Senators Launch Innovation Bill

By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2005-12-15
Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., on Thursday introduced a bill responding to the tech industrys plea for more federal investment in research and development and greater incentives for innovation.

The National Innovation Act of 2005 would nearly double the National Science Foundations research funding level by 2011, and it would set up a grants program to encourage federal agencies to direct 3 percent of their R&D budgets to high-risk research.

In a nod to a long-standing industry request, the bill would make the research and experimentation tax credit permanent and expand eligibility to a greater number of companies.

"In an increasingly global marketplace and an age of ever-evolving technological advances, we must give American entrepreneurs and leaders in technology every opportunity to excel," said Ensign, chairman of the Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee.

"It is essential we encourage, support and maintain an infrastructure of innovation in technological fields of study."

To encourage more American students to pursue degrees in science and technology, funding for the NSFs graduate research fellowship programs and the Department of Defenses scholarship programs would increase.

New funding would be allotted for masters degree programs to promote more scientists and engineers.

"The number of jobs requiring technical training is growing at five times the rate of other occupations," Lieberman said.

"Our legislation will significantly increase federal support for graduate fellowship and traineeship programs in science, math and engineering fields in order to attract more students to these fields and to create a more competitive and innovative American workforce."

Last week, the National Association of Manufacturers hosted a forum in Washington where executives from dozens of corporations met with members of President Bushs cabinet to lobby for increased federal R&D funding.

To encourage development in the manufacturing sector specifically, the Ensign/Lieberman bill would direct the Defense Department to accelerate the transition toward advanced manufacturing technologies, and direct the Department of Commerce to support pilot tests for the development of advanced manufacturing systems.

Industry was quick to offer praise for the legislation.

"In todays era of global opportunity and change, the rewards flow to those who innovate and turn disruptive shifts to their advantage," said Nicholas Donofrio, executive vice president at IBM.

"The National Innovation Act of 2005 will create synergies among Americas academic, business and government communities to ensure the future growth of the United States."

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; George Allen, R-Va.; Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; Mike Dewine, R-Ohio; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Herb Kohl , D-Wis.; Pat Leahy, D-Vt.; Dick Lugar, R-Ind.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

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However, some legislators point to industrys own actions as contributing to a shortage of qualified scientists and engineers.

As companies have outsourced engineering jobs to other countries, American students have become less inclined to become engineers, said Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., during last weeks NAM-sponsored forum.

"This has been created as much by a U.S. industry that has tried to meet quarterly estimates and sent these jobs overseas," Manzullo said.

The Ensign/Lieberman bill would also create a Presidents Council on Innovation to develop an agenda for both the public and private sectors.

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