, as well as on research and development (R&D) tax credits and corporate taxes. “We need to cultivate a technologically and scientifically astute work force,” Ranking Member Ralph Hall asserted during his opening comments. Other members in attendance and the witnesses themselves reaffirmed his claims. “Late last week, we received a stark reminder about why a reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act is so critical,” Chairman Gordon expressed, referring to the release of the National Academies report.

Witnesses at the hearing represented several former industry executives including Norman Augustine, retired Chairman and CEO of the Lockheed Martin Corporation; Craig Barrett, retired Chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation; and Charles Holliday, Jr., retired Chairman of the Board and CEO of DuPont. Dan Mote, Jr. rounded out the panel and represented academia as the President Emeritus of the University of Maryland. All witnesses addressed the scale of the challenges to the U.S. economy and workforce. As pointed out by Augustine, the U.S. currently ranks 28th in science and math performance for 17-year olds and 48th in science and math education for the whole K-12 spectrum. The U.S. has also seen manufacturing shift to developing countries and clean energy manufacturing, in particular, thrive abroad in Europe and in China.

In his testimony, Augustine warned of sustained unemployment due to an unskilled U.S. workforce, and he asked for revitalization of K-12 science and mathematics education and an increased research budget. He warned that “all the good things that have been done,” namely the stimulus funding for R&D and the America COMPETES legislation, “are set to expire.” Under the House S&T Committee, the original America COMPETES – The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007(H.R. 2272) – was written and passed in 2007, as a response to the initial report released by the National Academies. That bill authorized a doubling of the basic research budgets for several science agencies over the period of a decade, but its initial authorizations are set to expire on September 30th, 2010. The bill to reauthorize that act has passed the House, but it is awaiting action from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology (CST).

Each of the witnesses expressed concern over the stalled reauthorization. Holliday, in particular, focused on the need for continuity in government support for research and development. In his oral testimony, Holliday pushed specifically for research towards “low cost clean energy,” to reduce unemployment in the U.S. and increase U.S. competitiveness in the global economy. When asked by Chairman Gordon why he focused on energy research in particular, considering the many other critical R&D areas, Holliday noted that the economy- and society-wide impacts of energy prices and externalities warrant more attention. In accordance with the requests of the Energy Information Research Council, Holliday called for the commitment of $11 billion in federal support for programs such as ARPA-E, for the entrepreneurial development of clean energy technologies.

The question and answer session focused on what solutions the witnesses saw to the many challenges listed in the report. “How do you keep the trained engineers in the U.S.?” Ranking Member Hall asked, while others asked what might keep employers from outsourcing jobs. The continuing reply from panelists lamented a poorly trained workforce, high corporate taxes, and a lack of R&D expenditures in the U.S. “The biggest disincentive is the corporate tax rate,” Barrett asserted. Members, for their part, emphasize what Congress must do to meet these needs. “We need to extend and make permanent the R&D tax credit,” suggested Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD), a sentiment echoed by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).

Ehlers also called for advancing awareness among the public on this crucial issue. “Other nation’s are trying to catch up; we believe we’re already there,” he suggested. The public assumes jobs go elsewhere because of lower wages, not because of an unskilled workforce, Ehlers reiterated. In his opening comments, Mote addressed what he believes is a lack of awareness on the public’s part. “The best predictor’s of future science and technology competitiveness was the national culture,” Mote explained, referring to a study of six nations’ success on science and technology development.

Several members offered skepticism over a perceived subsidy of particular businesses. “Why should we subsidize research within profitable corporations?” Chairman Gordon offered as a defense of tax payer interests. In response, Barrett, Holliday, and Augustine reiterated that they were not requesting direct subsidies for R&D, but rather for support of basic academic research that would not be funded otherwise. Holliday further stressed that as a nation “we have moved our research towards more applied [study].” Scientists doing basic research are not compensated for the economic benefits of their endeavors, Augustine explained. “Research is the provenance of government. Development is the provenance of business,” he asserted. Focusing on enhancing development through business, Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) called for more free market incentives for clean energy development, not just through R&D. “How about an alternative,” he offered “a revenue neutral carbon tax?” mentioning that parties as disparate as Al Gore and Art Laffer have supported such a measure. The panel members agreed on the need for a free market, but they declined to offer opinions on the role of a carbon tax.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) expressed concerns about market distortions. “We have permitted the wholesale theft of our intellectual property for years,” he claimed. Rohrabacher asked “Why do we want to have Chinese students swarming into these graduate positions?” expressing disappointment that companies are overlooking B+ American students for A+ students from other countries.

“It’s an A+ world.” Barrett responded. “If you want to compete internationally you’ve got to hire A+ students.” In order to develop more competitive students in the U.S., Barrett emphasized, you need to invest in STEM education, as is seen in H.R. 5116.

Overall, members and witnesses agreed that requesting any more funds for federal agencies may be difficult. The witnesses reiterated, however, the importance of this legislation to the American economy, workforce, and national security. “I can’t think of a stronger signal this Congress could send, in a negative way, than not passing the America COMPETES Act,” stated Augustine. When asked what could be cut from their requests, Augustine responded: “It’s a little bit like asking: should I give up water or should I give up food,” reiterating that the money we’ve spent on tobacco products in the U.S. would cover the funds requested by the National Academies.

Testimony from the chair and witnesses is available from the committee website. The report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, is available online from the National Academies Press.

House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee Hearing on “The Science of Science and Innovation Policy”
September 23, 2010

Witnesses
Dr. Julia Lane
Program Director, Science of Science and Innovation Policy, National Science Foundation
Dr. Daniel Sarewitz
Co-Director, Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, Professor of Science and Society, Arizona State University
Dr. Fiona Murray
Associate Professor of Management, Associate Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Entrepreneurship Center
Dr. Albert Teich
Director, Science and Policy Programs, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Subcommitee Members Present
Daniel Lipinski, Chairman (D-IL)
Vernon Ehlers, Ranking Member (R-MI)

The House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing on Thursday, September 24, to discuss the Science of Science and Innovation Policy (SciSIP). Charged with reviewing the progress of federally funded science, the subcommittee convened to assess the status of ongoing research into the policy-science nexus and what can be done to increase returns on federal investment for research. Led by Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) and the Ranking Member, Representative Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), the subcommittee heard testimony and asked questions of four leading researchers in the SciSIP field. Panelists included Dr. Julia Lane of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University (ASU), Dr. Fiona Murray of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Dr. Albert H. Teich of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

On the table were several overarching questions for the SciISP field, namely “what can science and technology policy contribute to decision making?” “How can we better target federal research investments?” and “What is the state of SciSIP education?”  In line with the broad nature of these questions, the panelists largely offered qualitative answers. Some suggestions did emerge, however, through the question and answer session. While Murray and Lane emphasized the need to gather more comprehensive and validated data on SciSIP issues, Sarewetz and Teich suggested that given what information is already available, it is more important to highlight and expound upon what has already been discovered. “The results of this work are not well known,” Dr. Teich asserted in his oral testimony. “We need to strengthen ties between researchers and policy makers by bringing policy makers into the classroom,” he continued, “building a community of practice.” Dr. Teich suggested that SciSIP researchers be provided the opportunity to work in DC for a year.

Teich’s conclusions on the matter were echoed by Sarewitz who stressed a greater need to communicate what is known more effectively. Instead of broader data gathering campaigns, Sarewitz suggested more analysis be done to develop principles of science policy, rather than an overarching framework.. “We need more granular studies,” he claimed, emphasizing the complexity of policy decisions. Sarewitz also stressed the importance of measuring outcomes of scientific research, rather than merely the inputs and outputs. He called for focusing on whether or not progress is being made on key social issues rather than focusing on the number of Ph. D.’s in a field or the growth of the R&D budget. “Science policy has, above all else, been science budget policy,” he claimed in his written testimony. “Thirty years of science output have done little to change the outcome of dependence on foreign oil.” To start addressing the outcomes, Sarewitz called for the establishment of strong relationships between scientists and decision makers.

Echoing that sentiment, Teich and Lane called for better communication between scientists and policy makers. Their suggestions were received well by the subcommittee members. Ehlers, in particular, voiced his wish that the science policy community become more involved in political decisions. “Run for Congress!” he urged. Ehlers is the only science Ph. D. on the Science and Technology Committee. He received his Ph. D. in nuclear physics from the University of California Berkeley in 1966. Recognizing the lack of scientists in Congress, Ehlers asked, “How might we educate members of Congress to better respond to scientific information?” Lane and Murray answered by emphasizing clear and concrete arguments. “We need real evidence for Congress,” Lane asserted, explaining that if scientists can relate unambiguous results, their message will likely have much more of an impact. “Politics isn’t neat,” she reiterated. “Data doesn’t always trump a lot of factors. We have to communicate in that framework.”

Murray further stressed the need to show causal impacts to politicians. She suggested that data on the effects of stimulus money, in particular, may provide a compelling cause and effect argument. That is, if economic successes can be linked to their particular stimulus investments, that research would provide a robust argument for further R&D in particular areas.

Murray emphasized the importance of communication among scientists of a particular field, and suggested that community building can enhance information flow and direction within academic fields. She advocated for the development of resource and information centers, claiming in her written testimony that “there is definitive evidence” that those investments “have a significant positive impact” on scientific progress. Teich and Sarewitz reiterated the need for community building for well established fields of science and for SciSIP as well. For his part, Teich has participated directly in that effort, holding, for example, a workshop for grantees through the NSF SciSIP program. Through AAAS, Teich has organized another workshop to be held this October with the purpose of connecting researchers with the federal policy community. The report from the first workshop, Toward a Community of Practice: Report on the AAAS-NSF Grantees Workshop, is available at AAAS’s web site.

Despite concurrence on most issues, the testimony rarely coalesced to particular shared conclusions. This disjoint was evident in the contrasting visions for the future of SciSIP in particular. While Murray advocated for a singular field for SciSip incorporating collaboration across a set of schools, Lane and Teich declined to endorse such a broader vision. “I don’t see it as a discipline,” Teich suggested, though he did address a growing interest in the area.  

For more information on the hearing, including testimony from the chairman and witnesses, please see the committee web site.

House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “Behind the Scenes: Science and Education at the Smithsonian Institution”
July 21, 2010

Witnesses
Wayne Clough
Secretary, Smithsonian Institution
Claudine Brown
Director of Education, Smithsonian Institution
Eldredge Bermingham
Director, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Shari Werb
Assistant Director of Education, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Subcommittee Members Present
Daniel Lipinski (D-IL)
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Brian Baird (D-WA)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Brian Bilbray (R-CA)

The House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education met to discuss the Smithsonian Institution’s research and public education activities and their importance to national science education and innovation. The Smithsonian is a National Trust, which means while it does receive federal funding (65 percent of the budget is from congressional appropriations), the institution also relies heavily on fundraising, philanthropic donations and competitive grants. Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) commended the Smithsonian for their work, saying they have resources and insights unlike any other institution. For this reason, he recommended Congress do whatever it can to aid the institution in its fundraising efforts. Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) agreed, noting that informal science education is important. He wondered how the institution could maximize the impact of federal spending through a strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and collaboration with federal agencies.

Secretary of the Smithsonian, Wayne Clough, began by noting the important role the institution plays in federal science knowledge. He brought along jars of shrimp specimens from the Gulf of Mexico, part of a large collection of specimens collected from the Gulf before the oil spill. This collection will be critical in evaluating the damage to the Gulf ecosystems from the spill. He reminded the committee that the Smithsonian is not just a consortium of museums and collections, but an active research institution with many external labs, including one in Panama.

Eldredge Bermingham is the Director of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. He stressed its importance to ocean acidification and climate change research, as the facilities can easily access both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. STRI is also one of 40 Global Forest Observation locations, a Smithsonian program that is recording long term changes in forests around the world and their relationship to climate change. Bermingham also noted a $3 million National Science Foundation grant STRI received to study the geology and ecology of Panama to better understand climate change.

Besides research, the Smithsonian is actively involved in STEM education. Claudine Brown is the first Director of Education at the Smithsonian. She explained the roles the institution plays in education, including assisting school administrators, providing curricula, training teachers, and offering on-sight educational programs. Her biggest challenge at the moment is unifying these programs to maximize their impact. She mentioned the current Oceans Initiative program at the Natural History Museum. This program combines on-sight exhibits with an interactive website so people can view the information without having to travel to the museum. Brown and Clough see technology as an asset and plan on providing more online educational exhibits like the Oceans Initiative.

