Boehlert, Larson To Introduce Legislation To Boost Nation’s Technical Workforce

October 16, 2001

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tomorrow, Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Committee member Rep. John Larson (D-CT) will introduce a bill to address the decline in our technical workforce and to improve undergraduate math and science education. The “Tech Talent Bill” would establish a competitive grant program through the National Science Foundation for undergraduate institutions pledging to increase the number of U.S. citizens or permanent residents obtaining degrees in science, math, engineering and technology (SMET) fields.

A pilot program, which would award three-year grants, is authorized at $25 million in FY02 with funding expected to increase in the future. Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Christopher Bond (R-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Frist (R-TN), and Pete Domenici (R-NM) introduced the identical bill in the Senate today. Lieberman and Boehlert worked together on the legislation, but Boehlert was unable to introduce the bill today as the House of Representatives was not in session.

Chairman Boehlert released the following statement on the eve of the bill’s introduction:

“The Tech Talent Bill attempts to answer a rather basic question about undergraduate education: namely, ‘Are we willing to put our money where our mouths are?’

“For too long, the answer to that question has been “no.” Federal officials have been wringing their hands about the quality of undergraduate education and the inadequate numbers of scientists, mathematicians and engineers it produces, yet federal science funding slights undergraduate education. Federal officials have acknowledged the need for faculty development and for faculty to focus on undergraduate education, yet federal funding encourages professors to concentrate more on research than on education. Colleges and universities claim to want to improve undergraduate education, yet too many of them gear their introductory courses to weeding out students interested in science, math and engineering. Colleges and universities claim to focus on undergraduate education, but their tenure policies often reward research at the expense of education. As a nation, we simply have not been putting our money where our mouths are.

“So, I’m pleased to join Senator Lieberman and my other colleagues to try to change all that. This bill, the Tech Talent Act, will finally create the financial incentives to ensure that undergraduate education receives its due. It will provide grants to improve science, math and engineering education, to increase the number of students exposed to it, and to reward institutions and faculty who focus on it.

“In one, fell swoop we will signal that we intend to close the gap between our express concerns about undergraduate education and our actions.

“And it’s great that we’ve been able to make this 180-degree turn on a bipartisan basis. Senator Lieberman’s staff and mine have worked closely in developing this bill. And I’ll be working closely with my good friend, Congressman Larson, to shepherd it through our Committee and the rest of the Congressional process.

“I have to point out that we have a track record of success in moving this type of legislation. Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 1858, a bill designed to do for pre-college education what this bill will do for undergraduate education. The bill, picking up on President Bush’s proposals, finally would devote real resources to bringing universities, businesses and school districts together to improve K-12 education. And I’m proud to say that the bill passed through both the House Science Committee and the full House by voice vote. It took a lot of work behind the scenes to make it look so easy, and we’re optimistic that the bill can move swiftly through the Senate, where it is being championed by Senator Rockefeller.

“So we know that we can move important, new approaches to education. The bill we’ll be introducing is the perfect complement to H.R. 1858 because it will extend the focus on science, math and engineering education from kindergarten through college graduation.

“We all know that our nation’s future depends on having a pool of well educated scientists, mathematicians and engineers – to generate new ideas, to create new products and to function as informed citizens.

“This bipartisan bill will ensure that we finally act on that knowledge by investing today in the scientists, mathematicians and engineers of tomorrow.”