Senate Education Committee Approves Version of Bipartisan Tech Talent Bill

September 8, 2002

The sponsors of the Technology Talent Act today applauded the Senate Health, Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee for unanimously approving legislation yesterday that is focused on increasing the number of math, science, technology and engineering undergraduates in the U.S.

The HELP Committee included a version of the Tech Talent proposal – sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Christopher Bond (R-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Frist (R-TN), and Pete Domenici (R-NM) – as part of legislation to reauthorize the National Science Foundation (NSF) and double its budget.

Like the Technology Talent Act, the NSF Reauthorization bill passed Thursday establishes a multi-year “Tech Talent” competitive grant program, that would award performance-based grants to institutions of higher education to increase the number of students studying toward and receiving undergraduate degrees in science, math, engineering, and technology disciplines. Recipients would be held accountable for increasing the number of students receiving degrees in these fields.

The NSF reauthorization bill now awaits consideration by the Senate Commerce Committee, and the Senators said they will continue to push for a strong Tech Talent program.

Lieberman, long a supporter of R&D efforts, praised both the doubling of the NSF budget, and the inclusion of the Tech Talent grants as coming just at the right time. “The reality is that technological innovation is now widely understood to be the major driver of economic growth, not to mention a critical factor in our military superiority,” Lieberman said. “The Tech Talent grants included in this legislation will help give universities and colleges in Connecticut, and nationwide the tools they need to boost our domestic pool of brainpower – the next generation of people who will incubate and implement the next generation of ideas to expand our economy.”

“We don’t have a worker shortage in this country, we have a skill shortage,” Mikulski said. “And we will continue to have a skill shortage unless we act now. We need to make sure America is ready for the new high-tech economy. The opportunities are tremendous to use science, math and engineering to greatly improve our lives, but we need to engage the next generation in these studies in order to ensure America’s success. This grant program is an investment in our nation’s future.”

“Our nation’s innovation capabilities are at risk of falling behind other industrial nations if we do not aggressively increase the number and quality of our technologically-trained workforce,” Bond said. “This program is an important step in ensuring our nation’s future innovation and success.”

“Encouraging students in math and science is critical to strengthening our nation’s future workforce,” Frist said. “With technology changing everyday, we must be prepared to meet the challenges ahead, and the Tech Talent grants will help us do just that by supporting the efforts of universities and colleges to increase the number of students entering the fields of math, science and technology.”

“We compete in the world economy by providing advanced high-tech products and services, developed through our industrial system which values and supports innovation,” Domenici said. “The Tech Talent grants will provide tools for universities in New Mexico and across the country to increase the domestic supply of highly-skilled technical workers who provide that innovative talent to our nation. Our economic and military strength depends on the strengths of those workers.”

The Senators first introduced the Technology Talent Act in October 2001, in an effort to stop the decline in our technical workforce, which is becoming a major U.S. economic problem. Recent studies project that the number of jobs requiring significant technical skills will grow by more than 50 percent in the United States over the next ten years. However, outside of the life sciences, the number of degrees awarded in science and engineering over the last decade has been flat or declining.

Under the NSF Reauthorization bill, undergraduate universities would be able to receive Tech Talent grants for a number of projects, including:

  • Training for interdisciplinary instruction to improve college-level teaching;

  • Undergraduate-conducted research to engage students in applied science;

  • Mentor programs for students in groups historically under represented in the sciences;

  • Internships with private industry to heighten the relevance of academic programs;

  • Distance learning programs to further student access to science research.