Shari Werb, the assistant director of education at the National Museum of Natural History, spoke about the on-sight educational programs the institution offers. At the Museum of Natural History, there are 400 interns and fellows each year. The museum runs a program called Youth Engagement through Science (YES) which brings in high school students to do research with the museum staff. According to Werb, YES provides these young people with critical math and science skills and helps them prepare for college.

Besides running many museums and research institutions around the world, and providing internships and fellowships, the Smithsonian also has to maintain its numerous facilities and its collections. In response to Brian Baird’s (D-WA) questions about the Smithsonian’s funding and budget, Clough acknowledged that maintenance and archiving are not as exciting as research, but are necessary to keep the institution functioning. He explained that it is important for Congress to provide money for these upkeep tasks because it is difficult to obtain donor money for building maintenance. 

Lipinski asked Clough to clarify the similarities and difference between the Smithsonian Institution and academia. The main similarity, according to Clough, is a passion for research and education. The difference is that universities are driven by grant cycles, so their research tends to be more short term. The Smithsonian, however, can conduct decades-long projects, such as the Global Forest Observations project. Clough noted that universities have a much more direct impact on students than the institution.

Brian Bilbray (R-CA) thanked the panel for their insight and for testifying. He stressed that it is important for decision makers to see research in action and to hear from those involved because it makes them question their assumptions and their ingrained beliefs.

Testimony from the chair, ranking member, and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.

-EB

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Hearing on Advancing American Innovation and Competitiveness
March 10, 2010

Witnesses
The Honorable John P. Holdren
Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
The Honorable Arden L. Bement Jr.
Director, National Science Foundation
The Honorable Patrick D. Gallagher
Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Dr. Robert D. Braun
Chief Technologist, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Committee Members Present
John D. Rockefeller IV, Chairman (D-WV)
Kay Bailey Hutchison, Ranking Member (R-TX)
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
Tom Warner (D-VA)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Tom Thune (D-SD)
Mike Warner (D-VA)
Bill Nelson (D-FL)
John Thune (R-SD)

Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) opened the hearing reiterating the dire need to improve science education efforts in the U.S., citing the claims from the National Academy of Sciences report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. He emphasized that the future of the U.S. depends on the investments we make today. Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) agreed vehemently with Rockefeller. She co-sponsored the America COMPETES Act because she “so believed it was the right thing to do,” and she expressed her concern for a future where the U.S. is not a global technology leader.

John P. Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), started by reminding the senators that a half century ago Sputnik provoked massive investments in U.S. science and technology. Today, he stated, the U.S. is facing a more diverse and subtler Sputnik. He cited that the U.S. ranks low by international standards, and more U.S. patents were granted to foreigners than Americans. It was his vision to move students to the top and America COMPETES is a “very helpful tool” to achieve that goal.

Arden L. Bement Jr., director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), stated that a national innovation strategy would require integrating education and innovation with research. He highlighted the importance of 2-year universities to create competent technicians, and that the government would need to play a key role in early career development. Bement lauded intra-agency initiatives on energy, climate change and clean energy development.

Patrick D. Gallagher, director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), said that labs at NIST were targeting high priority research on topics like the Smart Grid. He hoped that shifting research focus would help revitalize the economy and develop collaborative markets, and America COMPETES would not only identify major players at the federal level, but at state and municipal levels too.

Dr. Robert D. Braun, chief technologist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), said sustainable missions were NASA’s goal and new space technology compliments NASA mission objectives. The new developments were all products of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) efforts.

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted American innovation and asked for comment on American research and development (R&D). Bement said, although there is growing international competition, he felt it was necessary that the U.S. continue connecting and networking with international scientists, suggesting visa extensions to allow international scientists to stay in the U.S. longer. Bement cautioned that if the U.S. is not networked internationally the U.S. could be blindsided on several issues. Holdren agreed that maintaining international collaboration was crucial.

Mark Begich (D-AK) was curious about how the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was going to fit into the American innovation “equation” in regards to the science of climate change, and if there was panel objection to expanding their funding options. Holdren felt that NOAA’s lead role in ocean and climate education was very important, but he was apprehensive about giving one agency lead control on these topics because many other agencies, such as NSF, also had important research in these areas. Holdren did not feel he could comment on funding authorizations.

Begich also wanted to know about NASA’s educational role. Braun responded that NASA has the ability to inspire students to go into STEM fields through its missions and programs such as the Challenger Centers. Extensions in funding, Braun continued, also provided educational opportunities to underrepresented populations through virtual educational opportunities.

Mike Warner (D-VA) was very interested in a national strategy that integrated rural and urban America, noting that the last National Strategy for Competitiveness was in the Carter Administration. He also feared Americans were being priced out of higher education. Holdren agreed with Warner that the U.S. needed more creative thinking in this domain, but he felt the administration had the right components to spur entrepreneurship. Holdren explained that the administration funded specific items to advance specific national strategies, and also reminded the senators that the fiscal year 2011 budget would make a $3.7 billion commitment to the American people to ensure that America’s youth were being adequately prepared.

Bill Nelson (D-FL) asked about the $3.7 billion for STEM education, and specifically the $1 billion to fund science and mathematics education. Holdren responded that federally funded STEM programs, like Educate to Innovate, Race to the Top, and others included in America COMPETES have generated excitement at NSF and other agencies. He noted unsuccessful or less valuable aspects of these programs would be terminated, specifically programs that are not being taken advantage of. Nelson inquired what the opinion would be if NOAA had an increased role in STEM education, Holdren responded, “NOAA does important work, so any added funding is good.”

Nelson also asked about the success of NSF funding for high-risk, high-reward research. Bement explained NSF looks for new, potentially transformative, methods as high risk, high reward research. NSF will be providing extra training to staff and activating shadow panels to further enhance these efforts. Bement said that NSF will have a better understanding of the successes in the following year. Gallagher said the high-risk, high-reward funding at NIST was used more like a pilot program versus a serious investment. He hinted at a potentially more stable future for these funds, but maintained that currently it was still a pilot program.

Nelson also wanted to see the U.S. government get more “bang for their buck” when investing in national agencies. This was why the administration had made an effort to encourage public-private partnerships though programs like Educate to Innovate because, as Holdren said, nobody understands markets like the private sector. He emphasized that they are currently making an effort to prevent distortions of federal research money. Holdren expressed optimism about the future of American innovation because of the proactive measures the federal government was taking toward increasing investments in STEM education and the ingenuity of the American spirit.

Written statements from the witnesses and committee members, as well as a full video archive of the hearing, are available from the committee web site.

-MNM

House Committee on Science and Technology Hearing on Reform in K-12 STEM Education
March 4, 2010

Witnesses
Dr. Jim Simons
Founder and Chairman, Math for America
Ms. Ellen Futter
President, American Museum of Natural History
Dr. Gordon Gee
President, Ohio State University
Dr. Jeffrey Wadsworth
President and CEO, Battelle Memorial Institute

Members Present
Bart Gordon, Chairman (D-TN)
Ralph M. Hall, Ranking Member (R-TX)
David Wu (D-OR)
Brian Baird (D-WA)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Donna F. Edwards (D-MD)
Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)
Charles A. Wilson (D-OH)
Suzanne M. Kosmas (D-FL)
Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI)
Judy Biggert (R-IL)
Frank D. Lucas (R-OK)
W. Todd Akin (R-MO)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)

There has been increased interest in improving U.S. K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education recently, related in part to the upcoming reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. The committee wanted to address the barriers to interest and performance in STEM education, how the federal government could support STEM education initiatives, and evaluate effective STEM educational programs from different sectors, including the government. There was interest from the committee about how American STEM education compares internationally, how successful collaborations could be formed, and with whom. There was also concern about how to engage students and their families.

Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) stated by reiterating the goals of the America COMPETES Act were to ensure “the Nation will produce the world’s leading scientists and engineers and all students will have a strong grounding in math and science.” Gordon was looking forward to hearing ideas from panelists on how to improve STEM education and increase partnerships between K-12 schools, local businesses, and non-profit organizations. Ranking Member Ralph Hall (R-TX) conveyed the importance of improving U.S. STEM education; however, he surmised the National Science Foundation (NSF) would play a “diminished” role in STEM education in the FY2011 budget. He said, “We are faced with the blunt reality that we must strike a delicate balance between adequately funding our nation’s priorities, while at the same time exhibit fiscal restraint.” Hall reminded the committee that although STEM education researchers should seek out “innovative ways to capture students’ attention,” solid examples already existed and merely needed to be sought out. Hall highlighted the best collaborations would occur between K-12 educators, and local universities and industry.

Dr. Jim Simons, founder of the Math for America program, testified that “the economic wars were heating up,” but America COMPETES reauthorization was imperative. His solution is to “immediately increase the level of respectability and compensation earned by secondary school mathematics teachers with a strong knowledge in their subject,” arguing without such measures the U.S. will continue to lose its competitive edge. He highlighted the low U.S. rankings in science and mathematics internationally, and said U.S. schools and policy makers must do better.

The president of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, Ellen Futter, suggested increased funding would help increase the role of information science education (ISE) institutions. Futter shared the AMNH and other ISE institutions were playing a larger role in science education because they are places that foster “instincts for innovation and curiosity.” She argued K-12 schools should not “shoulder the responsibility” of STEM education alone and this is where ISE institutions should help.

Dr. E. Gordon Gee, Ohio State University president exclaimed, “Of all the controversies going in the U.S.A. none is more important than [STEM education].” He argued the nature of STEM education problems were fundamental, finding it odd the nation with the premier system of higher education in the world ranked so poorly in K-12 education. Gee championed U.S. students and researchers in academia as the best resource in the country, and they must be “unleashed” into the general public. He hoped fostering new ideas in K-12 STEM education would spur a “partner or perish” mentality in universities and encourage the U.S. to think of STEM education as a “K-Life” education rather than K-12.

Dr. Jeffrey Wadsworth, president and CEO of the Battelle Memorial Institute, described lottery-based STEM classes Battelle helps to fund, and the high success rates of the diverse student populations. He argued the private sector understands best how to manage complex, public-private partnerships. He said fostering strong K-12 STEM educational programs was an issue of workforce sustainability for the private sector, and “the tie between education and economic development has never been more important.”

Chairman Gordon addressed the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) NOYCE Scholar program, and asked for any feedback the panel could give. Simons thought the program was good, but he worried about the fixed size of the grants when the program participation is not. Gee agreed with Simons, the NOYCE program had worked, but not NSF’s job to fix all the problems in K-12 STEM education, Gee said. Gordon explained the House Science and Technology Committee was beginning to take an inventory of STEM educational programs across the federal government, recognizing hundreds of programs exist which may need an umbrella oversight committee.

Ranking Member Hall exclaimed that Dr. Simons’ opening statements fired bullets, stating it was the best testimony he had heard in his many years in Congress. He then asked Wadsworth if Battelle’s K-12 STEM model could be directly applied to rural schools. Wadsworth did feel the program would have to be redesigned for a rural cohort, but remained confident the model would still be successful.

Biggert asked more about how to engage students in rural communities that may not have access to metropolitan programs like those sponsored by Battelle. Futter responded it was constantly an issue she addressed as an ISE institution, and AMNH had traveling collections and scientists to engage other communities. Charlie Wilson (D-OH) was also curious how to apply metropolitan models to rural communities. Futter explained ISE’s were strong candidates to reach visitors from rural communities. In a short visit, students, teachers, parents and other community members could interact with thousands of real specimens and hundreds of real scientists providing a window to engage them in the scientific process.

Wilson also wanted to know how Ohio State University had successfully built partnerships. Gee emphasized the importance of including local community colleges, calling them the “front door to the American Dream.” He and Wadsworth also felt cooperation in developing metropolitan K-12 STEM education had been very successful, and Ohio State University had learned from all their partnerships.

With school boards and K-12 STEM teachers were missing from this panel, Adrian Smith (R-NE) asked how a school board attempted to hire exceptional people. Simons responded the current pay caps, implemented by unions, were hindering. He believed unions served a very important role, but when a scientist has the opportunity to earn significantly more money in industry there is a brain-drain from the school systems. Gee also said the current system in the country did not “reward creativity and enthusiasm,” and the role of teacher needed to be elevated.

Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and Brian Baird (D-WA) both expressed concern over the future of the U.S. from personal observation. Giffords asked, “Against the backdrop of the Nation’s struggling economy, how do we connect the dots of this brewing crisis?” Wadsworth felt “all roads lead back to Rome” and he said from his experience “the more you study the more you realize concern for success of a child in STEM education starts around age 3, and its all tied to family income.” Simons added that creating a national program, like the Math for America program, to give rising teachers an additional $20-25 thousand per year would result in a “tremendous injection of brains into the system.” Such a program would show America’s commitment to STEM education, because as Simons stated, “If you do things in big numbers, people will hear about it.”

