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October Public Policy News

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CONGRESS GOES INTO RECESS: Both the Senate and House went into recesses on 29 and 30 September respectively. In leaving Washington, they left many pressing issues unresolved.  These issues will need to beresolvedd in a Lame Duck session or by the new Congress that will take office in January 2011. Among the issues left hanging were extending Bush-era tax cuts and funding the federal government for FY 2011. Both houses did pass a continuing resolution to fund ongoing government operations through 3 December.

AMERICA COMPETES ACT REAUTHORIZATION: The Senate was not able to bring the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to a floor vote before the recess. Supportive Senate Republicans had been trying to limit COMPETES reauthorization to programs covered by the original 2007 legislation, prevent spending on new programs (like the Department of Energy's ARPA-E program) and limiting the reauthorization to three years, as opposed to the 5-year period in the House-passed version of the bill.

STEM EDUCATION INITIATIVES: September saw a great deal of activity on the STEM Education front, including the 15 September release of a report by PCAST, the President's Council of Advisors for Science & Technology, on plans for improvements in K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). SPIE has supported many if the recommendations contained within the report.   The White House also announced the launch of Change the Equation a CEO-led effort to improve STEM education as part of the Educate to Innovate campaign to raise public awareness of the importance of STEM Education in the overall economy.

UPDATED GATHERING STORM REPORT SUBJECT OF RECENT HOUSE HEARING: The House Science & Technology Committee held a hearing on 29 September to showcase the continuing decline of U.S. science and engineering leadership and to highlight a new National Academies Report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited. The new report, which reviews progress in maintaining U.S. competitiveness since the Gathering Storm Report was released, says that America's ability to compete for quality jobs in the global economy has continued to deteriorate in the last five years, and the nation needs a sustained investment in education and basic research to spur innovation and keep its competitive position from slipping further. A quote on page 3 of the report highlights the contribution of integrated circuits to innovation:

"When scientists discovered how to decipher the human genome it opened entire new opportunities in many fields including medicine. Similarly, when scientists and engineers discovered how to increase the capacity of integrated circuits by a factor of one million as they have in the past forty years, it enabled entrepreneurs to replace tape recorders with iPods, maps with GPS, pay phones with cell phones, two-dimensional X-rays with three-dimensional CT scans, paperbacks with electronic books, slide rules with computers, and much, much more. Further, the pace of creation of new knowledge appears by almost all measures to be accelerating."

HOUSE APPROVES 9thEXTENSION OF SBIR/STTR FUNDING: Just prior to their recess, the House approved S. 3839, the Senate's stopgap measure to fund the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs through January 31, 2011. Had the House not done so the SBIR and STTR programs would have been eliminated on 30 September. A long-term compromise remains elusive. One major sticking point between the small-business committees in the House and the Senate appears to be how much control venture capitalists should have in award-winning small business companies. There are also issues over the size of the awards and the merits of creating the SBIR 2.0 Program.

SENATE CONFIRMS SUBRA SURESH AS NEW NSF DIRECTOR: The U.S. Senate confirmed Subra Suresh as the new Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF)Suresh is a mechanical engineer who later became interested in materials science and biology. According to the NSF, Suresh, 54, served as dean of the engineering school and as Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 2000 to 2006, Suresh served as the head of the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering. He joined MIT in 1993 as the R.P. Simmons Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and held joint faculty appointments in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering and Biological Engineering, as well as the Division of Health Sciences and Technology. Suresh holds a bachelor's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, a master's degree from Iowa State University, and earned his ScD from MIT in 1981.

FIRST MEETING OF THE NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL ON INNOVATION AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP: The first meeting of the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship was held on 2 September. The council is made up of 26 leaders from business, technology and academia for the purpose of "helping to develop policies that foster entrepreneurship and identifying new ways to take great ideas from the lab to the marketplace to drive economic growth and create jobs," according to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

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