Opening statements, written testimony, and a full video archive of the hearing is accessible on the committee web site.

-MNM

House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on the State of Research Infrastructure at U.S. Universities
February 23, 2010

Witnesses:
Dr. Leslie Tolbert
Vice President for Research, Graduate Studies and Economic Development, University of Arizona
Albert Horvath
Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, Pennsylvania State University
Dr. John Raymond
Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Medical University of South Carolina, and Chair, State of South Carolina EPSCoR Committee
Dr. Thom H. Dunning, Jr.
Director of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Committee Members Present
Daniel Lipinski, Chairman (D-IL)
Vernon J. Ehlers, Ranking Member (R-MI)
Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Brian Baird (D-WA)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Bob Inglis, (R-SC)

A hearing was called by the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education to discuss issues that pertain to the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act and research infrastructure bills for the National Science Foundation (NSF). Highlighted in the hearing include research infrastructure to store collected data at universities, both in physical labs and cyber-infrastructure. The hearing also focused on U.S. universities’ competitiveness abroad and the appropriate role for the federal government, since university laboratory infrastructure was an issue typically for state government and private investors.

Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) pointed out that “successful R&D [research and development] takes more than intellectual freedom and grant funding. You also need state-of-the-art lab space, networks, instruments and computing facilities.” He noted that over the past few decades federal investment in these projects has lagged. Rumblings from the academic community about neglected facilities and an estimated $3.5 billion in deferred funds for such upgrades concerned him, especially when U.S. competitors “are investing in all aspects of the R&D ecosystems.”

Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) began with a narrative on the history of scientific ingenuity throughout the ages, noting that for the majority of the scientific past funding came from royalty and other wealthy benefactors. Government involvement was rare, and typically restricted to funds for better weaponry. He agreed that state-of-the-art facilities are crucial for scientific investigation, but the facilities needed are expensive and require joint funding from other countries. He also argued that NSF’s expertise lies in peer-reviewed basic research and not infrastructure development and maintenance, concluding, “I have some reservations about expanding this type of support because it does not fit well into the primary mission and expertise of the NSF.”

Dr. Leslie Tolbert of the University of Arizona said the “record of research accomplishments of U.S. universities is astounding,” but noted growing foreign competition from other countries “emulating” the U.S. by “making huge investments into their research enterprises.” She argued that federal funding for research, “while still substantial [was] essentially flat in real dollars,” and federal funds through programs like Facilities and Administration Reimbursements are unavailable to most infrastructure development projects. Efficient infrastructure development at universities means smarter building designs to increase usage through open labs and those with shared equipment. She suggested that Congress increase NSF’s budget by 27 percent to fund university infrastructure development.

Albert Horvath of Pennsylvania State University emphasized the benefit long term investments by the government on developing university research infrastructure. Horvath acknowledged the complexity modernizing U.S. labs would be, but suggested universities would be more likely to invest if bonds were available with lower rates. He also suggested that some of the regulations put on universities from financial caps should be removed to accommodate their size.

Dr. John Raymond represented the EPSCoR Program, an NSF funded program aimed at “stimulating sustainable improvements in their R&D capacity.” He feels the program has been a successful application of federal infrastructure development funds and described how the EPSCoR program had made The Medical University of South Carolina attractive by fostering collaborations with local industry to provide the lab space for cutting edge research on organ printing and other universities in South Carolina to use.

Dr. Thom Dunning spoke to the necessity of cyberinfrastructure in the U.S., noting that in an age of observational sciences such as stream gauging in environmental science, the current method of data storage like Microsoft Excel will fail. Federal funding for supercomputers, like the Blue Waters Supercomputer at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, currently under development provide collaborative opportunities and learning opportunities for further supercomputer development and data storage. Despite the advances, Dunning implored more funding would be necessary to remain competitive globally and develop the technology necessary for cyberinfrastructure.

Brian Baird (D-WA) started by asking what the U.S. is doing to keep operational facilities functional, and further, what is the U.S. doing to increase its competitiveness? Tolbert responded that it is a balancing act between funding new projects and renovation projects, and the downturn in the economy has significantly delayed renovation projects. Witnesses cited $1-2 million deficits at each university between the existing infrastructure and what it would take to bring the facilities up to the minimum requirements.  Baird attested the consequences would be dire if taxes continue to be cut without making significant investments in education and infrastructure. Dunning added that Europe and Japan have supercomputing and cyberinfrastructure that is already being executed, and China had made significant advances recently.

Ehlers queried Dunning if computer science education still suffers from under-enrollment, and Dunning responded that the situation has not changed much. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) asked the panel if students entering higher education are better prepared for university studies. The witnesses answered unanimously that students today are not more prepared. Dunning added that graduate students with supercomputing capabilities across all fields are lacking, a concern when looking ahead 30-40 years.

Marcia Fudge (D-OH) argued that state-level university funds had been divesting for years before the economy turned, and private industry funds had been all but absent throughout the last few decades. She wanted to know what universities are doing to lobby their state governments and local economy for funding. Tolbert answered that this was a constant aspect of her job. University of Arizona has been successfully collaborating with the private sector by establishing internships with local pharmaceutical and device companies. Representative Johnson, noting that several witnesses cited funding sources other than the NSF, wanted to know how well the federal government is coordinating their funding efforts. There is some murkiness to the process, Tolbert said, and suggested a federal council to monitor grant awards.

Lipinski inquired about how stimulus funds have impacted the university grant writing process. Tolbert enthusiastically noted that the increase in funding has caused an influx of proposals. Lipinski also wanted to know how using 30-40 year old structures impacted institutional competitiveness. All panelists reiterated that higher caliber research, students, and faculty are a consequence of a new facility. Dunning concluded by remarking that ten years ago, statistics showed foreign born graduate students were likely to stay in the U.S. following the completion of their degree, but those statistics for recent graduates and tenured faculty have shifted. Dunning also pointed out that China was listening to their scientists, and actively investing in cyberinfrastructure.

Lipinski concluded there is urgency in maintaining competitive research infrastructure and cyberinfrastructure in the U.S.. If the U.S. wants to maintain its competitive edge, it needs to make research infrastructure a national priority.

Testimony from the witnesses as well as a video archive of the hearing is available here.

-MNM

House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee Hearing on “Strengthening Undergraduate and Graduate STEM Education”
February 4, 2010

Witnesses:
Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy
Acting Assistant Director, Directorate for Education and Human Resources, National Science Foundation
Mr. Rick Stephens
Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Administration, The Boeing Company and Chair, Aerospace Industries Association Workforce Steering Committee
Dr. Noah Finkelstein
Associate Professor of Physics Education Research, University of Colorado, Boulder
Dr. Karen Klomparens
Associate Provost and Dean for Graduate Education, Michigan State University
Dr. Robert Mathieu
Director and Principle Investigator, Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) and Professor of Astronomy, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Committee Members Present:
Daniel Lipinski, Chairman (D-IL)
Vernon Ehlers, Ranking Member (R-MI)
Eddie Bernice Johnson, (D-TX)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Russ Carnahan (D-MO)
Bob Inglis (R-SC)

“Just last week in the State of the Union address, the president spoke about the need to encourage American innovation,” said Chairman Daniel Lipinksi (D-IL). “I couldn’t agree more, and one of the most effective ways to support innovation is to invest in STEM education.” As a former engineering student himself, Lipinski could relate to concerns about undergraduate and graduate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education because they were the same issues as 20 years ago when he was in school. With the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act this year, the subcommittee has the “opportunity to take a comprehensive look at the need for STEM education reform at the undergraduate and graduate levels” and particularly the role the National Science Foundation (NSF) can play, said Lipinski.

Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) hoped that the panel could give insight as to what was being done well, which he hoped was a lot. Ehlers was concerned that good STEM programs like the Math and Science Partnerships (MSP) Program and the Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program at NSF did not receive any increase in the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2011.

The witnesses spoke about the growing challenge of recruiting and retaining students in the STEM careers, and the high attrition rates of STEM graduates. They cited poor teaching, lack of compelling research and sufficient funding, and the unfavorable image of scientists as reasons for the attrition rates. Mr. Rick Stephens of the Boeing Company and Aerospace Industries Association Workforce Steering Committee said they are working with the Entertainment Industries Council to change the public perception of scientists and engineers by improving the image portrayed by the mainstream media. Dr. Robert Mathieu of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL) said that 90 percent of students that switch out of STEM departments cite poor teaching. He called for federal-university partnerships to provide funding and legitimacy to change the status quo and modifications to the reward structures to encourage good researchers who are also good teachers.

Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy of the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Directorate at NSF said they are trying to gain broader participation and targeting underrepresented groups in STEM. Dr. Noah Finkelstein of the University of Colorado, Boulder called for transformation at the departmental and institutional level, and more utilization of professional societies. “We know what to do, but we don’t do it broadly” enough to be effective, he said. Dr. Karen Klomparens expanded on Finkelstein’s idea, calling for better alignment between K-12, graduate, and undergraduate programs to address what they both called “complex and interdisciplinary issues.” Klomparens said NSF is addressing this, but Congress could help by ensuring funds to programs like Noyce, the Graduate Research Fellowships Program (GRFP), and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT).

Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) asked how to disseminate the success stories of STEM education. Finkelstein thought this was a role for the professional societies and partnerships like Mathieu’s CIRTL. Klomparens believed NSF was also a good source for information, and well equipped to share best practices. Tonko asked the panel what was missing. With all these good programs and information out there, what was the limiting factor? Mathieu explained that EHR is the best disseminator of information on STEM education, but that the task needs to spread to other directorates at NSF. It requires a cultural shift at NSF and the universities. He said career awards are the best vehicle for this, and the huge shift to attach teaching requirements in the research funding grants will help. Beyond just good teaching there needs to be good topics Ferrini-Mundy said. She said to draw on sustainability and energy issues that are attractive and appealing to young people.

Stephens returned to the issue of image. He said the public does not view technology and engineering as a career to pursue. He thinks if we change that perception the STEM fields will benefit. He cited the popular TV show “Big Bang Theory,” which depicts two geeky and awkward Caltech physics students and their two equally geeky friends in contrast to the attractive blond waitress/aspiring actress living across the hall. Stephens said, “I don’t know any child in America who wants to be one of those four individuals, yet they represent the perception about what engineering technology is about.”

Representative Bob Inglis (R-SC) talked about the exciting science he saw on his trip to Antarctica with the House Science and Technology Committee. Afterwards he had the opportunity to visit classrooms to talk about his trip. His favorite slide to show was an image of two good looking scientists he met in Antarctica to try and show kids that scientists do not all fit the nerdy stereotype. Stephens took this opportunity to highlight the organization “Nerd Girls”, which is aimed at encouraging women in the sciences by breaking down stereotypes of nerdy girls.
Ranking Member Ehlers asked for Mathieu to comment on the difference between EHR and general research and research activities at NSF. Mathieu lamented that the “academic chasm” between disciplines is present at NSF as well, but he sees hope for coordination to raise awareness of EHR programs. The biggest problem at NSF, when it comes to STEM education programs, is that NSF is a reactive organization as opposed to being proactive in the community. He saw this as a benefit for protecting academic freedom and for good science, but not as effective as a mission oriented approach when it comes to addressing issues like STEM.

Chairman Lipinski asked Mathieu if there was any way to encourage better teaching, or change the research driven incentives. Lipinski said this is “such a huge problem” that has persisted over the years, so he wondered, “Is there any reason for optimism?” Mathieu explained that the current system evolved over 40 years, and while he hoped it would not take that long to change, it would take some time to shift the focus. Mathieu again highlighted the benefit of tying broader impact initiatives to research funding. It is something NSF already does, so Mathieu thought it is just a matter of Congress helping foster this change until it becomes natural.

Finkelstein proclaimed “STEM education should be a grand challenge in and of itself” in response to Inglis’ desire to create a parallel motivator to the space race in the 1960s. Inglis told a story about a constituent from Clemson University who was told by his mother when Sputnik was launched, “Son, it is your patriotic duty to become a scientist and help us win the race to the moon.” Now Ingles says “to people it’s your patriotic duty to figure out how to break this addiction to oil and how to repower our lives. If you do that you can improve the national security of the United States and your friends won’t be boots on the ground in some very dangerous places in the Middle East.”

-CCD

The House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife Hearing on “The Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program and National Environmental Literacy Grant Program Act”
October 15, 2009

Witnesses
Louisa Koch
Director, Office of Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Doug Siglin
Federal Affairs Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Jim Elder
Director, Campaign for Environmental Literacy
Teresa Ellingson
Teacher, Montalvo Elementary
Kevin Coyle
Vice President for Education, National Wildlife Federation
Eric Rhoades
Supervisor of Mathematics and Science, Stafford County Schools

Committee Members Present
Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Chair (D-GU)
Bill Cassidy, Ranking Member (R-LA)
Dale E. Kildee (D-MI)
Don Young (R-AK)
Lois Capps (D-CA)
Frank Kratovil, Jr. (D-MD)
Carol Shae-Porter (D-NH)

On October 15, 2009 the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife held a hearing on “The Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program and National Environmental Literacy Grant Program Act.” Chairwoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU) testified that there is a disconnect between the children of today and the natural world and cleverly calls this a “nature-deficit disorder.” She said that hands on learning leads to a better understanding of the sciences and math, a higher willingness to learn, better self-confidence, and decreased instances of attention deficit disorder, stress, and depression. She stressed that it is imperative that our country’s young people “not only understand the world around them, but also how their actions affect the environment upon which we all depend.” Ranking Member Bill Cassidy (R-LA) agreed with Bordallo and said that all would probably agree on the high value that should be placed on the teaching of our children. Lois Capps (D-CA), who introduced the Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Regional Program and National Environmental Literacy Grant Program Act (H.R. 3644), testified that her bill helps to get children outside. She said we need to ensure these hands-on programs are here for our children, “now and into the future”.

Louisa Koch, Director of the Office of Education at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), testified that as America’s youth are falling behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, fewer of them will continue in careers that will help address the climate change challenges. She said NOAA is dedicated to providing research and educational opportunities that promote the environmental literacy needed to counter this trend through programs such as B-WET and the National Environmental Literacy Grants Program. She added that H.R. 3644 is an important step in ensuring the continuation of these programs.

Doug Siglin, Federal Affairs Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, spoke of the environmental education program made possible by B-WET grants that has touched the lives of over one million students since its beginning in 1973. He stated that the Foundation believes that the efficacy and impact of the programs are based on the following factors: the amount of political support they have, support from the formal and informal education community, an active community of donors, and the quality of its structure and implementation. He closed by saying that his children, ages 14 and 11, go to a wealthy public school that partakes in these types of programs and added that he does not want just “kids in rich school districts to be able to do that.”

Jim Elder, Director of the Campaign for Environmental Literacy, testified that we are playing catch up when it comes to setting goals for a green economy and that the U.S. needs to invest in green job training. He added that education has a very key role in this process and is often overlooked. He said we “need citizens who are literate about these issues so that they can incorporate them into daily decision making.”

Teresa Ellingson, a teacher at Montalvo Elementary in California, discussed the Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans (MERITO) program she uses. She testified that the MERITO program, with the support of the B-WET grant, gave her the tools and understanding needed in order to teach about the watersheds and ocean in her region. She said one of the unique things about the program is that she is able to engage both the least literate and most gifted students. She speaks of children’s dream jobs expanding from the normal responses of firefighter, doctor, or lawyer to include occupations like oceanographer, hydrologist, and engineer. She ended by saying “that disruption of funding of the B-WET grants would be disastrous.”

Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education of the National Wildlife Federation, testified that there is a stunning amount of ignorance about the environment in America and that scientists in environmental fields often over-estimate what people know and understand. He said that people normally get environmental issues that involve one step (such as burning more coal means there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere), but commonly are lost on issues that involve two or more steps. He added that the B-WET program is vital to educating the students on these multi-step issues as well as giving the students a better chance to succeed in school.

Eric Rhoades, Supervisor of Mathematics and Science at Stafford County Schools, spoke of Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE), a program that was implemented in Virginia schools in 2005 and is made possible by B-WET grants. He called MWEE an integrated program that teaches math alongside English and the sciences. He said professional development is given to teachers that fuel their knowledge and interest in the Chesapeake Bay watershed so that they can then “[lead] their students on an educational journey.” He testified that the achievements of the students has been tracked over the last three years and these meaningful watershed experiences have resulted in huge improvements on students’ performances on standardized tests.

Bordallo asked Koch to explain the concept of MWEE and how they differ from traditional watershed experiences. Koch replied that these programs are trying to get children “to go out into their environment, to take part in research, to collect data, to understand issues that are involved in the watershed, do analysis, and to draw their own conclusions from the data they gather.” She said being outside helps the children to connect the experience with their academic learning.

Bordallo asked Coyle if he thought this bill would help engage more children in fishing and outdoor recreation. Coyle replied that he thinks the bill would do this. He added that the average child today is spending six hours and twenty minutes a day indoors staring at an electronic screen and that that concerns the affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). They see it as “a loss of what it is to be American.” He said people are growing up within a watershed and often do not understand their connection to it. Capps suggested they allow Coyle to make an announcement. Coyle announced that the NWF along with a group of other partners are working together to start a new program called Be Out There, an educational program for parents that will educate parents on why it is important for their children to spend time outdoors. The press conference announcing the program was held later that day at a school in DC.

Bordallo said Siglin had noted that the Chesapeake Bay B-WET program is underfunded.  She asked the panel what level of funding they would recommend for the expansion of a program using the Chesapeake Bay program as the template. Coyle responded that “all programs are underfunded.” He added that they need to find ways to run the programs well and show they are valuable to the economy and to society.

Cassidy asked the panel if the schools with B-WET programs were compared with a control group school. Koch replied that they were. She said that teachers that are a part of these programs are more confident about teaching and the students in turn have a better understanding of the subject matter. Cassidy stated that he was skeptical that the higher scores are attributable to the B-WET programs. He said the achievements seem to be due to the method of teaching rather than because of the specific material. He asked for comment from the panel. Coyle replied that he thought both the content and the method of teaching the content are important.

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.

-MMP

House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Hearing on “Investing in High-Risk, High-Reward Research”
October 8, 2009

Witnesses
Neal F. Lane
Malcolm Gillis University Professor, Rice University
Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
James P. Collins
Assistant Director for Biological Sciences, National Science Foundation
Richard D. McCullough
Professor and Vice President of Research, Carnegie Mellon University
Gerald M. Rubin
Vice President and Director, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Committee Members Present
Daniel Lipinski, Chair (D-IL)
Vernon J. Ehlers, Ranking Member (R-MI)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)
Russ Carnahan (D-MO)

On September 24, 2009, the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing on “Investing in High-Risk, High-Reward Research.” Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) spoke of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report put together by the National Academies committee which recommends federal agencies set aside 8 percent of their budgets for this high-risk, high-reward research. It states that funding decisions have become too conservative and are turning scientists away from submitting more ambitious proposals. Lipinski agreed there is an unmet need for funding for these projects, but expressed worry of creating such a discretionary pot of funding for research that is assumed to have a large failure rate. Ranking Member Vernon J. Ehlers agreed with Lipinski and said that basic research should be funded. He added that risks should also be taken, even in instances where nobody knows what the result might be. He spoke of the research that lead to the invention of the laser as an example of high-risk, high-reward research.

Neal F. Lane, Malcolm Gillis University Professor at Rice University and American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow, testified that short-term, low-risk research tends to dominate across all government agencies. He said that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences recommends that Congress encourage research agencies to do the following: nurture high-risk high-reward research programs, strengthen the application and review processes, establish a way to evaluate the success of the research programs, increase investments in the career development of agency program officers, and strengthen policies, programs, and funding mechanisms to foster transformative research.

James P. Collins, Assistant Director for Biological Sciences at the National Science Foundation (NSF), called NSF an innovative agency that invests in both short-term and long-term research. He testified that attempts to predict ideas or projects are imprecise at best and that impacts that result from successful scientific investments are sometimes not realized until many years later. Collins urged that the U.S. needs to continue to support high-risk research due to the potential long-term benefits.

Richard D. McCullough, Professor and Vice President of Research at Carnegie Mellon University, said he would provide an “in the trenches” perspective on high-risk research. He stated that when researchers come up with an idea, the first problem they are faced with is how to fund that idea. He said that preliminary results are needed to apply for funding, but funding is often needed for the preliminary results themselves, making it hard to get a new research idea started. He recommended that a special panel be created that would hand-pick committee chairs to review the potential of the proposals for high reward. He also suggested a system of seed funding in which initial funding is provided for 2 years, followed by additional funding if a proof of concept results. He ended by saying that supporting the high-risk, high-reward research is of critical importance.

Gerald M. Rubin, Vice President and Director of Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), testified that HHMI’s philosophy is to fund “people, not projects.” He said that this provides freedom and flexibility and allows the research to evolve. He sited many examples of the productivity and breakthroughs that resulted from research that was conducted in this manner and noted that HHMI researchers have been awarded Nobel Prizes eight of the past ten years. He stated that he did not expect all grants to be awarded this way, but would like to see the amount of grants going to purely project-oriented research drop from 98 to 90 percent.

Ehlers asked for comment from the panel on the “people, not projects” concept. He wondered aloud how it could be executed well in practice and how one would evaluate a junior researcher that has no real track record. McCullough replied that there are pitfalls with this approach and one has to be careful. He said this way of funding research makes it difficult for scientists that peak later in life or for brand new researchers to obtain funding for their research. He added that it is difficult to see who the most successful innovators will be. Rubin replied that this does create a problem for new researchers and suggests that one should not use this method for an entire research enterprise. He added that betting on people gives HHMI a higher rate of success, but that it is best to have diverse ways of funding research. Collins agreed that a diversity of approaches is necessary. He stated that past performance can be a good indicator, but that young people need to be given a chance as well. Lane added that during research, breakthroughs often occur as total surprises and institutions need to go along with pursuing these surprises, even if it means a change in the direction of research. Lipinski asked the panelists if they thought this approach to funding research would work better in some disciplines over others. All panelists agreed that the issue is not discipline specific.

Paul Tonko (D-NY) asked how scientists should go about getting funding for projects with higher probabilities of failure during these difficult budget times. Lane replied that the message should not be sent that money is being spent on research that will fail. He added that even though a researcher might not reach the conclusion that they originally hoped for, other valuable discoveries may still come out of it. Tonko asked if there is some way for projects to prove themselves beforehand. Lane replied that it is usually very expensive to try out an idea. He said that there needs to be more seed funding, which would allow researchers to explore an idea and get enough data to convince peer reviewers that there is a high probability of success. McCullough agreed with Lane and said that seed funding would help people get their proposals off the ground.

Russ Carnahan (D-MO) brought up the Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Innovation Hubs and asked the panelists if they felt the hubs should be used as models that other agencies employ. Lane replied that an advantage of laboratories, whether they be hubs or existing labs, is that talented people can work together to address major national needs. McCullough agreed and added that they bring about collaborations between people that would not normally come together.

Ehler made a closing comment urging scientists to be careful with how they phrase things. He said that the term “transformative research” sounds like “gobbledygook” and means little to the public and to congressmen. He suggested coming up with a term like “NASCAR research,” pointing out that both NASCAR and transformative research involve taking really high risks at the chance of a high reward. After the laughter this comment received, Ehler insisted that he was not necessarily jesting and that scientists need to be careful to use terms that carry a meaning for non-scientists.

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here.

-MMP

House Commerce and Energy Committee Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing on “Growing U.S. Trade in Green Technology.”
October 7, 2009

Witnesses:
Mary Saunders
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Manufacturing and Services, Department of Commerce
Timothy Richards
Managing Director of International Energy Policy, General Electric
Lisa Jacobson
President, The Business Council for Sustainable Energy
Andrea Larson
Associate Professor, Darden Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Virginia
Steve Hayward
F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow in Law and Economics, American Enterprise Institute

Committee Members Present
Bobby Rush, Chairman (D-IL)         
Cliff Stearns, Ranking Member (R-FL)
John Barrow (D-GA)
Steve Scalise (R-LA)
Tim Murphy (R-PA)
Phil Gingrey (R-GA)

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on October 7, 2009 in order to discuss trade and the economics of green technology. Chairman Bobby Rush (D-IL) started the meeting off by noting our need to switch over to a green technology economy, and then introducing the five witness panel. The first witness was Mary Saunders of the Department of Commerce, who described the movement to limit climate change’s effects on market demand through green technology.  The U.S. stands in a position to make a serious impact in trade output, if our industry can begin to produce in that sector. She argued that “you can’t export what you don’t manufacture,” and that the best way to take advantage of this opportunity for economic growth is to invest in our industry here. She also mentioned that this would produce a large number of U.S. jobs. The next witness, Timothy Richards of General Electric, agreed that it was a necessity for the U.S. economy to adapt to this growing market, and that the government should play the lead in setting the stage for this to happen by allowing for free trade, rejecting protectionism, and protecting intellectual property rights. All these are moves that Richards said would build a domestic market for the production of these goods. 

Lisa Jacobsen then testified that investment in U.S. clean technology was superseded by investment in most other economically developed regions, and that a program to properly kick off the U.S. clean tech industry should include government financing, expanding export promotion programs, and a global agreement on climate change and carbon emissions. Andrea Larson of the University of Virginia testified that policymakers can expand the U.S. trade by making three moves: investing in clean energy and materials, using green technology to drive economic development domestically, and supporting green technology competitiveness. She cited the positive effects of renewable energy development on trade in Germany and other European nations.

Finally, Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute agreed with his colleagues that expanding our clean tech industry was necessary, though he pointed out numerous pitfalls that face our industry if policy does not take the right shape. Forced expansion of our industry through mandates and subsidies will create, ironically, an “unsustainable” industry according to Hayward. The U.S. will have extreme difficulty growing any trade exports out of the energy sector if stringent policies are placed to mandate national renewable energy adoption as all the energy products we create will be necessary right here. In addition, while assembly of clean technologies such as wind generators is taking place in the U.S. to some degree, the manufactured components are largely still imported.  Weak climate agreements to curb U.S. and European carbon emissions may actually result in increased use of fossil fuels for developing nations, as the price falls due to lower demand. Finally, he warned the congressmen, “Above all, policymakers should regard with skepticism claims of net new jobs in the energy sector that depend on subsidies or mandates.” 

First, Chairman Rush asked the witnesses to describe how U.S. energy policy is developing. Most responses referred to the slow rate of change. Saunders responded that it was developing “slowly” though it was “evolving.” Larson said that there really had not been any policy yet, but that it could be accelerated by reinforcing entrepreneurial activity and our domestic ability for innovation. Hayward warned that it was evolving, but that “evolution doesn’t end”, noting that the ethanol program has continued even though most environmentalists agree that its net effect is bad and that it has not lived up to what originally was predicted. He pointed out that its continuation will likely get in the way of real innovation in the algae-based biofuel sector. He then noted another of the principles of Darwin’s work, natural selection, which is also the rule by which economics works. He pointed out that if we do not allow strong industry to develop, the weak industries and subsequent weak economy we create will fail. 

Much discussion centered on the concept of subsidizing clean tech industry. After being prompted by Cliff Stearns (R-GA), Hayward pointed out that subsidizing an industry was essentially a zero-sum-game. With companies in other nations having similar technology, subsidizing would essentially result in the taxpayers funding a price war between our industry and foreign competitors. An ideal situation is one in which U.S. firms develop technology that is far superior to its foreign competitors, pointing out the oil and gas equipment industry as one in which the U.S. has a solid lead and will likely continue to into the foreseeable future. 

Numerous points were made throughout the opening statements about the importance of protecting the intellectual property U.S. firms would be developing during the intended boost in industry development. Several of the panelists, including Hayward, noted the importance and danger of this issue. He pointed out that the industries we invest in are at risk with increased foreign trade, as international intellectual property law is so weak. Numerous firms currently hold on to their materials and develop partnerships rather than license or sell it, including many oil and gas industry firms who fear a breach of their technology’s integrity in nations like China with lax intellectual property laws and prevalent corporate piracy. Policies which mandate international caps on carbon will effectively result in us shipping our technologies overseas to assist with developing nations, which in turn may result in the loss of that intellectual property to those nations and others. It was established by Hayward that free trade is preferable to a subsidy funded industry.

The validity of net jobs creation was also on the chopping block, as Republicans hammered the panel on the integrity of such claims. Although several panelists pointed out the jobs to be created by clean technology development, Steve Scalise (R-LA), introduced a report on the Spanish industry’s switch to renewable energy, indicating that despite the creation of jobs in the green tech sector, loss of jobs in the fossil fuel industry and other sectors far outweighed job creation. This roughly equated to 2.2 jobs lost for each created, and those new jobs represented only “temporary jobs”. After Richards defended the benefits of clean tech job creation using GE examples, Tim Murphy (R-PA) took the stage. After a series of questioning Murphy pointed out that, by Richard’s own admission, almost 50 percent of GE’s wind turbine jobs will be in China, Europe and elsewhere. The net loss in U.S. jobs due to GE’s conversion from incandescent light bulb manufacturing to energy efficient bulbs is potentially 100 percent.

Murphy pointed out to the panel that when you go to the doctor’s office and ask what the side effects of a drug are, the doctor had better be able to tell you. When he asked the panelists about the side effects of the measures they were suggesting for economic policy, he got no responses. “Then you shouldn’t be here,” he concluded, “Go back and figure it out, and next time come prepared with that information, we need it.”Scalise then pointed out the danger in assuming a trade surplus, as so many of the minerals and rare earth elements employed in clean tech development were not domestically produced. He explained the importance of opening up further areas to mineral development for the sake of decreasing trade deficit. 

Lastly, the technological skill and talent needed to develop this industry was addressed. It was pointed out, again by numerous panelists, that a skilled workforce would be crucial to developing this industry. Jacobsen pointed out that the solar industry, for example, has developed partnerships with existing industries to create the workforce it needs, specifically roofers having proved readily adaptable to the installation work necessary for solar paneling. Larsen noted that the best case scenario is a workforce prepared with the knowledge and skill necessary to really jump into the problems of clean technology development, but that our workforce is definitely not there right now, and significant investments need to be made in education for this to be the case. 

The testimony of each of the witnesses, and opening statements by Chairman Rush can be found here

-JJF

House Agriculture Committee Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research Subcommittee Hearing “To review the implementation of the research title of the 2008 Farm Bill.”
September 30, 2009

Witnesses:
Panel 1
Dr. Rajiv Shah
Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Panel 2
Dr. D.C. Coston
Vice President for Agriculture and University Extension, North Dakota State University; The Board on Agriculture Assembly, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

Mr. Joseph H. Layton Jr.
National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research; American Soybean Association; National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board

Committee Members Present
Tim Holden, Chairman (D-PA)         
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Betsy Markey (D-CO)
Mark Schauer (D- MI)
Adrian Smith (R-NE)
Kathy Dahlkemper (D- PA)
Glenn Thompson (R-PA)
Frank Kratovil (D-MD)
Earl Pomeroy (D-ND)

The House Agriculture Committee Conservation, Credit, Energy and Research Subcommittee held a hearing on September 30, 2009 in order to discuss the implementation of the research title of the 2008 Farm Bill. Chairman Tim Holden (D-PA) noted that the committee has taken measures to “enhance the quality, transparency, and accountability” of these programs. Dr. Rajiv Shah, Under Secretary of Research, Education, and Economics for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), postulated to the Committee that this is the time to take the steps necessary to reinvent the research program at the USDA. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has made it clear that one of the USDA’s priorities in this administration is improving the quality of life of those Americans in rural areas, and Shah says the way to do so is through renewable energy, local and regional food systems, and nutrition. These are the areas in which research can most help us to advance.

The 2008 Farm Bill created the Office of Chief Scientist, which Shah explained will be utilized to re-focus, scale up, and tool the research efforts in USDA to make serious impacts on some of our major issues today. Additionally created with the Office of Chief Scientist is the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which reviews USDA’s research programs as is and will play a great role in defining future areas of research which will provide the greatest return on investment. Shah then went into some of the programs funded by the 2008 Farm Bill, including: the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) to “solve critical industry issues through research”; the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI); and the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, established jointly with the Department of Energy (DOE) to investigate new options for biofuel applications.
           
Chairman Holden asked Shah why so many programs he mentioned were aggregated under NIFA, to which Shah noted the difficulty of communication between groups is alleviated and the overall structure of the department is stronger. Representative Jerry Moran, (R-KS) then pointed out that in the entire stimulus package, no research funding was made available to the USDA. Shah agreed that this was an issue, and referred to it as a “wake-up call.” Moran questioned if this was a problem with the USDA, to which Shah replied it was not, but that the USDA could do a much better job of “getting our research money out of the lab and commercialized.” Moran ended by noting a rule the USDA maintains to prohibit foreign owned companies from receiving any USDA program funding money, and that this prohibited a biofuel plant in his district from receiving any funding. He asked Shah to reconsider this policy, and to look into the company in his district. Mark Schauer (D-MI) also wanted Shah to look into a company in his district, NextDiesel, which is looking for “new sources of fuel”. 

Adrian Smith, (R-NE) asked about sugar beet based biofuels. Shah replied that he did not know enough about the issue and that he would have to respond later to Smith. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) asked how the USDA has been implementing biomass grants. Shah noted the expanding program could build investments by partnering with the DOE. Shah also noted that the long term trends tended away from agricultural research, he hopes new funding for agricultural research will attract talented students back to the field. Thompson asked what is being done to strike a balance between plant and animal health research, and what the balance is. Shah responded that it is difficult, but they are attempting to do so. He mentioned that they had cut some programs to try and achieve this, without mentioning which program they were cutting.

Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) then asked Shah if he could describe the number of applications for any of the farm bill programs. Shah could not, though he did know that the number of applications in the first round was about six times greater than resources allowed, and he anticipates that the second round will have a high number of applicants as well, whenever it does occur. Dahlkemper then asked how she and her colleagues in Congress could help to support agricultural research. Shah responded that helping to get the word out about the importance of the research being done, especially regarding climate change, is the best strategy. Dahlkemper finished by noting that if climate change legislation is enacted, there would be a “huge workload” to be done to cope with all of the regulatory changes, and asked if the USDA was prepared for this. Shah responded that the have been implementing partnerships which would ideally help in that situation. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) asked more about the SCRI grants, how much money was given to how many applications? Shah responded that there was roughly $300 million in applications for $50 million in grant money. Kratovil then brought up the stimulus funding USDA did receive, and if it had been spent on anything. Shah replied that it was mostly for buildings and facilities maintenance and upgrades.
 
The next panel of witnesses were: Dr. D.C. Coston, the Vice President for Agriculture and Extension at North Dakota State University, representing the Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA) and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and Mr. Joseph H. Layton Jr., a farmer representing the USDA National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education and Economics (NAREEE) Advisory Board, the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research, and the American Soybean Association. 

Coston began by discussing the progress the USDA has made in implementing the changes prescribed by the 2008 Farm Bill, and still needs to be done to achieve the results outline in the “CREATE-21” initiative of the APLU, to Create Research, Education, and Teaching Excellence for the 21st Century”. Next he discussed how before the end of the previous administration, the USDA’s leadership did move quickly to set the NIFA programs into action, and establish time lines and initiate programs. He mentioned that the new USDA leadership has likewise done a good job of preparing and moving forth on the missions established in the farm bill. Lastly, he noted the moves left to be made. First and foremost, NIFA should become a fully functional entity before the October 1st timeline set by the legislation, and if not, then as quickly afterward as possible.

Joseph Layton began by describing his many affiliations. He went on to describe his farms foray into grape and wine producing, an abnormality for Maryland farmers. This, he described, left him acutely aware of the need for research, education and outreach funding. Research is integral to him successfully operating his farm, and that right now not enough funding is going to towards research and development that he so critically needs. He noted that his three prime points for testimony were: the research and development title is vital to respond to the need of the farmers; the USDA has done a solid job of advancing with the initiatives laid out in the farm bill; and that further increased funding is critical to achieve the goals laid out for agricultural research and development, and that the funding needs to be designated for both basic and applied research. 

Kratovil congratulated Layton on the decision and work thus far to expand their farm, and asked if any of the farm bill’s research programs were directly helpful in beginning the vineyard on his farm. Layton gave a resounding yes, explaining that when they decided to make this move, they went to the land grant institutions for help, including Virginia Tech and others. He said if farmers want to make a switch, the resources are there for you to learn from and capitalize on. Holden asked Layton what he and his colleagues were doing to support research. Layton explained that historically they would just lobby for an earmark when they needed it, but have been more proactive as of late, and they now let the land-grant universities know what they need and allow them to “run with the ball.” Also, they have been running a program in which they bring policy makers out to tour their farms and see what is really going on. 

Next Ranking Member Bob Goodlatte, (R-VA), asked Coston if the land-grant institutions support the USDA’s programs. Coston replied that they have been in full support of these programs thus far. He then asked what the APLU’s position on earmarks was which Coston said was left up to the individual member institutions. Thompson then asked Coston how the results from their research are disseminated. Coston replied that they do not stop their work until “somebody’s using it—either farmers or other scientists.” Thompson then asked Layton how that research Coston discussed would apply to him and his fellow farmers. Layton said that it applies, but that it could be done better. For example, specific programs funded on a long-term basis would be more helpful than many short-term research projects.

The last questions of the day came from Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), who asked a question about Coston’s research in relation to preventing food shortages due to crop disease. Coston explained what they have been developing, including some specific germ plasm, as a ready means of overcoming crop failures in case of emergency. These are stored at some seed banks. At the end of this line of questioning, Holden thanked the witnesses for their testimony, the members of the Committee for attending, and the audience. He then officially dismissed the witnesses, and adjourned the meeting.

The full written testimony of the witnesses is available here. The written transcript of the hearing will be posted on the committee's hearing websitewhen it is available.

 

-JJF

House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee hearing on “Encouraging the Participation of Female Students in STEM Fields”
July 21, 2009

Witnesses
Dr. Alan Leshner
CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Dr. Marcia Brumit Kropf
Chief Operating Officer, Girls Incorporated
Dr. Sandra Hanson
Professor of Sociology, Catholic University
Ms. Barbara Bogue
Associate Professor, Engineering Science and Mechanics and Women in Engineering, Penn State College of Engineering
Ms. Cherryl Thomas
President and Founder, Ardmore Associates LLC

Committee Members Present
Daniel Lipinski, Chairman (D-IL)
Vernon J. Ehlers, Ranking Member (R-MI)
Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH)
Lynn C. Woolsey (D-CA)

On July 21, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee Research and Science Education Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the low number of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. Witnesses from academic backgrounds in science and engineering and a national non-profit youth organization for girls testified about their experiences working with women and as women in the STEM fields.

Throughout the hearing, the gap between men and women in STEM fields was emphasized. Committee members and witnesses referenced a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) study that showed only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering, physics, and computer science were earned by women in 2006. Dr. Alan Leshner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science discussed how this compares to the life sciences and medicine that are comprised of almost 50 percent women. Leshner supports more research to develop effective practices to increase the recruitment and retention of women in STEM. He noted the growing importance of science and technology and stated, “We can’t allow the great contributions of women to go untapped.”

The witnesses had some explanations as to why many women are not choosing STEM career paths, as well as some solutions to the problem. Dr. Marcia Brumit Kropf spoke on behalf of Girls Inc. and its Operation SMART, an NSF funded program that encourages girls to develop interest and skills in STEM topics. She said that one problem is the girls do not believe that they should be in STEM fields, as the stereotype is that boys should be interested in STEM. Kropf said that if girls are expected to succeed, then they will. She also stressed the informal approach of Girls Inc., where girls can speak and ask questions about STEM topics with accomplished women. This informal teaching allows girls to make mistakes and learn by trial and error. Dr. Sandra Hanson, a Professor of Sociology at Catholic University, echoed the stereotype problem, describing an NSF study where second grade girls were asked to draw a scientist and most drew an old, white male. She said that girls are not less interested in STEM than boys at an early age, but they do not see it as an opportunity. She recommended that textbooks should show young women and men enjoying their science research, instead of having images of old men or women who do not look happy.

Ms. Barbara Bogue and Ms. Cherryl Thomas are both engineers, and commented on the struggles to be successful women in their field. Bogue stated that the male dominated environment and the way the information is presented turn women away from engineering. Thomas agreed that she felt opposition during her career when she entered a male dominated engineering program because some men felt that “women would interfere with the way men talked and worked.” Thomas also told a story of her childhood, where her brother received a set of Tinker Toys that sparked her interest in building things. She then described her career path, where she was encouraged by some and held back by others. She was the first woman to be part of a program that gave young engineers the opportunity to work in the Chicago Department of Water and Sewers and then became the first woman Commissioner of the Department of Buildings. She said that nurture and encouragement, and showing women role models can help girls choose to go into the STEM fields.

Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) agreed that women role models are the best way to encourage girls, and then asked how Kropf’s informal approach can be incorporated into urban schools. Kropf said that Girls Inc. can bring in women scientists to talk casually with girls. Hanson lamented that the poorer schools do not have the same opportunities, and said that women and minorities do not get support because people do not believe they should be scientists. Hanson commented that athletics helps girls gain confidence and work in teams, with which Fudge, Thomas and Lynn C. Woolsey (D-CA) all agreed.. 

Woolsey asked when women turn away from STEM fields. Bogue replied that it starts in middle school and then girls opt out of higher math in high school. In college, the curriculum they choose does not allow for STEM classes. Hanson agreed that middle school is when girls start to consider status from romantic relationships important, and stereotypes can dissuade them from STEM classes. Kropf said that girls are more likely to choose STEM fields if a parent encourages it. Woolsey commented that this issue is extremely important to her, and said, “Women and minorities don’t have to be scientists and engineers, but they have to have the option by the time they get to college.” She then talked about her bill called “Go Girl” that she is going to reintroduce. The bill will promote STEM education for girls from K-12. She remarked that there is no need to send green job industries overseas when we have the brain power here.

Ranking Member Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI) made a statement on the fact that neither boys nor girls are getting exposed to engineering anymore, saying that boys used to be exposed to engineering concepts while working on farms. He also agreed with Kropf that there is a problem when girls feel ostracized because they do well in school. He remarked that this is a problem for both genders, saying, “I’m a nerd and I’m proud of it.” He commented that the nerds are usually successful, saying that people are “either going to be a nerd or work for a nerd.” He then praised the panel for their success and for illuminating the problem. He also asked if the problem with women in STEM is found in other countries. Hanson said that some cultures have a larger amount of professional women because the environment is more conducive towards women and because teachers have better training.

Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) asked why there is a discrepancy between women in biology and math and women in physics and science. Leshner responded that the absence of visible role models is one reason because girls respond well to female teachers. Bogue said that women react differently to situations, and having no other women colleagues or women professors can discourage them. Hanson and Thomas noted that toys should not be preferentially given to boys or girls, and emphasized the importance of the parents in encouraging their children to go into STEM fields.

Links to the testimonies from the witnesses and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-RHP

House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “New Roadmaps for Wind and Solar Research and Development”
July 14, 2009

Witnesses
Mr. Steve Lockard
CEO, TPI Composites; and Co-Chair, America Wind Energy Association Research and Development Committee
Mr. John Saintcross
Program Manager, Energy and Environmental Markets, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority
Mr. Ken Zweibel
Director, George Washington University Solar Institute
Ms. Nancy Bacon
Senior Advisor, United Photonic Ovonic and Energy Conversion Devices, Inc.
Professor Andy Swift
Director, Wind Science and Engineering Research Center, Texas Tech University

Committee Members Present
Brian Baird, Chairman (D-WA)
Bob Inglis, Ranking Member (R-SC)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Randy Neugebauer (R-TX)
Donna Edwards (D-MD)
Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-MD)
Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL)
Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)

On July 14, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing on the status of research and development (R&D) of wind and solar energy. Testimony was heard from five research and industry experts in wind and solar energy. The purpose of the hearing was to discuss legislation (H.R. 3165) introduced by Paul Tonko (D-NY) that would set up a program in the Department of Energy for wind energy research, development, and demonstration. Also under consideration was the feasibility of the 2008 report [summary] by the Department of Energy (DOE) that said the U.S. could get 20 percent of its energy from wind sources by 2030.  

Witnesses talked of the great potential of wind and solar energy, addressing the specific needs they felt were most important for R&D funding. Steve Lockard of the TPI Composites and the America Wind Energy Association stated that R&D to increase turbine efficiency and achieve better wind project siting will aid in attaining 20 percent of U.S. energy from wind by 2030. John Saintcross of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority believes that R&D of specifically offshore wind turbines is necessary because offshore turbines are 2 to 4 times larger than land turbines and wind flow through the turbines is not as well understood. Professor Andy Swift of Texas Tech University thinks that R&D should focus on reliability and performance of the individual wind turbine and the wind farm, where arrays of turbines affect the wind flow patterns. He also pointed out that setting up wind energy research programs in universities around the country will better prepare a competent workforce and spur innovation. Ken Zweibel of the George Washington University Solar Institute also talked about reliability and performance, but stressed that ways to reduce costs are most important for solar panels. Lastly, Nancy Bacon of the United Photonic Ovonic and Energy Conversion Devices, Inc. supported the DOE funding of wind R&D as it would strengthen the government-industry collaborative relationship.

The opening statements of the witnesses also boasted of the new jobs created by wind and solar energy, and Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) spoke highly of the new jobs made available by General Electric’s wind and gas turbine manufacturing plant in South Carolina. This caused Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) to ask for clarification, because he said that a common argument against expansion of renewable energy is that jobs would decrease. Lockard cautioned that while 2008 showed a tremendous growth in jobs, 2009 may not see as many new jobs. Bacon also warned that while her company employs 4 times the number of employees it had in 2006, the economic recession is slowing down expansion. She also remarked that her company exports 80 percent of their products, creating numerous installation and electrician jobs where the products are sold. Baird asked how the technology jobs can be kept in America, to which Bacon suggested that taxpayer money be used for technology R&D and that the demand for renewable energy products should be increased through a government preference for buying U.S. technology. She also recommended that the government lead by example and install solar panels onto the roofs of federal buildings. Swift noted that companies will build where the research and educated workforce exists, so university programs could help keep companies in the U.S.

Inglis inquired about the potential for all roofs to have solar panels on them, even small houses. Bacon showed the committee a sample of the thin solar panel technology her company makes, touting the glass-free material and its flexibility. When Inglis asked about the cost, she responded that it does not yet compete with utility pricing. There are incentives for current customers to use the solar panels, but an assumption has to be made about how utility costs will rise in the coming years, which is reflected in the 20 year power purchase agreement that increases costs a certain percentage each year. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) was concerned about the durability of the panels, and Bacon replied that the panels can withstand up to a category 4 hurricane. 

Most of the committee members were in favor of expanding solar and wind energy R&D. Many asked about the current technology and what was needed to reduce the costs of these renewable energy sources. Tonko asked about offshore wind energy R&D and the costs of installing the turbines on the ocean floor. Lockard reiterated the point that offshore turbines are different and less understood than land based ones, and Saintcross stressed that research is needed to find new technology that would reduce the cost of the turbines and the meteorological towers that cost between $4 million and $6 million to install but are necessary to quantify and verify wind resources. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) queried if subsidies were needed to close the gap between solar and wind energy and coal, gas, and nuclear energy pricing. Lockard said that the raw material and U.S. manufacturing are still too expensive, and called for innovation. Zweibel pointed out that the initial capital costs of wind and solar energy would be expensive, but there are no variable fuel costs so the long-term costs would be lower. Switching to the status of solar energy technology, Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) asked about a roadmap for solar energy. Zweibel and Bacon responded that a roadmap is essential to set clear goals for reducing the costs of using solar energy. Diaz-Balart was a little skeptical about solar energy, asking if Germany’s incentive program was able to bring prices down. When Bacon replied that prices were not lower, he commented that there is still a long way to go to be able to compare solar to nonrenewable energy sources.
 
Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) strongly believes that solar energy can work, asserting the two problems with solar energy are easily addressed. He said the first problem is the low temperature of sunlight hitting Earth, but it has already been solved with solar panels that convert the light to electricity. The second problem is that sunlight is diffuse, hitting all over the planet. He stated, “If energy is diffuse, then collect it in a diffuse manner,” suggesting houses have “solar shingles instead of asphalt ones.” He concluded that the price needs to come down and more R&D is needed.

Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) has used photovoltaic panels for 25 years and recently installed a Skystream wind turbine at his home. He stated, “Wind potential is real,” suggesting that the only obstacle would be energy storage. Lockard commented that the 20 percent wind energy estimate from the DOE does not consider energy storage, and 30 to 40 percent of energy from wind could be possible with cost effective storage. Zweibel believes that R&D of energy storage is needed with “aggressive deployment” of solar energy. Discussion of energy storage continued, and Baird decided that a hearing on the topic is necessary.

Donna Edwards (D-MD) discussed the transmission of energy, asking if a decentralized system where a “local mix of sources” is used would be better. Bacon replied that she is a strong proponent of distributive generation, meaning power is generated close to where it is used, suggesting that local wind turbines could be used for communities. Baird noted that impacts on the environment should be considered, and asked if there is technology to reduce bird mortality. Swift said that radar is used to track bats and birds, and that the turbines can be shut down when a flock of birds appears on the radar. Saintcross mentioned that the radar is post construction monitoring, so data is collected after building the turbines. They can map the flight patterns of the animals, but they cannot distinguish between species on the radar. 

Talking for “those who believe global warming is the biggest hoax,” Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) supported the expansion of solar energy because he is “committed to cleaner air and energy independence.” He asked about net metering that subtracts the power generated by solar panels from the amount of energy used. Bacon described the process of running the meter backwards during the day as energy is produced and then forward at night as energy is used. Rohrabacher suggested a national standard be considered to get people interested in using this net metering. He then asked if panels are biodegradable and if they have to be replaced every five years. Bacon corrected him, saying that panels are non-toxic and are sold with 20 to 25 year warrantees. Rohrabacher then noted that nuclear energy has been ignored, and wanted a price comparison with wind, solar, and nuclear energy.

The consensus from witnesses for both wind and solar energy is that R&D is necessary in order for these renewable energy sources to become significant parts of the U.S. energy supply. They stressed that R&D and innovation is needed is many different aspects, from the base technology to implementation. The witnesses all agreed that it is possible for wind and solar energy to be significant energy sources in the near future.

Links to the testimonies from the witnesses and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-RHP

House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on “Technology Research and Development Efforts Related to Energy and Water Linkage”
July 9, 2009

Witnesses
Dr. Kristina M. Johnson
Under Secretary, Department of Energy
Ms. Anu Mittal
Director of Natural Resources and Environment, Government Accountability Office
Dr. Bryan Hannegan
Vice President of Environment and Generation, Electric Power Research Institute
Mr. Terry Murphy
President of SolarReserve
Mr. Richard L. Stanley
Vice President of the Engineering Division, General Electric Energy

Committee Members Present
Brian Baird, Chairman (D-WA)
Bob Inglis, Ranking Member (R-SC)
Ben R. Lujan (D-NM)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)

On July 9, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing to discuss the research and development (R&D) of technologies relating to the interdependence of energy production and water use. As climate change decreases available freshwater while population growth increases demand, ways to reduce the amount of water used during electricity generation are being developed. The hearing discussed the status of these technologies and their potential for implementation.

Dr. Kristina Johnson of the Department of Energy opened the hearing with testimony of the impacts of climate change on water supply and a discussion of the intimate relationship between energy and water. She explained that 90 percent of electricity generation is thermoelectric and requires a large amount of water to cool the system. However, 80 percent of these power plants are over 30 years old, and improvements could greatly decrease their water use. She also discussed efficiency of energy use, applauding the energy standards proposed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu for buildings and lighting. She succinctly summed up the issue under consideration, saying, “Climate affects water, water affects energy, and energy affects climate.” 

The other members of the witness panel concentrated on the available technology for increased water efficiency during energy production. Ms. Anu Mittal described the water used in biofuel and cooling technologies for electricity generation, information which will be released as two reports by the Government Accountability Office. She commented that R&D is needed in all steps of biofuel production: cultivation, conversion, distribution and storage. An example of problems with distribution is the corrosion of pipelines by ethanol and the possible contamination of groundwater. For cooling technologies, more efficient air cooling needs to be developed, and a lower cost solution for using brackish water instead of freshwater is required. Dr. Bryan Hannegan of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) also discussed air cooling and the need for cost reduction. He spoke of the problems associated with ocean water withdrawal and marine life, suggesting more research is needed for withdrawal techniques that do not disturb the ocean ecosystem. He also discussed the technology to reuse treated sewage water for cooling.

Mr. Terry Murphy of SolarReserve talked about their technology that stores heat from solar plants in molten salts in order to make solar energy more reliable. He then cautioned that dry cooling encounters problems on hot days because it is not yet efficient enough, and suggested that hybrid systems combining wet and dry cooling techniques could reduce water consumption by 80 percent. He also pointed out that power plants will not voluntarily switch to dry cooling without some kind of policy regulation. Lastly, Mr. Richard Stanley discussed the General Electric (GE) gas turbine and commended the House for including text from H.R. 3029 to establish R&D of gas turbines in section 175 of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2454) that passed in a House vote in June.

To start off the questioning, Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA) inquired if the projected population growth was factored into calculations of future energy and water needs. Dr. Hannegan said that this only adds urgency to develop more water efficient technologies for energy generation, since drinking water and agriculture are given priority over water needed for energy. Johnson stressed that behavioral changes are imperative to reduce the amount of water wasted as population is projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century. She remarked that legislation to establish standards would help. Baird commented that the term “global warming” is too passive, and people would pay more attention if it were called “lethal overheating.”

Continuing with the global warming discussion, Hannegan added that combining water regulation with power plant hybridization of solar and other energy sources would aid in achieving a low carbon future. However, Mittal warned that it is a “3-D equation” and there may not be a way to keep carbon emissions down while using less water during energy production. Stanley was more optimistic, and mentioned that the U.S. reuses only 6 percent of water during energy production. Other countries reuse more, so he believes the U.S should accelerate its efforts for reusing water and that gains can be made in water efficiency and conservation.

Baird also asked about the water that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) would require. Hannegan stated that the process to treat carbon dioxide for pipeline transport would need more power and more heat, implying higher water use. He said mitigation of the rising energy and water demands is a challenge, but possible, citing an EPRI $40 million solution to reuse water through evaporation. Baird said he would look into this plan because it is much cheaper than FutureGen, a proposed $1.5 billion near-zero emissions coal power plant that would capture carbon as well as producing hydrogen and other byproducts for other uses. He also commented that he believes too much stake is put into CCS as a deployable solution within the next 20 years.

Congressman Ben Lujan (D-NM) emphasized the importance of innovation, asking Johnson if there are useful collaborations between academia and the private sector right now. Johnson replied that the best and the brightest from universities and industry are brought together and encouraged to maintain their collaborative relationships. Lujan then asked about energy efficiency within the power plants, to which Murphy responded that coal power plants produce more energy than needed at night because they do not change  production levels based on consumption rates. Stanley added that power plants are designed to produce power at peak demand rates, and become less efficient during “part load periods.” Turbine efficiency also depends on how hot or cold the day is. Hannegan cautioned that the challenge will be getting the utilities to switch to more efficient technologies, because they only consider the lowest costs and not the big picture.

Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) asked if there is technology or research focused on the combination of nuclear power plants and desalination of water. Stanley responded that nuclear and gas turbine plants use their heat to evaporate and recover water in closed circuit systems to limit the amount of water lost. Inglis queried about the large quantities of water that have to be used for cooling, and Hannegan responded that the amount of water withdrawn to keep temperatures down can be reduced by cooling ponds. These ponds let water equilibrate with the outside temperature before it is returned to its source, limiting the thermal shock on the ecosystem.

Inglis asked if GE was in favor of the cap and trade bill, commenting that currently there is no accountability, so companies will continue to “belch and burn” instead of buying GE energy efficient products. He emphasized the need “to attach a price to carbon.” Stanley replied that new technologies are coming, whether it is gas, wind, or solar, and the carbon legislation will help reduce the costs of these technologies.

Paul Tonko (D-NY), who introduced the original bill that would establish more R&D of the gas turbine, inquired if ripple effects would come from funding GE. Stanley replied that this would lead to improvements for land based turbines and aerospace technology. He also discussed the development of heat transfer technology, where a carbon composite would allow turbines to operate at higher temperatures where they are more efficient. Tonko asked if funding would be “a down payment” for the future, and Stanley agreed that developing this technology allows the U.S to remain at the forefront of gas turbine technology, leading to increased energy efficiency and more jobs.    

Links to the testimonies from the witnesses and a video archive of the hearing can be found here.

-RHP

House Science and Technology Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Hearing on “Environmental Research at the Department of Energy”
June 9, 2009

Witnesses
Dr. Paul Hanson
Group Leader, Ecosystem and Plant Sciences, Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Dr. Dave Bader
Director, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison
Dr. Nate McDowell
Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, Atmospheric, Climatic, and Environmental Dynamics Group, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Dr. J. Whitfield Gibbons
Professor of Ecology, University of Georgia, Savannah Ecology Laboratory

Committee Members Present
Brian Baird, Chairman (D-WA)
Bob Inglis, Ranking Member (R-SC)
Ben R. Lujan (D-NM)
Vernon J. Ehlers (R-MI)
Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ)
Paul D. Tonko (D-NY)
Lincoln Davis (D-TN)

On June 9, 2009, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment of the House Science and Technology Committee held a hearing on “Environmental Research at the Department of Energy.” This hearing is of importance in light of the introduction of H.R. 2729 to the House by Rep. Ben Lujan (D-NM), which would authorize the designation of National Environmental Research Parks by the Secretary of Energy. The National Environmental Research Parks (NERPs) are outdoor laboratories that provide opportunities for environmental studies on protected lands around Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. There are already seven NERPs in the U.S. located in seven major ecological regions around the country.

In Chairman Brian Baird’s (D-WA) opening remarks, he acknowledged the importance of the work conducted in the NERPs and that H.R. 2729 is necessary “to provide the guidance and support they need to support critical work in research, education, and public outreach.” Lujan added in his opening statement that the long-term data sets gathered as a result of these research parks have been “extremely valuable” and in some cases “represent the world’s longest, continuous records.” The Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC) also acknowledged the importance of the work wondering “how many blindspots we would have in our understanding of our various ecosystems within this country” were it not for the establishment of these parks.

Dr. Paul Hanson, from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, testified to the importance of their research in being able to quantify “the dominant role of the terrestrial carbon cycle in moderating atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions.” They have also been able to conduct large-scale and long-term experiments that might not be possible in a laboratory other than a NERP. He stated they have been able to gain a better understanding of the “complex mixture of responses” associated with global warming and more complex research is needed to get a better picture of how the earth system will respond to climate change. He asserted that funding multidisciplinary research is essential to gaining a better understanding of terrestrial ecosystems.

Dr. Dave Bader, also from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, testified to the importance of climate modeling and his “appreciation for the critical roles in the national and international modeling enterprise” that the NERPs play. Now thousands of scientists have access to data from the world’s major modeling groups in a standardized format which helps further their research. He admitted that climate models are imperfect, but are essential because they “offer the only tools to quantitatively estimate future climate variability and change.” Bader asserted that all climate models are in “unanimous agreement” there will be global warming for the next several decades regardless of greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. The need now, he said, is to develop even better models that will reduce uncertainties in the predictions so that better policy can be made based on the results of these models.

Baird wanted to know how these research parks will help climate models improve and Bader responded that these parks are “necessary to understand the processes” incorporated into the models and they can also serve as “evaluators” of the models. Paul Tonko (D-NY) also wanted to know what changes were needed in the models to improve them and what obstacles existed in doing so. Bader responded that “interagency cooperation” was needed to avoid the “Valley of Death” in translating predictions from research to operations. Models need greater resolution and the inclusion of interactive scenarios such as biogeochemical cycling, he added.

Dr. Nate McDowell of the Los Alamos National Laboratory spoke about the importance of NERPs as “valuable yet underutilized” resources within which to conduct large-scale experiments that cannot be done in other types of research facilities. He asserted that “support of the research parks should be a long-term priority” in order to conduct experiments related to climate change that reflect both “extreme climate events as well as chronic warming.” McDowell acknowledged that “the challenge is complex and exists at multiple scales” but that “we are at a critical turning point” so we need to make use of these research parks to learn as much as possible about our ecosystems and how these changes will affect mankind.

Dr. Whit Gibbons testified on behalf of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) and also attested to the importance of long-term research studies being conducted on the protected lands of the research parks. He testified that this work is “impossible to do without official protection” and these sites provide a reference point for studying the effects of climate change. SREL has done work not only in ecological research, but also wildlife protection and remediation and restoration of lands contaminated with low levels of metals, organics, and radionuclides. In addition to SREL, the park is also significantly involved in education and outreach to the public which is important in keeping confidence with the public that the work they are doing is positive to the environment and in attracting future scientists to this important line of work.

Congressman Inglis was “excited about the work” being done at SREL and stated he got the sense that the remediation efforts were a “taking lemons, and turning them into lemonade” scenario. Gibbons said SREL was addressing the low level contamination of nuclides in the area, and that uncontaminated areas at SREL could be used as a control case to determine at what level the contaminated land needed to be remediated.

Lujan commented that he was “extremely impressed” with the research done at these NERPs and wondered what type of research might be targeted should their funding be increased. Hanson responded that further research to understand the key to climate change was needed. McDowell said that “a network of sites monitoring impacts in a coordinated way” would better help the scientists to work together.

Baird was interested in the primary source of funding for these parks and Hanson responded that the majority came from DOE, with some also coming from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies for specific projects. McDowell stated that a strength of the process is that a lot of the funding comes from the principal investigator doing the research, but a weakness is that “this is not coordinated” in any other way. Gibbons and McDowell also responded they are not receiving funding from DOE for their research.

Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) spoke about the drought and increased mortality of trees in the southwest desert in the U.S. She wanted to know if any efforts were being made specifically to study the relationship of climate and water at the NERPs, and if collaboration is taking place with universities. McDowell responded that Los Alamos National Laboratory was originally focused on hydrological research so there is documentation of water stress and “climate change drought.” He added that there is collaboration with universities and “a lot of dialogue,” but no funding for much collaboration.

 The conversation shifted to overall evidence of climate change when Baird asked the witnesses to all answer if they have seen evidence that it is taking place, and if anthropogenic causes are contributing to it. All answered unequivocally “yes.” Baird pushed further and asked how they would respond to skeptics. Bader responded that skeptics are exploiting uncertainties, when really “the evidence is overwhelming.” He explained that all you need to look at is the first law of thermodynamics, “it is that simple.” McDowell supported this by saying “the bulk of the evidence concludes strongly” that climate change is occurring. He added that Los Alamos has the capability with laser absorption technology to see the difference between natural and anthropogenic emissions from an ecosystem.

The testimony at the hearing consistently concluded that NERPs are essential to better understanding of terrestrial ecosystems, especially in the context of climate change and that continued funding is critical to the success of these efforts.   

Testimony from the chair and panelists can be found here, as well as a video archive of the entire hearing.

-SMP

House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Science Education hearing entitled "Coordination of International Science Partnerships."
March 24, 2009

Witnesses
Dr. Jon Strauss, Chairman, Task Force on International Science, National Science Board
Dr. Norman Neureiter, Director, Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Mr. Anthony Rock, Vice President for Global Engagement, Arizona State University

Committee Members Present
Daniel Lipinski, Chairman (D-IL)
Vernon Ehlers, Ranking Member (R-MI)
Brian Baird (D-WA)
Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Paul Tonko (D-NY)
Russ Carnahan (D-MO)

The Subcommittee on Research and Science Education held a hearing on the afternoon of March 24, 2009 to receive testimony and insight on pending legislation involving establishment of a committee to enhance partnerships between U.S. and international researchers. The bill, authored by Brian Baird (D-WA) and titled “The International Science and Technology Act of 2009,” calls for the formation of a committee under the oversight of the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to direct cooperative research programs with international partners to help advance science and technology as well as foreign policy priorities of the U.S. Such a program, the Committee on International Science, Engineering, and Technology (CISET), did exist in the 1990s but was disbanded during the Bush Administration in favor of a distributed, ad-hoc approach to developing partnerships internationally.

To begin the hearing Chairman Daniel Lipinski (D-IL) expressed optimism for renewed international cooperation in science and technology (S&T) with the Obama Administration’s fresh outlook on science. “We have a chance to take advantage of our preeminence in S&T to strengthen diplomatic ties, help ensure that decision makers around the world have access to the best scientific advice, and leverage the resources of other countries to tackle common challenges in energy, climate, water resources, and health,” Lipinski shared in his opening remarks. Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) a physicist, supports international collaboration and noted in his opening remarks that early in his career he was a strong proponent of working with scientists in the former Soviet Union - a strategy that he felt helped transform the politics of that nation.

In their opening testimonies, each of the three witnesses presented their views on the need for invigorating scientific collaboration abroad. A consistent theme resonated from the testimonies – science collaboration will improve knowledge and understanding while building better relations. Dr. Jon Strauss urged the reinstatement of CISET or a similar type committee. Dr. Norman Neureiter suggested that such efforts could be a form of “soft-power” for constructive diplomacy worldwide, calling S&T cooperation between nations a “double-winner.” He did urge the subcommittee to be clear with the objectives of a new CISET and not create more barriers to developing partnerships. Neureiter also suggested keeping politics out of such arrangements as much as possible, and not making collaborative efforts look like “foreign assistance programs.” Mr. Anthony Rock provided similar suggestions as the other panelists, and stated his belief in S&T cooperation as supporting the “4 D’s” of discovery, diplomacy, decision-making, and development. He also suggested that a re-implementation of a CISET-type committee needs to draw on resources from the State Department, various federal agencies, and other committees under the guidance of NSTC to be effective.   

Baird remarked after the witness statements that “the testimony is encouraging” and quizzed the panelists on what role they see the legislative branch and the State Department playing in a new CISET committee. Strauss replied that “the role of State [department] is vital” and Rock further noted that both the State Department and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) need to be involved. Rock also suggested that the collaborative effort is “mission-based” and to look at challenges in an interdisciplinary sense instead of on a “discovery” basis, especially when bringing federal agencies into international cooperatives. Rock also suggested that the most important result of any type of legislation would be for an organizational structure dictating how entities such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) could fit under the umbrella of a CISET type committee.

Lipinski asked the witness panel how much CISET tapped into academia and industry in developing partnerships in the past. Rock stated that this is an area where the U.S. could improve, noting that when other nations see only the State Department involved with the collaborative efforts, suspicion of political motives can arise and cause hesitancy towards developing strong partnerships. Strauss added that “after 50 years in higher education, I’m embarrassed the [CISET] panel didn’t look at academia more.”

Ehlers told the panel and subcommittee that he would like to see a new CISET not being used as a “political exporting tool,” referring to Neureiter’s comments on State Department involvement. Neureiter gave examples from personal experiences of how, in the past 8 years, it was very difficult to develop international collaborations due to security concerns. To this Ehlers responded, “[Your] message came through loud and clear, you’re basically saying you don’t want a homeland security chair.”

Neureiter also made a point near the end of the hearing in regards to the terms “soft power” and “smart power” used earlier in testimony. He noted that it was counter-intuitive and suggested the term “smart engagement,” which his organization adopted while meeting with the President of Syria on a recent science education trip to the Middle East. Lipinski was impressed with the term and indicated he would replace “soft power” with “smart engagement” in future dialogue.

A link to the witness testimony and an archived webcast of the hearing can be found here.

-CPC

House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
Hearing on “Where Are We Today: Today’s Assessment of ‘The Gathering Storm.’”

March 5, 2009

Witnesses
Mr. Norman Augustine, Retired Chairman and Chief Executive Office, Lockheed Martin Corporation

Committee Members Present
Allan Mollohan, Chairman (D-WV)
Frank Wolf, Ranking Member (R-VA)
Michael Honda (D-CA)
Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
Jose Serrano (D-NY)

In the March 5, 2009 hearing “Where Are We Today: Today’s Assessment of ‘The Gathering Storm’,” Mr. Norman Augustine provided the subcommittee with a candid and at times disturbing update of the progress made towards the recommendations provided by the National Academies’ 2006 “Gathering Storm” report. This was the second testimony Augustine has given to the subcommittee since the report was released.

Mr. Augustine first provided an update of what has been accomplished since Gathering Storm was released. In the past three years, a new research university was created with an endowment equivalent to that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Over 200,000 students are studying abroad, many with government funding in science and engineering fields. Government investment in research and development (R&D) has increased by 25%. In addition, the government began funding to make the country a global nanotechnology hub. K-12 education has received a boost of $10 billion annually, and an additional $3 billion add-on to the nation’s research budget was announced. Unfortunately, these commitments were made in Saudi Arabia, China, the United Kingdom, India, Brazil, and Russia, respectively. Mr. Augustine then pointed out that although Congress overwhelmingly addressed many of the Gathering Storm’s recommendations, funds were not appropriated, and as a result over the last three years, one leading national laboratory began imposing mandatory two-day-per-month “unpaid holidays” for its scientists and staff, numerous laboratories began laying off researchers, and the U.S. contribution to a collaborative international effort for hydrogen fusion research was reduced to “survival mode.” Also, Augustine pointed out that American firms continued to spend three times more on litigation then on R&D.

Augustine shared that if the hearing had been held just two months earlier, the bleak picture he had previously painted would have been the essence of his testimony. However, since the passing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1), he has room for cautious optimism for the new direction the nation is taking towards scientific research and education. Augustine identified three major areas from the Gathering Storm report that still need to be addressed. First, if the nation’s K-12 education system is to be repaired and basic scientific research is to flourish, sustained funding is key. Second, more teachers at the K-12 level in math and science with degrees in those primary fields are needed. Finally, Augustine indicated that the nation’s science and engineering sector and the educational community must produce the results that justify the funding entrusted to them.

Augustine concluded his opening testimony by citing two recent studies that indicate where the U.S. stands in the world community in terms of education and innovation. He noted that in international tests of math and science, U.S. students invariably rank near the bottom of the world class. In the recently released International Program for Student Assessment, which evaluates 30 nations, achievement of U.S. students in science has stagnated. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation reported in its most recent assessment of innovation and competitiveness, the U.S. dropped to 6th place out of the 40 countries ranked. In terms of progress in these areas over the last decade, the U.S. came in last. 

Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-WV) began the question-answer part of the hearing by asking Augustine if there were any “bright spots” at the federal level involved in scientific research and development. Augustine identified the National Science Foundation (NSF) as a “true national asset,” and also noted that the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) within the Department of Energy (DOE) as an agency with great potential for pushing the forefront in fundamental scientific research. Mollohan posed the question of what the baseline level of funding is appropriate for federal agencies and how the U.S. compares worldwide in science funding in terms of gross domestic product. Augustine replied that the U.S. agencies need to be funded with the maximum level officially allowed for at least 5 years, at which point he felt a proper evaluation of progress and comparative funding could be made.

Michael Honda (D-CA) shifted the subject of discussion to innovation during his allotted time. Honda questioned whether innovation can be taught, and if so, how it should be done effectively. Augustine indicated that innovation is very difficult to teach, but it can be nurtured through the proper academic environment. Such an environment would allow for outside-the-box thinking, risk taking, and creativity. Augustine told Honda that America is still good at innovation, especially at the university level. He also noted, though, that in the U.S., 90 percent of all patents are made by one percent of the engineers. Jose Serrano (D-NY) added to this topic by questioning Augustine’s thoughts on diversity in education, noting that only 8 percent of those with math and science degrees are minorities. Augustine indicated it was a big issue, noting that with the minority population soon to equal the number of Caucasians, the U.S. can’t compete with other countries with half of the population not even on the playing field.   Honda then asked Augustine to define equity in public education and where does rigor play in the judging of success or failure of a child. Augustine answered that equity involves providing access for every child in the nation to the opportunity to maximize their potential, but that there is too much disparity in the U.S. due to economic inequality. He also noted the wide chasm between the skill sets most high school seniors possess and what is needed as a college freshman, which results in the current 50 percent drop-out rate of American college freshmen.

Ranking Member Frank Wolf (R-VA) expressed little optimism in the testimony Augustine provided, noting that even with the ARRA allocations “one robin doesn’t make spring, even a robin on steroids.” Wolf pointed out the seriousness and urgency of the issue, and asked the audience if there were any reporters from the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or the Chicago Tribune. The room remained silent after his question. He pointed out this silence as an example of the lack of attention this topic gets, and mused that CNN will talk about President Obama’s graying hair, but not topics of seriousness such as the testimony being presented. Wolf was emphatic when he questioned how Augustine’s suggested allocations at ARRA’s magnitude can continue when “the country is broke. We’re borrowing from China to compete with China.” Wolf then asked Augustine where the U.S. stands if we are in a footrace with China? Augustine replied, “We started out with a 20-yard lead but we are losing the lead rapidly.” He added, “We’re still in the race, but we’re close to the tipping point,” and also noted that the current worldwide economic downturn has slowed China’s progress and may allow time for the U.S. to regain its competitive edge. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) also expressed concerns with funding similar to Wolf’s. Aderholt asked Augustine what has changed his feeling over the last two months to create optimism. Augustine told the subcommittee that the Obama administration’s acknowledgement of the problem and the designated funds for science in ARRA were the two main reasons for his optimism, although he felt education funding in ARRA should have been higher.

Topics such as funding the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and collaborative international space efforts were also discussed. Mollohan asked about funding NASA on the same track as other agencies as recommended from the Gathering Storm findings. Augustine responded, “It would be a very appropriate thing to do,” noting how valuable fundamental work done by NASA in the 1960s and 1970s was in the aerospace industry. He also pointed out that in discussing the critical 4th grade level of education as a tipping point in determining if a child will have the skills to become a scientist or engineer later in life as suggested by Gathering Storm findings, “Kids are interested in two things, dinosaurs and space. There are no dinosaurs left so lets get them into space!” 

-CPC

Sources: Hearing testimony.

Contributed by GAP Staff; Clint Carney, AGI/AAPG Spring 2009 Intern; Stephanie Praus, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Rachel Potter, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Joey Fiore, AGI/AIPG Summer 2009 Intern; Mollie Pettit, AGI/AAPG Fall 2009 Intern; and Maureen Moses, AGI/AAPG Spring 2010 Intern.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 1, 2010